Keep the Faith

‘I stared down at the faces on the dancefloor, white mainly, chemically driven with the frenzy of beasts. All dancing to our beat. The soul beat. Those horns, those rhythms, those sweet, sweet vocals and their steps. Like nothing I’d ever seen. Doing their freaky Bruce Lee thing but getting it you know. Breaking down a barrier that just wasn’t possible at home. I was shocked. I was mesmerized. It was crazy.’ — Soul Legend, Edwin Starr

In Deptford there is a mysterious door. Honestly, you’d never spot the bunker if it wasn’t for the line outside, facing ID interrogation to separate those that are baby faced, from those that aren’t old enough to engage in deliberate intoxication.

Who knows if they are just here for the cheap drinks? At the bar, coloured paper and sharpies declare cut price shots, and no one can afford to live in London these days. This eclectic crowd is mostly part of generation rent, just-about-adults that believe they will never be able to own a house or a car.

And somehow they’re here, tagging on to an attempted revival of a scene that faded away after the closure of the Wigan Casino in 1981. It was an amphetamine fuelled fire that burned across the North West at legendary venues like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, and the Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent. And the slogan was ‘Keep the Faith’.

But on that night in Deptford, it was impossible to recognise the dancers described in that interview with Edwin Starr. The music poured over the crowd. There was still a ghost in R. Dean Taylor’s house, and Shirley Ellis still counted soul time as 2–4–6–8–22. But Bruce Lee was nowhere to be seen.

You could see the ghost of the steps, a move or two that attendees had looked up on YouTube to avoid looking a fool, but the way of life that they said would never be over, that was supposed to let you move whatever your beat was, was conspicuously absent.

There were a few old timers, a last bastion of the movement, but even they stood in corners, feeling the beat but not responding to it. It was mostly the young’uns out on the floor, looking around to match their friends, barely moving more than a popped hip or a brief shuffle.

And it isn’t about that. This isn’t one of those pieces bemoaning the death of a particular scene, claiming the halcyon days would return if only it could be revived. It doesn’t need to be soul, but there’s a beat missing here. Dance has been fractured across styles, divided into those who know jealously guarded steps, and those that are sneered down upon, the ones that filled the dance floor.

Northern soul was a display of insanity, crazy kids, on the other side of the world to the Motown yards, holding the mantle. Passing the word of soul music from person to person, place to place. If you go to a dance, you shouldn’t need to Google it first, checking the clothing and the moves to make sure you fit in. If it looks like a clique surrounded by stone walls of sentimentality, or if someone tells you you’re not worthy if you don’t collect (records), tell them to shove it.

Go. Find out. Go wild. See that lunatic in the corner, borrow a couple of their steps, and then riff on the theme. Don’t worry about whether the moves are right, start your own movement. Dance till your blood rushes and your sweat is flying. And turn the records up.

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