Boomkat Product Review:
Honest Jon’s deadly survey of digi-dancehall from late ‘80s London, compiling vocal and dubs that the Unity Sounds label and sound system dropped to mad effect, recorded by a cast of talented amateurs on a Casio keyboard and four-track recorder...
Charting dancehall’s development from Windrush-era grooves and chat to the influence of Jammy’s Sleng Teng explosion a generation later, ’Watch How The People Dancing’ is effectively an update and sibling of sorts to HJ’s classic calypso comp ‘London Is The Place For Me’. Both sets are utterly vital for anyone fascinated by how Afro-Caribbean migrants irrevocably altered the course of British pop music, but this latter session is the one for dancehall modernists - digging deep into a style and pattern that formed foundations for everything from ragga to fast chat rap and, ultimately, breakbeat rave and its spectrum of jungle/D&B/grime/dubstep and much more in due course.
Back in the mid-early ’80s, the emergence of Jammy’s Sleng Teng rhythm - notoriously built from a Casio keyboard preset - would parallel Chicago’s house phenomenon for its widespread influence. Often mutually exclusive (but also brought together in productions by the likes of Bobby Konders), digi-dancehall and house drum patterns and production methods indelibly changed the way people moved in the dance, synced by midi to a pendulous motion that has underpinned much club music since the ‘80s.
Jammy’s Sleng Teng hit hard in London’s mid ‘80s Jamaican dances and became the go-to ballast for MC’s reflections on urban sufferation and defying babylon, and ‘Watch How The People Dancing’ is the sturdiest survey of those expressions. From the shan-diddly-woi singjay chat of Selah Collins’ ‘Pick A Sound’ to the ruddy trample of ‘Run Come Call me’ by Kenny Knots, it’s all-killer, no-filler, sequencing Mikey Murka’s ohrwurm ‘We Try’ and its version, along with Knots’ beam-inducing title tune or the natty step of ‘Lean Boot’ by Richie Davis, or drawing direct links to the early rave scene by inclusion of ‘Chuck It’ featuring Unity Sounds’ Demon Rockers, who famously started rave pioneers The Ragga Twins with Flinty Badman.
It’s a timeless and heavyweight collection that’s rarely been bettered, and sits very neatly as a bridge to Mo Wax and Chrome’s ‘Now Thing’ volumes of late ‘90s ragga instrumentals, or even Soul Jazz’s ‘Box of Dub’ sets.