Never Forget: Ayia Napa Set The Blueprint For Raver Resorts

Words: Dr. Joy White

Looking at the recent success of events such as AfroNation in Portugal, it would seem that party resorts with a musical focus are fairly commonplace. But to appreciate the now, paying homage to what came before is of vital importance. More than two decades ago, a foundation was set in Ayia Napa—a resort town in sunny Cyprus—which hosted the journey from UK garage to grime to UK funky, and everything in between.

Before Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, became a raver’s haven during the peak of UK garage, it was known as a quick getaway for the family. A desire to listen to black British music in the sun had transformed Ayia Napa from a quiet village into a thriving holiday destination and, honestly, I was struck by the economic impact that young black tourists had made. Contemporary black British music genres took root in this location and created a vital market for events, merchandise and performance. The marketing campaign in the UK for the music scene in Ayia Napa was strong—even in those fledgling social media days—with pre-parties, club events and reunions happening all over the country. In comparison to other European holiday destinations, Cyprus was relatively costly, so there was clearly something about the vibe of the place that made it worth the expense.

Ten years ago, as a PhD student, I was researching entrepreneurship, enterprise and grime, connecting with MCs, DJs, producers and event promoters along the way. That year, I had interviewed about twenty people, hung out on music video shoots, attended club events and been ‘behind the scenes’ at pirate radio stations. What became apparent though—especially in the later interviews—was that Ayia Napa was on the tip of everybody’s tongue: as a place, as a ‘vibe’, as an experience. Many of the people I spoke to had either just come back, wanted to go, or had been and loved it. As a researcher, I had to follow the trail, so I went on a field trip to Ayia Napa and ended up capturing a specific moment in time: when UK funky was king.

“Ayia Napa was a melting pot where fun, sun, sand and sea—and enterprise—came together.”

In August 2009, I made the journey from East London to Southern Cyprus to connect and talk with people at different stages of the trip. I had a vague plan: to go to Nissi Beach and experience the clubs and most, if not all of the after-parties. From the terrace of my ground floor room, I was able to watch people going to and from the pool; mornings were fairly quiet as most people didn’t wake up until the early afternoon. On the morning after arrival, I went for a walk and identified the main locations (and the car, buggy and moped hire spots) on the streets that constituted ‘the strip’. By late afternoon, more people surfaced and made their way towards the pool, which was where I met a secondary school teacher who was the event promoter for Funkie Junkie at the nightclub Black & White.

As the main focus of my research was enterprise, it was fascinating to see the numerous ventures on offer. Out of all the business ventures, events, club nights, merchandise, and the Caribbean restaurant—in terms of innovation, one really stood out: the black barber shop. The owner, Krispy Klean, had come to the resort the previous year, stayed for several weeks and realised there was nowhere to get a trim. He returned in 2009, and when I met him he had just set up, specialising in fades and shape-ups. “So here we are,” he said, “at the Krispy Klean barber shop—the official barber shop of Ayia Napa—and we’ve got all the top DJs coming through now: Martin Larner, Marcus Nasty, DJ EJ from up North.”

On Nissi Beach, I saw more evidence of enterprise: Heartless Crew provided the entertainment for the beach party; CDs were on sale and PR crews wore t-shirts to promote events at Club Ice, among others; Maxwell D was there promoting his tune and his energy drink—both named “Blackberry Hype”—as was an unsigned, 18-year-old Dotstar, whose visuals for funky bubbler “Stick Up” had, at that point, clocked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, which was remarkable at the time.

Regarding the business aspect, it was a similar story in the nightclubs. At Black & White’s Funkie Junkie—where Supa D and Marcus Nasty were residents—it was always full to capacity, with hundreds of customers paying €10 entry. Some of the people I met there were just starting out, like producer Lil Silva. Others, such as DJ EJ, had been in the music scene for a while, first as an MC and then as a DJ playing old-school garage, grime, funky and bassline/4x4. Mike Anthony from Rampage was a soundsystem veteran. He was only able to come to Ayia Napa for the weekend because, at that time, he had a show on national radio five nights a week. All the performers I spoke to had come to this party resort to promote themselves and their work.

Ravers in Ayia Napa, 2009.

Walking back after the after-party, I met Slick Don—a bassline MC from Birmingham—who had come to Ayia Napa to raise his profile as an artist. I then bumped into Double O, founder of iconic UKG event Sun City, who kindly gave me a t-shirt from his own after-party. Although bassline was coming through, and UK garage, grime, hip-hop and R&B still got major love on the island, the main soundtrack to my visit was UK funky. In the flyers and promotional material for pre-parties and reunions, the aforementioned genres were now playing second fiddle to UK funky, but when Heartless performed on Nissi Beach, they created an atmosphere where they all got a fair shot.

Looking back now, Ayia Napa was a melting pot where fun, sun, sand and sea—and enterprise—came together in a location 25 miles from the North African coastline. Young people from all over the UK were able to participate as consumers and as creators of black British music. Ayia Napa is less popular now, overtaken by other formats in different locations, but in a way it doesn’t matter whether it’s at the forefront or not. Using Ayia Napa as a starting point, the black British music scene showed what could be done, and how it could be sustained—setting the blueprint for other raver resorts to leave their mark.

Posted on November 11, 2019