There are many genre’s within the music industry that have staple annual events to celebrate the music with its audience; House had it’s notorious ‘Cream’ club nights in Liverpool, Dance and niche music have its Hed Kandi events in Ibiza which eventually migrated to London, Garage has its flagship ‘Sun city’ events in and around London which were always hyper but glamorous affairs, For me it was all about flexin’ in a satin skirt and top combo, hair scraped and gelled back with a zig zag parting and finished off with crystallized hair bobbles at the end of your ponytail whilst you stood by the ear splitting speakers 2-steppin and sipping on Alize. My memories of garage raves consist of the atmosphere being live but with a slick of gloss being ever present, maybe we were still feeling the ripple effects across the pond from U.S Hip Hop’s ‘Ghetto Fabulous’ era heralded by Puff daddy as he was then known and Ma$e, the vibe of the garage raves in the late 90s were definitely influenced by the sign of the times and it was here my journey into the world of Grime began.
Lets time hop together to 2002 when Wiley’s ice cold Eski beats became a living breathing shapeshifting life force known as The Eskimo Dance, another creation from the ‘Godfather’ who simply wanted to put on a rave for his peers, competitors and fans alike. Its first incarnation from 2002 – 2005 saw the annual event in its rawest form; set times didn’t exist, MC’s were battling on the frontline for survival to avoid being annihilated by the lyrical speeding bullets another MC would be ferociously spittin’ close by, DJ’s would get hollered at mercilessly to pull up the track for the MC’s to snatch that all important medal after battle – The reload. Traditionally early Eskimo dances were R&B and Hip hop based with only the final hour dedicated to Grime; meaning each MC had a fervent appetite to be heard, show off their skills and have their moment to shine. Unfortunately that fever pitch atmosphere could not be contained and spilled off the stage and into the crowd in bursts of violence which erupted between Grime heads, this signified an ice age for The Eskimo dance as it was retired for several years.
It’s time for us to leap to 2012 where something interesting was happening – Grime was evolving in its instrumentals and arrangements and MC’s such as Skepta and JME who had left the landscape of Grime in the lull to explore the UK rap scene returned to their roots and began making Grime beats again with bangers “That’s not me” and “Shutdown”, Lethal Bizzle had somehow found the magic formula to repeatedly break the top 20 as a Grime artist with catchy hooks, also running parallel to this surge of appreciation for the genre, new talent was emerging in the form of Stormzy, Novelist, Cadet, Ms. Banks and Lady Leshurr amongst many more. The new crop of Grime artists were gaining airplay without having to dilute their sound. With a new generation of MC’s being welcomed into the genre and next Gen. Grime heads discovering the rawness that makes Grime great, what better time to reignite the flame of Eskimo Dance which blazed bright over 10 years ago.
“Welcome to the ninth annual hunger games, may the mic be ever with you firin’” – it’s 2016 – spring, Eskimo dance is touring and each MC is poised and ready to compete in Grime’s version of ‘The hunger games,’ the DJ’s are the game makers (and game changers), the venue’s become the arena and the stage is set for our microphone matadors to impress its audience. The tour has expanded and no longer remains within the confines of its epicentre in London; in this era of Eskimo dance organisers have realised Grime has grabbed the nation’s attention, with a slew of artists hailing from differing regions such as Birmingham, Leeds and my home city of Manchester, it was time to take the Eskimo on a trek. When I heard that one of the cities the tour was visiting was Manchester I knew I had to see this event for myself after missing out the first time round back in ‘03 because I was still on my ‘So Solid’ swag and was busy jammin’ in Kavos, Corfu to their live sets. My first thought when looking at the flyer for the 23d April 2016 Manchester Eskimo Dance was – “Daaaaaammnnnn Wiley, back at it again as the ringmaster of Grime” as I surveyed the line-up I couldn’t help but notice the balance of old skool and new skool artists (Big Narstie, Ghetts, Oxide and Neutrino, P Money, President T etc.) in keeping with the tradition of Eskimo Dance line-ups there was something for everyone. By the time the night arrived the line-up had shuffled about with Big Narstie exiting (gutted) and Frisco, Jammer, SafOne, AJ Tracey, Devlin and Roll deep veterans Flowdan and Riko Dan joining, the line-up now felt like it had more meat on its bones but the loss of such a big character in stature and persona like ‘Narstie was notable but adding Ghetts’ frequent collaborator Devlin and the new menace on the mic AJ Tracey was a stroke of genius.
So with me turning up my fleek to full effect by having my makeup professionally done (not the norm but having worked with Oxide and Neutrino briefly in the past and a few other artists I knew the glam had to come out to network the night away!) Upon arrival at the Manchester Academy alone (my girls were on B.P time as usual) the main queue was at a standstill so I was relieved we had doubled up our entrance armour with V.I.P AND guest list access, no queues for us – WRONG! Arguably the ‘V.I.P’ queue was a lot shorter but it was just as chaotic as the main queue with people convinced they shouldn’t have to queue for any length of time as they had paid extra for the V.I.P privilege to avoid this – understandable. Convinced that I was some kind of charged up sonic the hedgehog with rings and emeralds in my possession instead of just a paper ticket and a name for the guest list I too found myself questioning what exactly V.I.P access granted if not instant entry. With people swapping between the main queues and so called V.I.P queues people were becoming restless as FOMO set in as the bass from inside the venue seemed to taunt those of us stuck outside. 30 minutes after my arrival my girls rocked up staring at me in disbelief that I was still outside waiting to be let in. Once everyone accepted we still had to queue for wrist bands before being let in everyone’s mood seemed to pick up once we heard shouts of “TARGET!” coming from inside the venue as DJ Target was goin in on the decks.
Once inside the venue and with a vital pit stop to the bar, we strolled into the main hall where DJ Target was droppin’ heat with a mix of classic garage and modern Grime. Just as Target was saying his goodbyes to the crowd I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see none other than talented London MC on the rise Durrty Skanx who was soaking up the atmosphere before he hit the stage, we greeted each other and had a chit chat, I asked what time he was performing “Who knows, but when I know you’ll know” and with that mysterious answer he sauntered off into the crowd in his kangol bucket hat and ice blue bomber. From the balcony which I presume was meant to be the V.I.P area except anyone could go up without having their wrist bands checked, I heard the opening bars of DJ Oxide spinning ‘Bound 4 da reload’ and screamed at my girls like a drill sergeant “Downstairs now now NOW” not only were Oxide and Neutrino work associates they were also the first garage act I idolised back in the day. Unusually MC Neutrino was not a prominent force on stage and seemed subdued as frequent MC and friend King L spat some hyper lyrics. Oxide dropped classic track ‘Heartbroken’ and their very own ‘No Good 4 me.’ To the crowds delight. After their set it was refill time at the bar and by the time we returned to the front of the stage Devlin was in the middle of his passionate set but I was distracted by the legendary DJ Oxide who came over to say hi and have a chat, striding up to us in his Raiders garms which instantly made me crave a viewing of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ I asked him what his favourite track was from his back catalogue? He answered without hesitation “‘Bound (4 da reload)’, it opened doors for us and had a bigger impact than we anticipated” at which point I exclaimed like a tipsy loon – “oooohhhh Casualty it went to no.1, I remember!” After a lengthy chat about how Garage morphed into Grime we took a picture and said our goodbyes. With my attention turned once again to the stage P Money was giving a frenzied ‘10/10’ performance, the crowd of mainly under 25’s shouting every word back to him. Brum bwoy SafOne brought the 0121 to the Manny stage with the mighty Grime anthem we all love to shout ‘She wants a man from Brum’ which had my friend in super skank mode spirit next to me. Veteran President T shelled down the dance especially with his signature track ‘Kill off Killy.’ Frisco came to let to let us know he’s a ‘System killer’, hot off the decks of his new album release he delivered a solid set with flair. A very memorable performance was delivered from Fekky when he asked the crowd to form a circle for a mosh pit a moment which had the girls groaning and kissing their teeth, thankfully for us second generation Grimesters the crowd were not as eager to follow Fekky’s instructions but soon lost their minds when Fekky decided to throw himself into the crowd as he hollered the now infamous catch phrase “Bu bu bang” into the mic, for me this moment symbolised how a new generation have new Grime heroes to look up to, it was a celebration of all the Grime anthems we know and love under one roof it was in that moment it hit home how much Grime has grown from its humble beginnings.
The breakthrough bwoy that everyone is buzzing about at the moment, AJ Tracey left his lane in London to compete in the fast lane against his competitors on the Manchester stage and he more than held his own with his energy and quick wit.
Special mention must go to Manchester’s very own Burst gang, comprising of members A.Tilly, XP, Hypes and DJ LZ, They bounced onto the stage like it was their headline gig, they were energetic, enthusiastic and ready to buss’ up some speakers with their heavy b-lines thanks to their guest BBK’s DJ Maximum. The rapid fire flows were provided by Burst gang’s MC Hypes and their affiliate MC AK from ‘Money Slave Mafia’; Both AK and Hypes owned the crowd with a “Burst gang” call and response madness. Burst Gang’s set represented the fresh talent emerging from the Northwest from the gang of Grime artists gathered at the event; their hunger and delivery ensures they’ve cemented their crew as ones to watch as their following is certain to increase.
If I had to give the crown to one artist on the night it is without dispute belonging to Ghetts, before Ghetts took centre stage the crowd were becoming restless as each MC’s set began to merge into one another’s as artists and associates joined each other’s sets en masse to take pictures or catch vibes. The infectious mania from the start of the gig had begun to die down until Ghetts strutted on to stage confidently and the beat dropped for ‘One Take’ all eyes were on him and his long time sparring partner Devlin who joined him for this epic moment. Ghetts held court like a champion proudly preening in a boxing ring parading up and down, biggin’ up his chest racking up the reloads as he gave his all to his set. Ghetts delivered the most energetic and furious set I have ever seen live. The energy brought to the venue was incomparable – he leapt around on stage as though springs were genetically fused to his feet, his lyrics were the equivalent of petrol being poured onto the stage and each syllable from his mouth was like a match being struck; by the time his set was ‘dun know’ the stage was well and truly LIT.
There were two surprises on the night; the first being that the special surprise guest was Chip when everyone was willing to put money on it being Bugzy Malone seeing as the dance was being hosted in his home city, instead we had his nemesis Chip take the stage to a chorus of boos as he confidently postured and preened, completely unfazed by the reaction he’d received by the crowd. It was a ballsy move from Chip to choose his lyrical opponents’ city as his first Eskimo dance performance but it was a move that seemed to pay off as he won the crowd over with his lyricism and braggadocio. The biggest surprise of night was a bitter one; the ring master, the instigator, the ‘President Snow’ of the Grime version of ‘The Hunger Games’ did not usher in the new era of his creation for its Manchester introduction. As the lights came on at around 4am and beamed down on the bare chested Grime bwoys and shone down on the skankin’ Grime gyals who were bussin moves on a sea of plastic cups after the music ended, I got the sense that Wiley’s no show was a minor to some of the minors, many of whom were attending a Grime gig for the first time and were just gassed to see a collective of their idols on one stage. As we wearily filed out of the venue I looked at the disappointed faces of the day one Grime heads some of them stating they travelled from afar to see the veterans in the game – ‘Godfather’ Wiley and ‘Lord’ Jammer. As the embodiment and beating heart of Eskimo dance, Wiley’s no show was unfortunate because in truth his presence and talent were greatly missed. We can only hope the Eski bwoys’ preferred habitat entices him to perform in Manchester as the seasons shift and the frost starts to form to welcome – The Eskimo dance winter tour.
All in all the night had many highs and Manchester’s Eskimo dance debut was most definitely a memorable one and has cemented its place in the heart of the city.
Big ups n Blessings to – DJ Oxide, World of Grime, Durrty Skanx, Burst Gang, MC hypes and Burst Gang promoter Money Moonz for their input. Wiley – Thank you for your humility, honesty and support.