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On the Frontline of Ibiza’s Grime Invasion

For years, grime MCs would reject the super clubs of Ibiza in favor of livelier gigs in Ayia Napa. Suddenly all of that has changed, so we headed out to the Balearic Islands to find out why.

by Joe Zadeh
Aug 17 2016, 9:00am

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.

“Let’s just say, it gets a little wild here at night,” laughs Jordan Hallpike – the Director of Talent & Programming at Ibiza Rocks – as we sit poolside at Pikes Hotel, a once hedonistic grotto tucked away in the dusty countryside North East of San Antonio, Ibiza.

Named after the creator and party overlord, Tony Pike, this place is a longstanding relic of classic Ibiza: 72-hour parties, mysticism, free love orgies, gak benders, acid trips, and, notoriously, Freddie Mercury’s 41st birthday party. It’s a place where Grace Jones, Frank Zappa, and Kylie Minogue would come to get lucid; a place George Michael deemed perfect to film the video for “Club Tropicana”; a place Ibiza’s police force fully intended to shut down in the early 80s, until hotel regular Julio Iglesias – then the type of bronze chested lothario your mum probably had on her university wall – invited the chief over for a ‘dinner party’ and all prior issues miraculously disappeared overnight. The gradual transformation of this hotel – from a 15th century Spanish finca to a refuge of debauchery for the 80s biggest stars, to its present day incarnation – recently purchased, renovated and renamed as Ibiza Rocks House at Pikes – is quite indicative of how the spirit of this island seems to thrive most when things are in a constant state of flux.

That 80s vision of Ibiza was soon superseded in the 90s, when the arrival of pills, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway, and Danny Rampling would remould the island’s spiritual identity – to Brits anyway – as the “rave generation’s Disney Land”, setting it off on a new path more directly engineered around house music, super clubs, cage dancers, VIP, stag nights, bottle service and Carl Cox. This is the Ibiza most of us still imagine in our heads; it's one that is iron cast by It’s All Gone Pete Tong, Ministry of Sound compilations, and the Instagram feed of the loud, hench dude you shared a flat with in first year.

But the reason I’m here isn’t to search for classic Ibiza or wander through the strobe lit hangars of Pacha, Amnesia, or Space. I’m here to look at the new sound penetrating the island. Walking along the beaches of San Antonio, it’s hard to miss the signs; the literal signs. There might still be titanic hoardings advertising unending Bob Sinclar residencies that will continue beyond the apocalypse, but right next to them are 20 foot pictures of Stormzy offering something quite different. The South London MC began a momentous sold out summer long We Are Rockstars residency at Ibiza Rocks Hotel back in June, and he’s not the only one. Wiley, Novelist, Big Narstie, Lethal Bizzle, Bugzy Malone, J Hus, Lady Leshurr, Elf Kid, Preditah, Slimzee and more will all perform Ibiza shows over the course of the summer. The White Isle, it seems, is experiencing something of a grime invasion.

It makes sense that with grime the way it is right now in the UK – establishing itself as an integral part of the British cultural identity by infiltrating mainstream radio, Mercury Prize lists and your Dad’s Spotify faves – it would eventually touch down in the Balearics. This island has served as a frontier for British club culture, sending as many trends back to London as it adopts. Yet, Dizzee, Skepta, and Wiley have been coming to Ibiza for nearly half a decade – and grime has been going for over 15 years – so what makes this new infiltration so special? Well, for a start, people are actually turning up.

“I used to hate Ibiza,” explains Lethal Bizzle. “My first time there was probably 08/09. I remember going out and thinking, ‘This is not for us.’ The gig was dead, and I decided I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to go Napa. That’s where our shit was popping. Let’s go Ayia Napa with the mandem! Ibiza’s bullshit.”

Things changed when Bizzle went back last summer. “Me and DJ EZ got a 6 show residency at Sankeys, and we just fucked shit up every week. Shit had changed. It was fucking rammed – one of the sickest shows of the year. I was like, ‘Rah, Ibiza’s ready!’ I look over there this year, and it’s like we’re taking over. But it’s public demand innit? It’s what the people want. And this is a business, so if you want to keep your business going, then you gotta do what the young people want. Right now, urban and grime music is the shit.”

Part of what has ushered in that change in Ibiza has been the realignment of Ibiza Rocks. If you’re over the age of 20-years-old, then you’ll remember the original incarnation of the Ibiza Rocks concept. Starting out as a novelty distraction in the back room of Manumission, the idea was simple: embrace the UK’s ballooning live music and festival culture by trying to bring some of the indie infatuation to Ibiza. And so it began, in 2005, as a club night for people who liked sun, sand and swedgers, but also neckties and the Kaiser Chiefs. It was for that one dude in your friendship group who wore winkle pickers, so he could ditch everyone in the main room and go watch The Subways for an hour, before hooking back up with everyone at Doner King.

Flash forward to 2016 though, and Ibiza Rocks has become one of the biggest franchises on the island, possessing three hotels (Ibiza Rocks Hotel, Sol House Mixed by Ibiza Rocks, and Pikes), two bars, retail stores and budget apartments. And the music has developed consistently too. The Ibiza Rocks Hotel programme still includes acts like LCD Soundsystem, Wolf Alice and Slaves, but it's sister brand We Are Rockstars delves into the realms more influenced by current British trends, resulting in a line up dominated by grime, plus acts like Ms Dynamite, Yungen, So Solid Crew, and even Kurupt FM.

And while it's the late twenties/early thirties shirt and shoes crew I see pouring with sweat on the dance floors of the super clubs down the road, the round-the-block queues I see here for Stormzy’s opening show are different: snapbacks and sliders, clean creps and popsocks, tied up hair and skin fade cuts. The young team are here, and they're here for some of that 140 BPM.

“It’s so different to everything else that is out here,” explains Jordan, the man responsible for bringing most of these acts to the island. “This summer I’ve seen moshpits, I’ve seen artists split the crowd, rings of death, I’ve seen drinks flying through the sky, gun fingers, everything going off. That’s on an island where everyone usually stands next to each other and bobs their head. When our local Spanish security guards see a grime night for the first time, they panic – ‘What’s happening here? Is this a fight?’ They can’t believe it. To me, that’s fun… We’re in Ibiza, and we’re all on holiday, so the fun switches up a notch from that dark grime club vibe in London. It’s a completely different feeling.”

There’s no point in me spending a paragraph describing how Stormzy’s show went down on opening night. He’s had more words written about him than Brexit this year, and there are only so many ways you can describe a capacity venue detonating to the sound of “Shut Up”. But, let’s just say that he turned Ibiza Rocks Hotel into what Big Narstie would call “a zoo”.

That said, the grime invasion was never going to be everyone's cup of tea, and many of the island's club land purists are considerably less enthusiastic. “I see ‘Go back to Ayia Napa!’ on social media all the time,” explains Jordan. “There is still a small percentage of people who think Ibiza is just about trance, house, and techno. And they are probably people who have been a few times and experienced that side of the island – and that’s fine. But for me, Ibiza is about freedom, diversity and being able to experience anything that you want. It’s the people who truly love this island that understand why changing the dynamic now and again is what it’s all about.”

The night ends, and we head to the afterparty, and then the night ends again so we head back to Pikes Hotel, because it's 5am and it never seems to close. Wide eyed folk smoke in the garden and wander listlessly around its many terraces and crevices. In the main room, I find a DJ playing a neat blend of electro house, balearic and funk to a room full of smart casuals with healthy tans. They look like a mixture of locals, regulars, kids who worked Ibiza for a summer and never left, and some original ravers from the 90s who probably now avoid San Antonio, come back to this hotel every summer and run a reputable printing business back home. In contrast to the mosh pits at Stormzy, it feels like I’m peeking at a little nugget of old school Ibiza. Grime hasn't quite found its way in here. Not yet anyway.

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See the full Ibiza Rocks line up for the remainder of the summer right here.