Dance Craze (1981) BFI Blu-ray reviewed

❉ This must-buy package captures the vitality of the 2-Tone phenomenon, writes Rob Fairclough.

“The new wave of ska was full of characters whose natural environment was the live stage. The bands had such energy, and that’s reflected in how American director Joe Massot shot Dance Craze – the camera swoops and dives alongside the frenetic performers… At one point, the camera appears to even do a somersault.”

It’s 1981, and putting on a second hand mohair suit, a pair of smart shoes and a pork pie hat is considered rebellious. I like that.

The late 1970s-early 1980s wave of ska and mod groups – specifically, those initially signed to Jerry Dammers’ independent label 2-Tone – had the energy of punk but, crucially, the life-affirming rush of dance music. Significantly, the inability of 2-Tone bands to keep still was famously lampooned by satirical sketch show Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982) in the ‘I Like Bouncing’ song.

Dance Craze, the 1981 film lovingly remastered and re-released by the British Film Institute, is FULL of bouncing. The American director Joe Massot, who initiated the Led Zeppelin concert movie The Song Remains the Same (1976), originally wanted to make a film based around the London ska band, Madness. Inspired by the vitality of the rest of 2-Tone, he broadened his approach to include the other bands linked to the ‘new ska’ movement – The Beat, Bad Manners, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers and the band that started it all, The Specials.

The new wave of ska was full of characters: Buster Bloodvessel, Suggs and Chas Smash, Pauline Black, Terry Hall, Rankin Roger, Jerry Dammers himself… here were the new Johnny Rottens, Poly Styrenes and Captain Sensibles. Again, like the punks, their natural environment was the live stage.

The bands had such energy, and that’s reflected in how Massot shot Dance Craze – the camera swoops and dives alongside the frenetic performers. In 1975, the Steadicam, a camera stabilizer that could be worn by a camera operator, was made commercially available, and Massot used that set-up to film the concert footage from among the bands rather than the ‘third row’ in the audience. At one point, the camera appears so overcome that it does a somersault.

To contextualise the latest dance craze, Massot includes clips from 1950s newsreels of the young generation’s bright new thing – the teenager. The smartly dressed young people jive and do the locomotion to cutting-edge pop groups of the day like The Shadows. The sequences have no commentary – and they may have been placed in the middle of the film to give cinema audiences the chance of a toilet break – but the implication is that the more things change, it’s still just rock and roll in different clothes.

Also included in this appealing package is a 1980 edition of the BBC arts documentary series Arena that investigated the 2-Tone phenomenon. It was called Rudie’s Come Back and I remember it so vividly, from the gonks wearing shades in 2-Tone HQ, the photograph of Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds on the mantlepiece, to the bit where the ‘wardrobe department’ – a clothes rail in the office – falls down and The Specials fall about laughing.

A nicely innovative touch is the vignettes filmed to accompany the songs: , illustrating a scene from ‘Concrete Jungle’, Specials guitarist Roddy Radiation stars in a sequence – based on a real incident – where he was jumped by four thugs in Coventry city centre; in a bar, Terry Hall is given a hostile stare by a female customer, referencing ‘Blank Expression’, and for ‘Stupid Marriage’, the protagonist is so incensed by his ex-girlfriend marrying someone else that he throws a brick through her window. Fulfilling the prophecy of ‘Too Much Too Young’, she ends up pushing a pram.

For all the social commentary in the songs – which was key to the appeal of 2-Tone – it’s the live experience that is the movement’s enduring legacy. Two scenes on this Blu-ray sum it up perfectly. At the end of Dance Craze, The Specials invite a stage invasion during ‘Nite Klub’ and the sense of unity between band and audience is still palpable all these years later.

The other key scene is at the end of Rudie’s Come Back. Together with grinning reporter Adrian Thrills, The Specials finish the interview by having a skank to the original version of ‘You’re Wondering Now’ around their make-do office. Framed in silhouette by a first-floor bedroom window, the joyous abandonment in the scene perfectly encapsulates an achingly innocent musical moment in time.

Completing this must-buy package is a booklet that reprints the 1981 press release for Dance Craze, contemporary biographies of the bands and, essentially, a new essay by Johnny Mains. This contextualises 2-Tone and reveals valuable information about the production of the film, as well as naming the venues where the concerts were filmed (uncredited in the movie’s titles) – everywhere from Portsmouth Guildhall to Cherry Hall Shopping Mall, New Jersey.

The legacy of 2-Tone? From Rum, Sodomy and The Lash (1985) onwards, The Pogues added brass to their punk folk, delivering the bruised romance of ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ and ‘Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’, among others; social commentary, a brass section and good, old fashioned fun were in the mix on Blur’s ‘Popscene’, ‘Parklife’ and The Great Escape (1995); Lily Allen covered ‘Gangsters’ and the late Amy Winehouse performed ‘A Message to You Rudy’. When The Specials reformed, she’d sometimes join them onstage, bringing things – movingly – full circle.

2-Tone is now embedded in the DNA of English popular music and popular culture. Shut up, listen, and dance again.

Special features:

❉ Newly remastered from original 70mm materials and approved by cinematographer Joe Dunton

Rudie’s Come Back(1980, 34 mins): in this episode of the long-running BBC series Arena, music journalist Adrian Thrills explores the rise of 2Tone. Featuring interviews with The Specials and The Selecter

❉ Outtakes (1980, 17 mins): a selection of rare clips, many previously unseen, featuring the bands from the film

❉ Restoration demo (2022, 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

❉ Illustrated booklet with a new essay by Johnny Mains, the original 1981 press release and original 1981 band biographies, credits and notes on the special features (First pressing only)

❉ DANCE CRAZE: A film by Joe Massot (1981) Blu-ray and DVD (Dual Format Edition) released 27 March 2023. Run time: 88 minutes. Cert 12. RRP: £19.99. Pre-order via Amazon UK*. Picturehouse cinemas are holding a special one-off screening on 23 March.

 Robert Fairclough is a writer, designer, photographer and sometime actor. He writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). Robert has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites and is a creative consultant for The Restoration Trust, an organisation that delivers ‘culture therapy’ for people with mental health issues. He can be contacted on and his website can be viewed at

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