Madd Raff was a blast the other night. It was an absolute pleasure to play an eighties revival set with Cool Hand Luke, alongside Benjamin Heatwave on mic duties. The venue was a little basement bar off Great Portland Street, very close to my first ever DJ gigs at the students’ union of the Polytechnic of Central London in the late eighties.
Twenty years later and I’m there playing records to people twenty years younger than me. Which means that some of my tunes came out before they were born. I’ve laid it on a bit thick about being the oldest raver in town this year, but I’m quite relaxed about that. I go to ska and rocksteady nights where music from the early sixties get played, often by people old enough to be my parents.
As Steve Barrow points out in the Dub Echoes DVD – capitalism always promotes the new thing as being the best thing, and tries to divide the young and the old. There’s a resurgence of “generational resentment” at the moment in the UK. One reading of the UK riots was old peoples’ fear of “feral youth”, which is the latest instalment of a long line of subcultural moral panics starting with teddy boys and going right through to hoodies.
I think what’s new is young peoples’ resentment of the old, though. For the first time living memory, this generation of school/college leavers will be significantly worse off than the previous one. Lower incomes, longer working lives, less secure jobs and little prospect of owning property look like being the norm.
Music can’t really patch up these economic differences, but I guess it can show that people have more in common than they thought. Each new generation finds a way to briefly escape hardship in darkened rooms as the bassline drops. Each new wave of dancehall builds on the foundation of the music. But sometimes dancehall mutations become so radioactive that more mature heads find it difficult to recognise them.
I guess it’s obvious that over the last few years I’ve been less and less obsessed by current grime, (post)dubstep and even dancehall. Hence all the reviews on here of weird electronic stuff made by men of a certain age, and the retro mixes.
Unlike some of my contemporaries, I have no vested interest in remaining an “expert” on dance (or any) music - as all this has been a hobby rather than a career. So I can be relaxed about it and enjoy the ride. On Wednesday night Luke and I were followed by Heatwave’s Dan Bean, who flung down some 2011 bashment anthems. At least I assumed they were anthems, as everyone went mental. I had no idea what most of the tunes were, and had a chuckle to myself about my lack of desire to find out. It felt quite liberating just enjoying being a room full of people going mad to JA music without mentally filing every tune away in my Bumper Trainspotter’s Book of Music.
I remember trying to sneak a few current bashment riddims into reggae sets in the early noughties. It never worked - I even managed to clear the floor on a couple of occasions. Now it seems like a corner has been turned – for clubbers, my old man’s music has been restored to its rightful place as a warm up or chill out selection. What people really come out for is the new fangled music, which is how it should be really. I saw a girl running down the stairs at Dancehall Jamboree a few weeks back, so she could get on the floor and skank out to the Liquid riddim.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that there’s a bit of hype about bashment at the moment when you consider the alternatives. JA music has all the colour, character and vibes that are missing from most dance music right now. But it’s also testament to the sheer hard graft put in by people like The Heatwave and newer crews like the bewildering nexus of Hipsters Don’t Dance / Physically Fit / Shimmy Shimmy / Style and Swagger.
All this intrigues me. I like having a broad overview of Jamaican music since the 1950s, although if truth be told you’ll mainly find me listening to stuff from the last century. But unlike some of the old guard, you won’t find me wringing my hands about the terrible state of JA tunes nowadays.
I like Steve Barrow’s ideas about unifying the young and old under one b-line. But I’m also quite pleased that bashment ravers can still annoy the old gits and purists.