Director: Joe Massot
Producers: Gavrik Losey
Starring: The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Beat
Year: 1981
Country: UK
BBFC Certification: 12
Duration: 85 mins

Considering it’s commercial peak lasted just a couple of years, the 2 Tone movement remains highly regarded and massively influential. More widely celebrated than the original 60s Ska and Reggae records that influenced them or their American Ska-Punk successors who quickly became a punchline for music snobs, the 2 Tone bands arrived at the right time with the right message. As Thatcherism took hold of Britain and vile racism skyrocketed, multiracial bands like The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat provided the progressive youth with anti-hate anthems to which they could still dance. This was an irresistible cocktail of activism and abandon. The songs were fast, infectious and danceable without being emotionally or politically insignificant. While not every band was overtly political in their content, their alignment in sound with bands that were was enough to demarcate their gigs as intended racial safe spaces, even if the National Front dickheads banging on the doors would have it another way.

Shot at various venues in 1980 and released the following year just before the 2 Tone explosion began its winddown, Dance Craze documents the live experience of 2 Tone gigs by spotlighting six key bands of the era: The Specials, Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers. Capturing the bands early in their careers and at the height of the Ska revival ensures vibrant, energetic performances but Massot’s masterstroke is filming from the stage among the performers, rather than just shooting from the third row of the crowd and occasionally interspersing audience reactions. Dance Craze opens with The Specials performing Nite Klub and having the camera onstage creates a unique, chaotic atmosphere as the performers dart around it from every angle. You can see the band and the audience all at once and it gives the effect of not missing any element of the experience, except maybe beer in your hair. You can imagine the dim lighting and lo-fi style having been pretty impenetrable on previous prints but this remastered edition really brings out the vibrancy of the footage to the extent that you can’t quite believe the film has languished in obscurity for so long. The stone-faced anti-charisma of Terry Hall, the affable energy of Pauline Black, the quirky showmanship of Suggs and the brazen buffoonery of Buster Bloodvessel are all tremendously served by this restoration.

Although it works well as an introduction for newcomers as well, Dance Craze is chiefly aimed at established 2 Tone fans. The two household names, The Specials and Madness, should immediately evoke certain hits in the mind of most people but Dance Craze is from an era before Ghost Town or Our House. Madness would slowly turn into an exquisite Pop band but the performances here instead capture the ragged-edged band they started out as, with tracks like Swan Lake, Madness and The Prince leaning heavily on the Ska influences. I was particularly chuffed to find the brilliant deep cut Razorblade Alley amongst their set. The Specials, meanwhile, are showcased mainly through album tracks like Concrete Jungle and Man at C&A, eschewing that old, overplayed mainstay A Message to You, Rudy in favour of a moodier, harder-edged selection. There are hits from both bands here too: One Step Beyond, Night Boat to Cairo, Too Much Too Young. The latter song was a number one smash and its appearance in the set ignites a particularly enthusiastic reaction, but it’s the one moment when the unerring positivity of the film’s message feels compromised. I’ve always found Too Much Too Young nauseatingly misogynistic, examining overpopulation in a way that places the blame squarely at the feet of women. “Try wearing a cap” concludes the song, never entertaining the notion of the far more practical condom. The hints of misogyny that bled into the Ska revival are actually addressed briefly in one of this editions best special features, the Arena documentary Rudies Come Back, a BBC production in which NME journalist Adrian Thrills explores the 2 Tone scene. Although the question is essentially swept aside by a young Pauline Black, it’s good to at least see the rarely acknowledged issue mentioned as tracks like Too Much Too Young and Little Bitch regularly keep me from listening to The Specials celebrated debut album (I prefer the second one).

One example of the youthful prejudices of men who have since admitted their mistakes is hardly enough to extinguish the feeling of goodwill that pervades Dance Craze though. The Selecter in particular deliver a feelgood set, with Pauline Black energising the crowd to bellow along with boisterous anthems like Three Minute Hero and Too Much Pressure. Bad Manners are the jesters, with songs like Lip Up Fatty and Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu delivering the sort of unadulterated good time that can sometimes overshadow the fact that they are actually really good songs, but which also keeps their shambolic stumble through Wooly Bully from being unbearable. By contrast, The Beat are extremely tight and professional, wielding the secret weapon of Mirror in the Bathroom, one of the era’s most haunting hits. The hidden treasures of Dance Craze, meanwhile, are The Bodysnatchers, who only released two singles but boast a thrillingly engaging live act that must’ve rarely been documented elsewhere. Their minor hit Do the Rocksteady is a mainstay of Ska compilations, while the band themselves quickly morphed into The Belle Stars who had a top ten hit with the infectious Sign of the Times. They also wrote the harrowing song The Boiler, a tale of rape which became a single for Specials offshoot The Special AKA, with Bodysnatchers frontman Rhoda Dakar on vocals. This darker avenue couldn’t be further from the mind as the band perform their two singles and a lovely rendition of Desmond Dekker’s 007 (Shanty Town).

For the millions of us who were not lucky enough to be around for the 2 Tone era or were too young to catch the bands live, Dance Craze is an invaluable document of a fascinating moment in music history. For those who were there, meanwhile, it’s sure to be an even more uplifting and emotional experience. Concert films often live and die by whether you like the music being documented. If you have any affection for the 2 Tone bands though, you’re pretty much guaranteed a great time from this exquisite restoration of a film that will hopefully be rescued from obscurity by this timely rerelease.

Dance Craze is released by the BFI on dual format Blu-ray/DVD on 27 March 2023, with a remastered soundtrack LP/CD released by Chrysalis Records on 24 March 2023.

Special features are as follows:

-Newly remastered from original 70mm materials and approved by cinematographer Joe Dunton
-Rudies Come Back (1980, 34 mins): in this episode of the long-running BBC series Arena, music journalist Adrian Thrills explores the rise of 2 Tone. Featuring interviews with The Specials and The Selecter.
-Outtakes (1980, 17 mins): a collection of outtakes and alternative versions featuring footage that was ultimately left out of the final cut of Dance Craze, but has been recovered from various sources
-Restoration demo (2023, 2 mins): a before and after look at the restoration of Dance Craze
-Original stereo and surround sound mixes by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley remastered for this release, plus a new Dolby Atmos® surround sound mix approved by Jerry Dammers
-Newly created English subtitles for the Deaf and partial hearing
-**FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Fully illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Johnny Mains, the film’s original press release and band biographies and rare promotional materials

Dance Craze
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