The History of UK Dancehall Live on Stage

A year on from the death of Smiley Culture, this moving film captures the spirit and passion at the heart of UK music from dancehall to jungle to grime.

At surface glance, Showtime is a film about a night of the same name thrown by bashment soundsystem/promoters The Heatwave last summer. But this isn’t just a document of a night, it’s a deeply joyful insight into the dancehall threads running through the heart and soul of UK music, from jungle to grime. Showtime came out on DVD a little while back (we raved about the promo vid here) and I finally got round to watching it on Saturday.

Beautifully shot and directed by Rollo Jackson, who has already demonstrated a keen eye for intimate storytelling with Tape Crackers, Showtime captures the energy of the night – the rewinds, the sweat, the incredulous looks of those on stage witnessing the flow close-up, the crowd’s rapt response – cut up with the personal stories of the event’s stars. “A lot of music in our generation was influenced by dancehall,” says Stush to camera at one point. Later we see her joining Wiley, Riko Dan, Skibadee and Flow Dan on stage – what a line-up, spanning grime, bashment and jungle – and absolutely killing it, her trademark high-pitched notes recalling General Levy’s own vocal quirk on his 1994 hit Incredible, a track the now grey-haired reggae vocalist goes on to perform over a dancehall riddim for the emotional finale.

There’s a poignant undercurrent, too: “If it wasn’t for people like Smiley Culture, UK artists wouldn’t have a chance,” says Flow Dan. The film is dedicated to the memory of the influential reggae singer who sadly died in March 2011 during a police raid on his home. Throughout the night, homages – vocal and in spirit – are paid to Smiley. Lady Chann, Lady Leshurr and Glamma Kid all provide highlights but my favourite moment is when, caught up in the moment, Riko Dan nudges Skibadee (both pictured above) to pass him the mic and the drum and bass MC obliges. More than once the uniting power of the mic is noted: “We all love the microphone and we all love writing bars,” comments Wiley. One of The Heatwave crew sees it as a baton being passed between the generations, and he’s right: it represents the stories shared, the lives inspiring the next, the love passed on and on and on.

Showtime is out now on DVD (buy here)

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