Imagine living at the centre of the world. The planet’s transport hub where we strive for the biggest and the best. We break records and change games; we are the definition of the impossible made possible.
Yet we lack one thing….
The ability to build and sustain a credible underground music scene…
Are we hampered by the innate copy and paste culture that seems to plague the club concepts of the city?
Does the opulence, showmanship and blind sighted flippancy drown out the ability to curate legacy concepts & somewhat hypnotize the operators and investors into believing that all that shines is gold?
Let me attempt to take you deeper into the scene or ‘not quite yet’ underground music scene of Dubai.
February 28th, 2020, as I stood amongst some 6,000+ revellers in the middle of the newly proposed club space; Hangar 04 for the first ever After Life event in the UAE. Peggy Gou was down the Road at Soho Garden, the mega club of clubs. I remember thinking, are we finally seeing the peak and reward of all the hard work and foundations laid down by the likes of, to name just a few; Audio Tonic at 360, Secret Circle at The Basement, Diskonekt at Vii, not forgetting the infamous Analog Room, come to fruition, are we, here in Dubai about to be taken seriously on a global scale, does this represent the beginning of the future of Dubai’s music scene, two mega brands & top tiered artists performing on the same night and both selling out in almost record numbers, does this in fact stand testament to the fact that House & Techno actually stands above all else here in the region?
However, those aforementioned homegrown concepts that once paved the way in building the framework for localised underground culture have sadly now fallen by the wayside, in essence swallowed up by the mega clubs’ ethos of bigger is better. As grand and immense as some of these super clubs are, spectacular in fact, they haven’t quite yet been able to do enough to provide a regular platform or sense of community for the plethora of local based DJ talent. This is not to say they haven’t tried or laid plans out to do so, in-fact some of the now local heroes made their name from such venues, however what we need to thoroughly discuss is the ground-up and how we feed those monster concepts with regular fresh talent. We need a hub for the creatives to flourish, we need support from the top. We need a circuit to grow.
There seems to be a lack of trust or want to nurture such talent, perhaps stringent licensing rules currently inhibit this from being plausible, change is needed on this front, something which I will touch on later in the article but for now let’s look at the positives.
There is hope on the horizon with a new, young and ever more hungry generation of artists who seemed to have used the 18-month hiatus of live ‘club’ entertainment as a paving stone in building a new community driven scene. The likes of Doomaz, Off-Kourse, Cattaree and many more of the next generation of Dubai based talent have been popping up on any given chance, be it restaurant, beach or bar, building quite the following along the way.
BO-18, the Beirut based concept is close to opening which should pack some punch and offer us more in the way of access to underground music away from the stadium sized offerings. The slight chance that back-to-basics champion, Industrial Avenue may reopen and the ever-present rumour of the return to business for the cities favourite love-affair; Blue Marlin will once again come again are all signs that the belief is actually there.
Community driven projects like Ibiza Global Radio have sent a breath of fresh air into the foundations of our scene, in fact for me this is one of the most significant moves towards sustaining the scene, giving it legs to build upon. A regular hit of artistic expression from some of Dubai’s most talented; finally, a genuine platform on which we can cultivate a city soundtrack with.
The Dubai Bible, a local social media page that promotes nightlife and its creators has endeavoured to share and showcase new talents and prides itself on purely organic growth and reach. The page has recently curated a mix series that offers unseen and unheard talent a platform in which to express their artistry and perhaps earn them their shot in the clubs.
Dubai is a melting pot of want, we the creatives know what is needed and what we can achieve but we are hampered by the lack of lack support from the top-down in building and sustaining a credible underground scene; in some respects, I believe we are just noise in an already super loud and hyper competitive nightlife market.
Breakaway culture & self-sufficiency
Corporate structured hotels & nightlife seldom mix at the best of times, however still in 2021 we are presented with little or no option but to attempt to partner up when it comes to nightclubs. With only a few examples of truly stand-alone concepts being housed outside of hotel boundaries. This is something that going forward I hope to see more change as in its current form could perhaps be the number one reason for the lack of real grass roots development and a genuine scene on which to build upon. Hotel politics, red tape & bureaucracy absolutely stunt the growth as key decision makers have little or no experience in nightlife away from the bubble of small F&B restaurant/bar concepts.
Change is needed
Underground club-culture isn’t bought and paid for; it’s nurtured over years. It’s often copied and then commercialised, alas by then its lifespan is at its end, you see once underground-culture becomes popular culture; yesterday’s news has already arrived. There are however some positives I suppose to underground-culture becoming popular, it breeds a new generation of floor fillers and would-be artists, promoters and producers alike.
You cannot build culture overnight, infrastructural changes are needed to allow the framework to do its job, especially in the land of the new.
For some older cities this is second nature, but seldom have we seen such a rise to power in a region that is still in its infancy, almighty as it may be, it needs a little care & love from the ground up in nurturing the real growth of a credible and international respected music scene.
Key changes and open discussions are needed from all parties involved, it is essential to the onward success of the scene. Something which a group called ‘The Creative Collective’, led by Charl Chaka and friends begun to do so during the recent entertainment ban during the pandemic. This and more needs to continue, we need to see proactive and positive proposals to look at the permit & licencing structure for artists to perform & play as in its current realm as an operator or smaller event promoter, it presents itself to be too expensive to take a risk on untried or tested talent.
Something we fail to make use of like other scenes around the world is a healthy touring circuit.
This again comes down to visa and licensing issues that can sometimes, unwittingly restrict artists from playing at other venues, in turn stunting the best talent from being heard elsewhere in the city and growing their following.
If we could see this happen, we would start to see outward interest, first from other countries regionally in booking our talent and onto the global market. Think of the circuit as an ever-evolving conveyor belt of the city’s artists who eventually move up a level and free up space for the next would-be the start to jump in, and so on.
The lack of what I would call ‘purpose-built’ nightclubs with dance floors are few and far between as the table culture still has it’s firm grip on the investors and operators of yesterday, however the script is beginning to change and you are seeing at least the want to incorporate more ‘dance-floor’ lead designs creep in. A solution to this issue would be a simple one, again one that is seldom explored here, the multi-room nightclub. Something which you see in clubs around the world, but not often enough here. This allows new talent to break through whilst also allowing the operator to experiment with layouts and concepts under one roof.
A key factor in the success of building and sustaining the club-culture I speak of is in-fact, time.
Club concepts here have an average life span of 2-3 years with some obvious high-profile exceptions to that. We need time to nourish the foundations set, what grows slow, grows strong.
I’ve only just scratched the surface here; in fact, I could write a book on the subject. So, consider this my opening statement, chapter one if you may.