Cult Movies: Dance Craze captures the 2 Tone scene at its exciting peak

The Selecter in action in a scene from Dance Craze
The Selecter in action in a scene from Dance Craze The Selecter in action in a scene from Dance Craze

YOUTH culture in Britain has rarely been captured with quite the vitality and blood-pumping excitement that Joe Massot managed on Dance Craze.

Released in 1981 and now freshly remastered and available once again on Blu-ray and DVD thanks to the BFI, it remains at its core a very simple documentary project with one simple goal – to capture on film the vibrant late-70s Ska scene that saw a new breed of bands across Britain embrace vintage Jamaican roots music and fashion in the bleakest years of Thatcherism.

That means filming the likes of The Specials, The Selector and Madness and their rabidly loyal fanbase live on stage and down in the mosh pit to create some kind of social document of the era.

It delivers on that brief beautifully. There is a wealth of seriously exciting live footage to enjoy here that captures the mad moment when 2 Tone records, the Coventry-based label which prided itself on its mix of defiantly bi-racial artists and also released music by most of the bands on offer here, with one notable exception, was rising rapidly through the charts and into the hearts of young music lovers across the land.

It was a brief candle, of course, that quickly flickered out – but there's a raw and primal thrill to be had watching these bands blast through their sets in front of wildly appreciative audiences that appear to be mostly made up of bouncing, boisterous teenagers who look like they might have ever so slightly overdone the sugar in their school lunches.

Some performances are more memorable than others, of course, but that's to be expected. While the frantic skanking of Bad Manners, that one non-2 Tone affiliated band I mentioned earlier, leans a little heavily on slapstick comedy for my tastes, the performance of Too Much Too Young by The Specials is genuinely stunning. No band of that period reflected the impact of Tory neglect on inner-city Britain better than this gang of Coventry game-changers, and watching their late, great frontman Terry Hall standing impassive, aloof and cool on stage as a teenage riot unfolds around him is a truly beautiful thing.

Specials leader Terry Hall in Dance Craze
Specials leader Terry Hall in Dance Craze Specials leader Terry Hall in Dance Craze

There are similarly vibed-up turns from the likes of Pauline Black and The Selector and The Bodysnatchers, and for an American director working in a very non-American world, it's hugely impressive.

Massot, whose previous credits include the psychedelic weird-out that is Wonderwall, throws you deep into the thrashing chaos both on stage and off, with an exciting in-your-face authenticity that means you can almost feel your loafers getting soaked on the beer-slick floor and sense your Ben Sherman shirt sticking to your back as the heat rises and the beat thumps on.

This well packaged re-release from the BFI is a timely reminder of that magical, musical whirlwind of 2 Tone at the very peak of its powers, but it's also a telling snapshot of a Britain in cultural crisis and a tantalising glimpse into how music and a sense of tribal belonging offered an escape for millions in times of real trauma.

The times were tough, but the music was revolutionary.