Why The Eskimo Dance Is So Important To Grime

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After listening to grime for over half of her life, Grace finally went to the legendary Eskimo Dance. She explores why it’s so important to grime.

Eskimo Dance is as close as you can get to the genre’s foundations.

Eskimo Dance has existed as long as grime has. First taking place at Area in Watford between 2002-5, Wiley just wanted to ‘put on a rave’ and that’s what he did. Although the original run only lasted for three years, it was the legend that never died. I was only 11 when it ended, but I knew what it was and I knew I wanted to be there. Ten years later, I found myself in a queue trailing from Bristol’s 02 Academy. 140 miles from the county where I grew up and where it started; I hoped nothing had changed.

After closing its doors due to trouble, Eskimo Dance made a return in 2012, pioneered by Wiley. Wiley is the godfather. It was him who took the champagne and fast cars of garage and made it eskibeat (the name ‘grime’ soon followed). His career took some turns less favourable with hard-core grime lovers, but when he gives you synth driven hip hop with one hand, he’ll deliver vocal fire with the other. Aside from him, Eskimo Dance is as close as you can get to the genre’s foundations. For people like me who were too young to witness the early raves where MCs passed the mic for hours at a time, this is as good as it gets.

It’s an education of what came before and what’s coming up.

Eskimo Dance has found Wiley taking his godfatherly role seriously. It’s never been about him. His name is on the door, but it’s always been a space for the whole scene. At the Bristol show, D Double E and Footsie, Jammer, Flirta D and Ghetts represented the old school while Bugzy Malone and Fekky (and many others) were new blood but on stage no hierarchy exists. Grime is collaborative by nature, whether you’re clashing in a park or performing with your crew to hundreds of people. At Eskimo Dance, legends and promising acts are in one place and they know each other’s bars too. It’s an education of what came before and what’s coming up.

But if the MCs are essential, grime is nothing without instrumentals and the DJs that play them. ‘Pulse X’, ‘Functions on the Low’, ‘Pied Piper’ and ‘Ghetto Kyote’ are a few of the beats that have circulated the scene for over ten years. Every DJ has to know them and every MC should have freestyled over them. They’ve become their own entity and part of the fun of Eskimo Dance is knowing that your favourite is coming, but not knowing when it will get played or who will spit on it.

The violin instrumental ‘Ghetto Kyote’ is more beautiful to me than anything Vivaldi ever wrote. It captures all the emotions and realities of city life – the beauty and the struggle. The simultaneous realisation and exhilaration when I hear it causes the hype that people used to mistake for aggression at grime raves. Grime-lovers talk about the risk chaining ourselves to the past, and the importance of new material so it doesn’t get stale, but Eskimo Dance is the one place where we’re allowed to be nostalgic. We show up hopelessly expectant of old favourites and the DJs delivers, with extra reloads on top.

The violin instrumental Ghetto Kyote is more beautiful to me than anything Vivaldi ever wrote… The simultaneous realisation and exhilaration when I hear it causes the hype that people used to mistake for aggression at grime raves.

And the crowd is always ready. Eskimo Dance may be an education, but it’s an intimidating place to learn if you know nothing. They pre-empt every lyric, every song, and every reload. Grime thrives on active audience participation. It’s like an instant peer review. If it’s good you’ll hear shouts of appreciation, air horns, and see some gun fingers. If not, radio silence. Coordinator Cheeky says, ‘People have to be screaming your name to get a booking at Eskimo Dance because if they don’t like it, you’ll know’. It becomes more than just performances and about the vibe and response the audience gives back. And it reflects on the event as a whole. Rather than being force-fed songs, artists or promotions, Eskimo Dance is a rare experience where it really is catered to what the audience wants.

Eskimo Dance is more than just a rave. It’s the essence of grime and it means not having to sacrifice. You don’t have to choose between your favourite MCs, your favourite DJ, or your favourite instrumental. You get to have it all and from my experience, it was well worth the wait.

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