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Reality intrudes on fantasy island

UK dance fans turned Ayia Napa into a new Ibiza. The strains are showing

Steven Morris, Ayia Napa, Cyprus

The Guardian: Saturday July 29, 2000

The warm night air is filled with the scent of jasmine, and the Mediterranean laps on to a pristine sandy beach - an idyllic, peaceful scene apart from the distant rumble of dance music. Amid buildings of concrete and plastic, heavyweight sound systems pound out booming beats, and masses of bodies sweat and move in time.

Cheap beer and cocktails are consumed in large quantities, and at times tensions mount. Fights break out, as happened last weekend when a young Briton narrowly escaped with his life after being stabbed during a BBC Radio 1 dance party.

This is Ayia Napa, the resort on the east coast of Cyprus which, within a few years, has changed from a retreat for families to a dance mecca, hailed as the new Ibiza - a magnet to hordes of youngsters in search of cheap and easy sun, sand and whatever extras they can find.

It is without doubt a Mediterranean boom town, with awkward growing pains, a place where cultures clash.

One writer described cooking fish in the summer of 1972 on an empty beach and dozing off, to be woken not by crashing dance music but by sand flies. At that time this tranquil fishing village was home to only 100 or so men, women and children. Then came the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974. Resort towns were taken over, and some displaced landowners, among them hoteliers, were compensated with tracts of land in and around Ayia Napa.

Tourism rapidly overtook fishing as the area's principal industry. Many who had lived there for generations sold up to developers and moved into the hills. The holidaymakers began to arrive.It is less simple to pinpoint just how hard dance music, especially UK garage - upbeat, softened with a touch of soul - found Ayia Napa in the past few years.

Orestis Rossides, director of the Cyprus tourist board, said: "Ten years ago there were only a couple of discotheques. There was a young crowd which hung around the square, but there were many more families in hotels and villas on the edge of the village."

Ayia Napa now takes in around half a million of the tourists in Cyprus - 2.5m this year. Ibiza entertained just over 2m last year. Around half of those who find their way to Ayia Napa will have come for the nightlife. Hotels and apartments are almost as packed as the dance floors. Mr Rossides is unsure whether the town had changed for the better. "The balance may have shifted too much to the young," he says.

Two or three years ago, club owners heard of the UK garage scene, then attracting crowds of affluent young people. mainly to clubs in London. Ambitiously, they ditched their 1970s favourites and began signing clubs and DJs to fly out. Now they play to 2,000-capacity venues such as Pzazz, paying top DJs 1,500 an hour.

Ayia Napa has come to be seen as one of the few Mediterranean resorts attractive, because of its music, to large numbers of black young people who never really took to Ibiza's rave-oriented scene. At 3am the town centre vibrates with the sounds of competing clubs. New ones seem to be opening monthly as businessmen realise there is cash to be made.

Some try to draw the crowds with gimmicks. The Ice Club has a snow machine and air conditioning that makes the interior so cold it almost knocks the breath out of the visitor. The Castle Club's facade boasts turrets and towers constructed out of imitation stone, a jarring contrast with the 16th-century monastery nearby. Others use big names to draw the attention of the passing trade. Club Abyss features an unconfirmed visit from the singer-turned-DJ Boy George on its publicity material.

Nobody disputes that music is king here. The Castle plays host to the ultra-hip Ministry of Sound this weekend, a seal of its credibility. The clubs, which charge around 10 on the door and offer cheap beer, do deliver, and the punters respond even to somewhat dubious chants such as "We say Ayia, you say Napa! Boom!"


Television crews and radio stations have arrived en masse, most notoriously the programme-makers who dubbed Cyprus "fantasy island" on Channel 4. Those who seek to maintain Ayia Napa as a hip resort for serious music lovers, not to mention the town council, were aghast at the programme's focus on laddish drink and sex. Some now believe an influx of young revellers not really interested in the music has changed the nature of the resort.

The full facts of the stabbing at the weekend have not surfaced, but it seems that a fight broke out at a daytime party on the resort's Nissi Beach organised by Radio 1, its first visit to Cyprus after successful broadcasts from Ibiza.

The station's security officers quickly separated the groups, but the fighting continued away from the venue, and Andrew Grey, 35, was stabbed. Two men were arrested on Sunday night as they tried to leave Cyprus.

The incident does not help to quell growing unease about the resort. There is also the fear that more drugs are seeping in, despite the island's "zero tolerance" policy. In May a 23-year-old builder from Cornwall was jailed for three months after being found with seven ecstasy tablets in Ayia Napa, and this month a man of 25 from Coventry died from an overdose.

Cypriot police, optimistic that the island will never have the same drug culture as Ibiza, believe the club owners take a more responsible attitude. However, the situation has worried the town's mayoress, Barbara Pericleous, who has been making noises about a clampdown on clubs

By 5am dawn is breaking over the town, and the crowds are beginning to leave the clubs. It is easy to pick out the music aficionados from the sex and sand crew. A pair of teenagers wearing replica football shirts aim their moped at a well-dressed group of friends from south London. One of the group lashes out and connects with the machine, but it stays upright.

Tim Jarvis, 23, who is on his second visit, said: "Last year it was a much cooler place, everybody having a good time. Now there seems to be a more rowdy element here."

By 6am the street cleaners have moved in to clear the detritus of last night's partying. The revellers seek their beds before getting ready for another night. The few locals who have not been up all night serving food or drinks poke their heads out, perhaps wondering if the price they are paying for a little prosperity is too high.

The serious clubber's guide

Ayia Napa

What it's all about

The new "unspoilt" mecca for young party people and the first real alternative to Ibiza since 1995

Who goes

According to the Ministry of Sound, beautiful girls quaffing champagne instead of lads drinking lager

What's on offer

Watersports, bars, beaches, good music and "practically no" drugs


Twice As Nice, Pure Silk

How much?

485 for a 2-week self-catering package in early July

What's it like?

Ibiza five years ago


What it's all about

Ravers' paradise and the place to be seen partying over the summer months

Who goes

These days, everyone who wants to dance until dawn, from 15 to 55

What's on offer

Bars, clubs, poolside parties and mind-altering substances


Pascha, Manumission

How much?

389 for a 2-week self-catering package in earlyJuly

What's it like?

Goa 10 years ago


What's it all about

The ultimate beach party destination

Who goes

Year-round ravers of all ages

What's on offer

Beaches, interesting architecture, a mixture of cultures, body painting, out-of-body experiences


None as such

How much?

2 weeks in November 445

What's it like?

More exotic than Ibiza

Additional research: Sally James Gregory

Modern Greek Music Finally Breaks Into American Market

Christian Science Monitor

24 July 1998

Ireland has Sinead O'Connor and U2. Italy has Andrea Bocelli. And in Australia, there's newcomer Natalie Imbruglia. While these ethnically diverse artists have exploded onto the American music scene, there's still at least one genre that hasn't climbed the US charts: contemporary Greek music.

``Modern Greek music has not had a mass international audience because it has tended to remain inwardly focused, more musically apart from the rest,'' says Isaac Coutiyel, the head of Planetworks, a successful Athens-based independent music-production company.

``The big-name European artists tend to sound alike. [Italy's] Eros Razomotti uses the same session players as Celine Dion. The marketing is therefore easier. Greece just hasn't had that kind of exposure.''

But major record labels such as Polygram, EMI, and Sony are for the first time this year pushing well-known Greek pop artists toward American audiences. Such moves have been spearheaded by EMI's international Hemisphere label and its new distribution division, Mondo Melodia.

``Greek music's first obstacle has been getting past this wrong image we have of it. What is commonly heard over here is the worst of it,'' says Gerald Seligman, the head of EMI Hemisphere. ``But ... people just don't know how phenomenally rich Greek music is and how evolved it is stylistically.''

The promotion comes after years of resistance toward what was seen as music too esoteric to cross outside of Greek borders.

Perhaps the most difficult marketing challenge has been Greek music's defiance against the hotter-selling techno-pop of neighboring European countries, cultivating instead an aloof authenticity.

Elements of plaintive ancient chants, Byzantine hymnals, turn-of the-century Greek blues (rembetika), and traditional rhythms (zembeiko) mix colorfully under a light coat of Western gloss. The result is beautiful - but undoubtedly specialized.

Leading the campaign into the American market is Haris Alexiou, Greece's reigning goddess of song, whose velvet-brushed, soul-saturated voice is regarded as the national carrier of contemporary Greek music.

As the country's most successful bridge between music that is at once ancient and modern, folkloric and experimental, she is being introduced to the United States via the redistribution of the successful 1992 Polygram release entitled 'Di Efchon' ('With Blessings') - a sleek, edgy work.

Despite the new attention and established success in France and Holland, Ms. Alexiou sees a larger challenge in selling Greek music abroad for reasons other than just obscure language or unusual rhythms.

``Greek music takes itself very seriously,'' she said in a recent interview. ``It is the music of memory to us. All of our tragedies, all of our modern political problems run through it like its lifeblood. You find this essence as deep in the melody of the music as you do in the language, and that is not easily translatable.''

Alexiou is part of that collective memory, having grown up in a musical age of the great Greek composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, and Manos Louitzos, during the country's politically turbulent '60s and '70s.

It was then a Greek singer's ultimate honor to be summoned by one of these titans to perform their works. Alexiou ended up working with all of them, shaping a three-decade career into an encyclopedic showcase of contemporary Greek music - from pure Greek folk to fusions of Western jazz and Middle Eastern influences.

She tops a list of artists now working their way onto the competitive stands at such US music-store chains as Tower Records and HMV.

Legends such as George Dalaras - Greece's Eric Clapton - and Eleftheria Arvanitaki - its Carole King - are also part of both EMI's and Polygram's initial promotions. Sony has signed on Anna Vissi, a Cypriot sensation.

For Alexiou, Greek music, in spite of its ``difficulties,'' is a sure thing for anyone who ventures into it, Greek or non-Greek. ``Once you listen to Greek music, you cannot help but be brought in closer and closer to it,'' she says. ``Then you find that you can't ever leave it. It is always with you.''

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