If the absolutely heaving Metallica tribute night at Aussie Legends in July was anything to go by, it seems there’s no shortage of talented young things doing the rounds at Dubai’s gigging venues. Progressive rock-metal quartet Absolace appear to be leading the charge, playing three gigs over the next two weeks to promote their debut album, Resolve[d].
Having signed a distribution deal with Daxar Music, Sunday July 11 saw the band – Greg Cargopoulos, 24, Ben Harris, 30, Nadim Jamal, 25 and Jack Skinner, 21 – hit the shelves of the metal section in Virgin Megastores across the Middle East, though if they have anything to do with it, you’ll find the album next to Pavarotti. ‘We’re all over the place. I keep going in there and putting it over all the counters, on every genre: classical music, Arabic music…’ Cargopoulos laughs.
As founder of the band (he plays drums and percussion) and a long-term expat, having clocked up 14 years in Dubai, half-Greek-half-Scottish Cargopoulos knows the music scene well and has been an active member since high school. An audio engineer for concerts and events by day, he seems a little startled by how full-on things have become since the completion of Absolace’s album. ‘It’s a full-time job trying to promote your music. We don’t have a manager to do all this stuff for us,’ he explains. While a manager would make things easier, at the moment it’s a luxury they just can’t afford. They’re hoping their album will make them a more attractive bet for a record label, something else they are yet to secure.
One thing they seem to have had little trouble finding, however, is fans. Making the most of social networking sites, the band have accrued more than 1,100 fans on Facebook, and Cargopoulos claims to have received fan mail from as far afield as Canada, Portugal, Belgium and Australia. Yet both Cargopoulos and Harris are adamant that accumulating a huge, frenzied following is not what the band is looking for. ‘We listen to bands like Porcupine Tree, who don’t have a massive fan base, but the fans are really loyal. That’s what we’d like in the long-term,’ Cargopoulos explains.
Asked how he feels about the music scene in which he has grown up, Cargopoulos laments the demise of festivals such as Desert Rock and Desert Rhythm, and believes more should be done to promote local talent. ‘To get outdoor festivals would be cool. An original music festival, attracting bands from elsewhere in the Middle East like Beirut, Egypt… wherever!’ But it’s not just about blow-the-budget events. Ironically, for an area with such a robust population of musicians, the band are in unanimous agreement there is a dearth of suitable venues in the emirate.
‘There’s only one proper rock venue, and that’s the Music Room. Other places just put bands in and chuck a stage in the corner,’ he explains. ‘What I’ve heard from the bands out here is that one minute they feel like, “Oh we’re playing all these cool gigs”, then a few months later you start to realise that you’ve played the same three venues a few times and the same cycle, so you feel like, “Okay, I need to go to another country now.’” If we’re to draw a conclusion from his experience, it would be that Dubai is shedding rock musicians faster than Tiger Woods is shedding sponsors.
‘Dubai is a great stepping stone though, because you always have a lot of support from the local people,’ adds bassist Ben Harris. ‘It’s a small market here, but they’re enthusiastic about it.’
While the band were under no illusions about the hard slog involved with putting together an album, Cargopoulos admits none of them were prepared for the amount of work they would have to do after its release. ‘We made the mistake of thinking that when we’d finished recording, our job was done and the hard work was over,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a lot to do. As proud as I am of the album, I’ve always seen it as a guinea pig. I never thought we’d get management or a label before we released it, and that’s realistic. Now we’ve released it, we’ve got something to show people: this is who we are and what we’ve done,’ he concludes.
It may be a while before they get a decent volume of feedback on the album, but with plans already being made for a second, it’s hard not admire their enthusiasm.