Dance Craze [Documentary] – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Okay, it’s confession time – I’m not a massive fan of ska music, either in its original 1950s form or its 1970s/80s revival. I’ve got a rather blurry memory of seeing some of its biggest participants on Top of the Pops back in the early 1980s, but I was a generation too young to grasp its importance at the time.
In the years since, I’ve enjoyed the odd song, the likes of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘On My Radio’ by The Selecter being particular standouts, and I’ve even seen Madness live (in Hull, no less), although by the time I got round to it, they’d become a sort of cosy, national treasure-type presence rather than the rude boys they used to be.
Suggs and his cohorts are present in Dance Craze, director Joe Massot’s love letter to the ska revival, and it’s rather wonderful to see them hopping around on stage, young, energetic and with a slightly dangerous edge, rather than the middle-aged (almost pensionable) guys they are these days.
The aforementioned Selecter, as well as The Beat, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers also appear in what is largely a collection of live performances, interspersed with ironic newsreel footage of teenagers and dancers. However, head and shoulders above the rest are The Specials; most of its members are pogo-ing around, sometimes with fans invading the stage, with only much-missed frontman Terry Hall standing stock still but somehow holding the attention as chaos reigns around him.
Has Dance Craze fuelled a new-found love of ska in me? Not really. I can’t imagine it appealing to anybody but die-hard fans, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No doubt a few will be dusting off their original vinyl after watching it and heading into the loft to find the skinny trousers and Fred Perry shirts they wore back in the day – whether they fit into either is another matter altogether.
Nevertheless, there’s something appealing about seeing so many young, probably working class, people responding with such fervour to the bands – they really did speak to a particular generation growing up with little hope in Thatcher’s Britain.
Some of the performers featured also pop up in ‘Rudies Come Back’, a 1980 episode of the BBC’s Arena arts documentary strand, which is among the special features. We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for anyone with the merest knowledge of music to release a single, so it’s rather refreshing to see Jerry Dammers and his mates discussing the rise of 2 Tone Records, the Coventry-based independent label he founded in 1979 which helped push ska back into the limelight, creating something many could only dream about in the process.
It’s this programme that will help any non-fans understand the movement and should probably be watched before Dance Craze itself to give the concert footage greater depth.
‘Dance Craze’ is released on Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD by the BFI, £19.99