Interviews 3 December 2021
Author: Shan Selena

GRM Exclusive: Cheeky Talks Eskimo Dance, Its Humble Beginnings & International Plans

3 December 2021

Music has, and always will be a way for people to connect. Whether it be sharing music with your friends or catching a vibe in a rave with a room full of like-minded fans, the power of music is undeniable!

Sometimes, it can become easy to forget the people that make it happen, the ones in the board room for instance. Event managers and promoters are at the heart of what makes a live music event run smoothly- ensuring an optimised experience for the music fans.

Steven Cee, sometimes better known as Cheeky, is at the forefront of one of the urban music scenes largest events brands, Eskimo Dance. Formerly a DJ, Cheeky formed a friendship with veteran grime MC Wiley which led to an opportunity to aid an emerging events brand to blossom. Now, just over a decade into his time at the helm, Cheeky takes the time to reflect on his achievements, his challenges, and his hopes for the future, including hosting a three-day event in Amsterdam!

You’ve been on the circuit since the very start and your love and passion for music is amazing to see. What compelled you to get into events and promotion?

I was talking to an MC about this the other day. There was nothing going on. There was a point at around 2010 to 2011 where it was almost like the game stopped. Everything that everyone was doing before, whether or not it was selling CDs out of the back of a boot or radio or bookings, everything kind of dried up.

“At that time Rhythm Division had its closing division, it had just gone into an online store instead of being a physical store, because the sales weren’t what it was meant to be anymore. So, I kind of feel like the next step that I hadn’t tried was events. I was going to raves and having a good time and seeing gaps in the market, so I thought yeah let’s give this a go, let’s try it. I never really tried it thinking I was going to get to where I have done but I kept going and learnt quickly. A lot of balls at the time and I just made it work!”

It must be really humbling for you to look back on everything and see how it has all turned out.

“Yeah. You know what, I never looked back until the pandemic! I never paused until it hit and then we had no work and I got time to reflect on how I started, what mistakes I’d made over the years and how I could improve when things returned. So, it’s only now that it’s hit me. I tried to run before I had even started to crawl and then I somehow landed on my feet after about six months and just kept going.”

I read somewhere that you met Wiley a long time ago in a record shop and that’s how you became friends with him. After that happened, how did your involvement with Eskimo Dance come into play?

“When Eskimo came back, I think Audiowhore was already about and Malia Live existed and I was sitting there thinking, oh yeah, I’ll tell you what’s missing, a grime rave! It was at that time when grime raves weren’t even allowed to happen, the police were saying no, never. So, I thought let me try and see if this could work. So, I think I rang him one day and said let’s make this work.

“I think after a while of ringing about most clubs said no, but we found one club which was kind of secure enough. It was too big, but it was the only way it was ever going to happen if it went into o2- I think it was called priority at the time. It was way too big of a capacity to even go into, but it was the only venue in London that was secure enough to have this type of event. Police still went mad, it still got graded as a high-risk event and we had to pay a bit extra for dogs and security, all that malarkey at the time. I think we even had to take people off the line-up for it to happen. So, I think yeah, that all stemmed from one little phone call, waking up and a bright light shone and said ooh yeah let’s try this crazy idea!”

 Look at it now! It’s huge, isn’t it?

“Yeah, I know. You see within a decade that was 2012! Really and truly, I should do a decade of the resurgence. I know we even considered that. We are coming up to that time. I think it was January 14, 2012.”

You made the decision to bring it all back, so what would you say was your biggest challenge when you were within that process of trying to revive everything essentially?

“At the beginning, the biggest challenge was the police. They weren’t having it! Not a single bit. We rode through a lot of storms that not many people even know about because I don’t talk about it too often. Things like them trying to cancel the event before it even happened. They were hell bent that what happened in the past, back in the day, was going to continue. But what they didn’t realise is that the crowd had changed completely, so the dynamics of the event being such a dangerous thing was no longer. I think it was only when one of the police commissioners’ sons went to our event, it was like well if your sons going to the event, why do you think it’s such a big, horrible thing? After about the third or fourth one they let us go. I haven’t had an issue with police since then, but the first initial period was a nightmare.”

Yeah, I can only imagine. So, after the re-launch in 2012 you had finally pulled it all off. How did it feel to be back?

“Well after the first one got off the line, it was a relief! Because I just feel like that little bit of hard work that went on to get it over the line in the first place, it was just a relief that it happened. The fact that something was able to come back in the way it did, and it had almost transformed. How it was before, R&B and Hip Hop for four hours and then there was one big grime set. When I brought it back I kind of changed the landscape. I kind of made it into a grime event. There were three different sets throughout the night, there was a grime DJ, a Hip-Hop DJ, there was a garage set! I changed the dynamics of it. The structure of the rave came. I feel like it’s been a positive, because we’ve lasted a decade doing it that way.”

We’ve seen it flourish since then, for example, you sold out SSE Wembley. That must’ve been such a proud moment for you! I know as a fan, I felt proud.

“Yeah, that was a big one, you know. Sometimes I forget how big of a show that was. I should really go back! It’s on my to do list- do one big show and get a line-up together. That was also a transitional point, when I look back to that line-up I think, Abra Cadabra was on there, Stefflon Don was there, AJ Tracey after he had transitioned a bit away from the grime a little bit. It was kind of the catalyst that showed that Eskimo Dance didn’t just have to have grime MCs all over the line-up. It was a proper show from start to finish. The energy was high!”

The line-up was huge! I remember attending myself and I was just in awe. It was amazing to share a room with so many other fans. How do go about putting together a line-up? I can imagine as an artist its an honour to be asked to perform at Eskimo Dance.

“It was at the beginning! (Laughs). It was for the first couple of years and then yeah, that went out of the window. It’s all about money now for them. There are some artists, don’t get me wrong, who would still do it for the culture. Even though they would still come out and do it, I think its rare.

I think nowadays, the agents, it’s not even the artists it’s the agents. They’re all about the money. Since the agent resurgence, when it came back in 2012, the agents never really had the power they have now. So, we were able to ring up pretty much anyone and get them on the bill. It won’t be an issue. If I ring up a top artist now and say come through on Eskimo Dance, the agent is going mad on the phone saying they can’t play here because they have exclusivity for this festival. It’s almost killed club culture- a bit. I feel like agents push their artists towards playing at festivals and selling out hard tickets for their own shows.

“They have completely missed something which built everything in the first place! The fact that these artists went out to clubs, and they did their thing. Without clubs I don’t think you can have artists and I think that agents need to actually take that into account in the next few years, because there are a lot of club promoters out there that are struggling to do shows. They can’t get the artists to do the shows.”

So, you’re taking Eskimo Dance to Amsterdam! It sounds incredible. Could you tell us a bit more about the event?

“We are doing a three-day rave, over three different days. Every day is going to be different. It’s going to be the biggest weekend ever! There’s everything for you! There’s going to be garage, grime, rap, a bit of jungle. It’s gonna be a vibe! Everything around it, coffee shop pop-up parties in the daytime, boat parties, then go to the club at night- it’s just gonna be one big weekender that you just won’t forget. Chances are that it’ll just be one of those one off things that we do and it will be remembered forever! I’m looking forward to that one. 2022!”

We’ve all got our great stories from going to Amsterdam and things, it’s such a great place. What are your own personal memories and did these experiences influence you to choose the location?

“Yeah, because I feel like Amsterdam and grime and rap from the UK, it goes hand in hand. From back in the day, it was a place where people went, and it was just a cool place to go. The vibes are right over there! It almost feels like you’re in England but you’re not. It’s got a few similarities. Obviously, the weed smokers can smoke. It’s so suitable! Plus, the venues are sick. It’s close enough. Like, it’s just the right vibe. Everything’s the right vibe. When we announce the venues and you see what venues we’re in, you kind of get that those venues suit the scope of what Eskimo Dance is!”

Will you be pulling anything new out of the bag in Dam? Anything that we haven’t seen at an Eskimo event before?

“Yeah, we are! I can’t say, but we are going to pull something big out of the bag! I think it’s either going to be the middle day or the last day. Now that we have had to postpone it twice, all the original ideas we’ve had we just kind of throw it in.

We are just going to make this be an experience that don’t ever forget! Like it’ll be one of those things where if you never went, you’ll be like oh, why didn’t I go? We will outlay that as soon as we get this line-up out in the next couple of weeks. Big big plans that we’ve got. But yeah, it’s really important now, I feel like the people deserve an experience rather than the same old stuff. That’s why I’ve been planning it through lockdown- to give them the best experience possible.”

It seems fitting to ask about the Covid-19 pandemic because it had devastating effects on the live entertainment industry. In hindsight, do you think you can take anything slightly positive from it now? Did you have chance to refine the brand?

“When the pandemic first happened, I thought it was the biggest disaster in the world! Even a year after it first happened, I was still thinking that. Because I don’t think we really got the go ahead here in the UK until end of June, when they finally said alright cool, we are going to open you up now. We were in the dark! We were thinking, will we ever come back? What do we have to change? There were certain things that we were trying that weren’t working- everyone was trying to do livestream shows and charge money for it. It wasn’t really happening the same way; it wasn’t the same vibe.

“We needed to come back. It gave me time to put 2022 plans in place, because everything I had planned before we opened last summer was pretty much in the scope that by 2022, we should be back. So yeah, it’s given me a lot of time to plan, refocus, see where we went wrong and what was good and positive about the journey. You’ll see in the next couple of years, we will revisit a lot of the stuff that worked and that was really good.”

Finally, if you could cast your mind back over everything you’ve experienced with Eskimo Dance, what would be the biggest highlight for you?

“You know what yeah, SSE arena, because that was a hard show to put together. We never had any big corporate promoters helping us, it was all our own investment, it was all our own production team. We hired the venue, we did everything! Risk assessment, health and safety. We pretty much pulled it off on our own, so I feel like that achievement there was huge!

“The one moment that hit me was when we sold out Bristol in April 2015! At that time, we weren’t really selling out shows. Things weren’t going very well. Raves were going along alright, they were plodding along, just about making it. I think it was that event that turned everything, and I knew, ok we’ve actually done it now, we’ve hit maximum numbers, we sold out in advance. It was the right time. I think that was the time I’d say say, you know what, that eighteen-month period- that’s the start of when Eskimo Dance was really really really popping! Those are my joint two moments… I can’t pick one!”

Pollen presents, Eskimo Dance in the ‘Dam, an event like nothing we have ever seen before! Taking place from 8th-11th April 2022, Eskimo Dance are ready to serve you the authentic sounds of London over three days of partying in one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.

Over it’s 18 years of continuance, the Eskimo Dance brand has remained a solid pillar in grime culture, championing the genre and celebrating the talent of UK artists. What better way to show some love than to be part of our biggest event to date? Join us for a jam-packed weekend and immerse yourself into the Amsterdam lifestyle with coffee shop and venue takeovers, boat parties and much more. We promise you pure Eskimo Dance energy in the Amsterdam, the heart of the party scene!

There’s no better time to secure your places than now. Be there and see us make history in our first ever destination experience. Enjoy a fully charged line up bigger than ever before. Eskimo Dance in The ‘Dam promises to be unforgettable. You won’t want to miss this!

What we are offering you:

  • Live performances
  • DJ Sets
  • Coffee Shop Takeovers
  • Boat Parties
  • Accommodation to suit all budgets

Payments plans are available.

Stay in the loop with event information here!