Band of the month: Universal Rogue

You chose them! In our first Band of the Month contest, Universal Rogue topped the online poll. So who are they and what makes them tick? Hannah Lewis finds out

Music feature

When we asked you to help us pick a Band of the Month, thousands of you visited the website to take part in the vote. In the end it was Universal Rogue’s combination of original tunes and rock ’n’ roll energy that won you over. With a presence on the Dubai music scene since 2003, the band of twentysomethings comprises vocalist and songwriter Khan (he’s so rock ’n’ roll he goes without a surname); lead guitarist Michael Johns; recent addition Kirill Kirpak on drums; and Andrew Gibson on bass.

So what’s it like to be Time Out’s first Band of the Month? ‘“Awesome!” is the first word I think of. It feels excellent!’ Andrew says gleefully. ‘We’re number one, a lot of people voted – which we didn’t expect – and we’re chuffed.’ Their win may have taken them by surprise, but they’ve worked hard to build a fan base and secure these votes. Years of low-profile gigs in a small musical community have developed a loyal audience. And in a city where it’s all too easy to fall off the radar almost as soon as you’ve appeared, that’s no mean feat.

After their first-hand experience of the music scene here, how do they think it compares with the rest of the world? ‘The best thing about the music scene in Dubai is that it’s still a relatively small group of people,’ says Andrew. ‘As the city is growing, so is the music scene. If you have a decent product, there’s an audience that is ready and willing to listen.’ But starting out as a band doesn’t work in quite the same way as it does elsewhere: Kirill finds the regulations in Dubai particularly frustrating. ‘When I’ve joined bands in other countries, it’s been relatively easy to go to a jam night. But here you need things like passport copies. There are many constraints. I haven’t seen a real open mic night in Dubai.’

Still, the band remain positive about their future here. Dubai suits Universal Rogue perfectly: a mixture of different people, cultures and influences. ‘I read the other day that there are 195 nationalities here,’ says Michael. ‘That’s something I really like about Dubai. I mean, this band is made up of four nationalities, and at any gig there’s probably like 20 or 30 nationalities. It shows that music is a universal language And it’s really nice to get all these different influences on the music scene and in the band as well.’

When we ask about their musical inspiration, the band don’t know where to start, citing influences from Tool to The Beatles. ‘We pick out songs to cover and we try to make them sound different – like they’re ours. We take influences from these songs and put them into our tracks. It’s a whole big creative… thing,’ explains Khan, struggling to put into words what is clearly a gradual and organic process. The resulting sound, as Andrew briefly outlines, is eclectic. ‘We try to have a span of genres, because at any one gig there can be many different people and we want to get them all going. We do stuff that’s reminiscent of ’70s funk, but also metal songs.’ The closest any of them can come to a simple categorisation is that they are ‘essentially a rock band’.

Categorisation is not a pressing issue for Universal Rogue. The most important thing, they feel, is that they are writing their own material, itself a rarity within a Dubai scene that is low on live music. But the fact that there is, as they put it, ‘no real music industry to speak of’ in the city is not going to deter them. Being named Band of the Month is just the start.

At the moment the band are writing and recording in preparation for an album, and you can feel them itching to play more live shows. Their aim is to start supporting international bands on tour in Dubai. ‘Every time we finish a gig, I think it was the best gig we’ve ever played,’ enthuses Khan. And their dream venue? ‘The helipad at the Burj [Al Arab]!’ Watch this space…
To hear Universal Rogue, see www.myspace.com/universalrogue.To vote for the next Band of the Month, see www.timeoutdubai.com.

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