Essential Listening: Dance Hall Style – Horace Andy (1982)

Spending too much time on Boomkat can become a negative. It engenders the blasé materialism Chairman Mao so loathed in Revisionists. Just look at them new shiny vinyl records, the sharp edges of the sleeves, think of that intoxicating factory chemical smell when the cling film’s removed for the first time, and how having shelves full of them will impress yer mates. You know it’s true, because vinyl’s exceedingly sophisticated, isn’t it? I’m talking The Louvre, Tolstoy, Alice Coltrane, sub-titled movies and Japanese minimalist decor levels of sophistication here. And no wonder, vinyl boasts an irresistible combination: a timeless aesthetic and sharp but earthy acoustics. Sure, like anything that’s sophisticated it’s liable to be expensive, so it’s infinitely more sensible to collect vinyl casually, but owning a sizeable collection states, unequivocally, you’re an aficionado, committed not only to maintenance of the records and the turntable, but that you’re a more discerning listener too.

Sadly modernity has made vinyl a deeply impractical conduit for music. Skipping tracks requires getting out of your seat. There are no playlists for your favourite songs. All of the medium’s impracticalities and incompatibility with modern attitudes make it the ultimate test of a record’s worth. Are you prepared to listen to all of it?

But in this era of instantaneous hedonism and convenience adhering to an archaic discipline, or any kind of discipline for that matter, isn’t easy. Peruse Boomkat’s Classics or Future Classics pages and you can become overwhelmed. There are so many great records to choose from and not enough time to choose astutely. Knowledge married with self-control is required to avoid arbitrary excess. Without it, you end up ‘browsing’, which serves as a pre-emptive euphemism for being skint. In the worst case scenario this is a result of buying vinyl records you might not listen to enough – one of the few unforgivable forms of decadence.

However, this form of perilous tangential wandering is exactly how I came to learn that Dance Hall Style had been reissued. I was browsing for some Basic Channel dub stuff that I knew had been reissued, and because their work is influenced by Jamaican dub and roots, it made sense that Dance Hall Style would appear as a recommended or similar purchase.

Contextually, for many millennials (a deeply disparaging term which I’ve come to adore), the album title could be mis-leading. As part of the dub foundation canon Dance Hall Style, with its soundsystem staple of bass, strings, overdubs and organ, is true Dancehall, and is the antithesis of the ghastly (mainly) mainstream, sequencing by numbers, fraudulent autotune festooned shite that’s commandeered the Dancehall genre. There are exceptions found among this undesirable evolution, and while the influences of Dizzie Rascal’s gentrified grime and Deadmau5’s cynically commercial and KISS FM ready electronica are abysmally abortive in a vacuum, such influences have turned Dancehall into a broad church. Throw in some re-issues and this potentially increases the chances of more folk discovering, and better yet deciphering, what an authentic dub and riddum album is.

I suspect many will be familiar with Horace Andy’s work, given the distinctiveness of his voice, without knowing who he is. He has perforated the mainstream in collaborations, as a guest vocalist for Massive Attack, and has served as a cultural inspiration for many, including Basic Channel, and a slew of reggae artists.

It’s easy to see why he’s so revered by those at the cultural apex of the music industry. On Dance Hall Style themes of dysphoria, rejection, conflict and displacement contravene yet sit seamlessly alongside riddum’s psychedelic cornucopia. Andy’s falsetto voice entrances with a soothing Jamaican inflection, but towards the conclusion on ‘Lonely Woman’ it’s weaponised by fragmenting harmoniously alongside overdubs and bass reverbs to match the darker and cynical psyche of the subject. This congruence of voice and harmony eventually morphs into a faded distortion, as though an alien cyborg is singing in the bath in-between submerging its head under the water.

Speaking of being an alien, ‘Spying Glass’ is the album’s standout classic, not only for its seamless organ and string overlays, but its tale of paranoia at migrating from the anonymity offered by home, where Rastafarian culture is universally endemic, to a foreign land that’s curiously invasive, due to its obliviousness to Jamaican culture and mores. Living under scrutiny from an uninformed source is a parable we can all sympathise with even if we’ve never truly experienced it.

This reissue doesn’t have ‘Eating Mess’, which in retrospect would’ve been a more fitting thematic inclusion that ‘Let’s Live in Love’. Certain copies do carry it, and either way it’s well worth tracking down as a digital aside. While it’s still politicised, ‘Let’s Live in Love’ works as a Cliffian counterpoint to the iconoclastic ‘Cuss Cuss’ and lamenting the inconsistency of black spirituality and a lack of focus on continued forms of oppression and discrimination on ‘Stop The Fuss’.

Money, money, money is the root of all evil, is an understandable, but, given Dance Hall Style’s resuscitation, inaccurate musing. Sure, it’s true, money can’t buy you happiness and chasing it can trap you into a life you never intended to lead. Conversely, if used wisely, or in my case unwittingly, it can acquire knowledge, even taste. Remember, the repetitiveness of mediocrity is its own evil and reissues of quality material are the antidote. No chance of a vinyl record sitting idle here, this one’s a sound investment.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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