Dubai SoundCity review

It was the biggest music event in the UAE’s history – but how good was it, really?

As excited as we’ve been for SoundCity over the last few months, we’ve also had grave doubts. It’s a natural reaction for anyone who’s lived here for any length of time.

After all, any Dubai event is subject not only to cancellations by temperamental artists but may also be shut down without notice (remember the partial cancellation of New Year’s Eve 2008?). And with 78 acts playing across seven venues, the scale and complexity of the operation made some kind of problem pretty much inevitable.

So when the cancellations began to trickle through – no Bloc Party, no De La Soul, Dirty Skirts’ visas declined – it wasn’t too much of a surprise. What was a shock was that, aside from them and Saturday headliners Echo & The Bunnymen, the rest of the show went smoothly.

Well, kind of. The schedule went by the wayside, of course, but after a muted beginning – Thursday’s openers (Evergreen and Sho?) found themselves playing to an audience of about three – things started to take off. Our highlights were Doves, who battled a bass-heavy speaker system to deliver their best tunes; Nitin Sawhney, whose nuanced, expansive music translated brilliantly to the live stage; and Super Furry Animals, who clocked in all their hits and handily prompted the audience with ‘APPLAUSE’ and ‘WOAH!’ signs. The was just The Irish Village, of course – the other venues had their own attractions, with gruff folkster Dan Mangan on the Festival Centre stage and party animals Foreign Beggars setting Alpha on fire being our two faves.

There were negatives, too. Happy Mondays looked like they were going through the motions, and The Farm’s first sober performance in their career (or so they said) also seemed to be their worst. And yes, stretching the whole thing out over three days was a bit of a mistake; Thursday was dead at first because – of course – everyone was still in work, and goodness knows what the bands made of the meagre few hundred people that turned up on Saturday. UK and US festivals can get away with going on for days because much of their audience is camping on-site. But here, with cosy beds to return to each night, attrition soon takes its toll. Couple that with extortionate drinks prices (Dhs35 for a coke? No thanks) and a hefty price tag for the three-day ticket, and taking a night off probably seemed like a good idea to many.

The locations, too, were a bit odd; we’d rather have multiple stages in one place than multiple venues across the city, though that is, perhaps, prohibitively expensive.

But it’s hard to fault someone for aiming too high, and the sheer scale and ambition of SoundCity has to be admired. We certainly hope that it comes back next year, with all the kinks ironed out.

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