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Watch How The People Dancing: Unity Sounds From The London Dancehall 1986 - 1989

Watch How The People Dancing: Unity Sounds From The London Dancehall 1986 - 1989

Watch How The People Dancing: Unity Sounds From The London Dancehall 1986 - 1989

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Basic electronic rhythms and strong dancehall songs add up to a welcome re-issue.

Sampler

This re-release from London-based Honest Jon’s Records revisits some of the strongest dancehall sounds from the late 1980s, combining the familiar feel of the rhythms with a basic homemade approach to synth instrumentation. There are themes drawn from conflict and urban suffering of the time, alongside more simple homage to the delights of dancehall itself. While the album can be appreciated at face value for its music alone, it also provides something of an ironic take on the more innocent sentiments of ‘London is the Place For Me’ (from the 1950s). Life (and reggae) in London had clearly moved on beyond recognition in those decades.

Opening with the upbeat ‘Pick a Sound’ from Selah Collins, the primitive synth instrumentation suggests the presence of a 1980s game of Space Invaders somewhere in the mix, but it works surprisingly well. The title track from Kenny Knots has a repeating structure of melody and words that is very much in the mainstream reggae tradition despite the different instrumental treatment offered here. The sentiments of ‘Ready for the Dancehall Tonight’ by Peter Bouncer are fairly self-explanatory, but on a track like ‘You Ha Fe Cool’ from Richie Davis there is a greater recognition of the problems of the world beyond the music. ‘Control the Dancehall’ by Mikey Murka – accompanied by the urgent rhythm of its excellent instrumental version - is a particularly strong track, the best of dancehall from this period.

Most of the tracks are followed by their versions, with a mild dub makeover on some. At times the versions sound curious indeed in their limited range of sounds and effects, a little like listening to the soundtrack from a lost Super Nintendo game set in the land of reggae. At other times this sparse use of sound is fitting and effective. The very clear production throughout is from Ranks, Red Eye and Ribs who (along with the performers) wrote the tracks included here. Mastered by Moritz von Oswald from Basic Channel, this album brings the music of the Unity label and sound system to a new audience, as well as the opportunity for those who already knew the album to get hold of these tracks again with new and informative packaging. Available in vinyl, CD and download formats, these tracks have a vital sound, befitting the time of their creation, and represent a key moment in the transition of reggae toward new forms including the later development of dubstep.

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