Dance Craze review – thrilling documentary captures the explosive energy of 2 Tone

·2-min read

US director Joe Massot, known for the psychedelic 60s curiosity Wonderwall and Led Zeppelin concert movie The Song Remains the Same, directed this tremendously vivid 1981 documentary about the British 2 Tone movement, this vital music being a kind of evolutionary product of reggae’s coexistence with punk the decade before.

Working with producer Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph, Massot gives us live footage, whimsically interspersed with Pathé newsreels from the early 60s (not so long before the present-day material) with plummy-voiced chaps earnestly intoning about “young people”. The movie is a madeleine for people of my generation: summoning up the sweat of venues such as London’s Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand, it shudders with the bands’ inexhaustible jogging-on-the-spot energy, the kind of live show where the singer lets rip directly into the ecstatic faces of the people at the front, virtually snogging them.

These bands – the Specials, Madness, the Beat, the Selecter, the Bodysnatchers and Bad Manners – had a unique biracial style and were a thrilling rebuke to racism. They look utterly unlike anything today. And there is another lost musical component, the instrument that pop forgot: the saxophone, honking, barking and wailing through almost every track.

The Specials’ Too Much Too Young is as thrilling as ever, and as ambiguously angry and contemptuous: “You’re married with a KID/When you could be having FUN WITH ME,” they snarl, adding the despairing Alf Garnett insult: “I’d hate to have the same name as you/You silly moo.” Rhoda Dakar of the Bodysnatchers is a live wire; Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners is a genuine English eccentric, doing that odd thing with his tongue; Madness’s cover version of the Swan theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is very weird, and the Beat’s Twist and Crawl and Mirror in the Bathroom are still compelling. A must.

• Dance Craze is in UK cinemas from 23 March and on Blu-ray/DVD from 27 March.