With a partygoing crowd that spans multiple nationalities and age groups, there has always been room for easily accessible throwback acts in Dubai. Think Rod Stewart, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Bryan Adams – we’ve welcomed them all with a rock salute or pogo dance. And whether it was by moshing to ska kings Madness back in 2007, bouncing to retro rapper Vanilla Ice last April or flicking ‘Eastside’ hands to bygone boy band East 17 in December, most of us have bolstered the scene at some point.
Yet it’s over the past four months that we’ve found ourselves really swept away on a re-intensified tide of retro performances from ’80s, ’90s and even ’70s acts. There are even regular weekly nights springing up to cater for demand for the old school, including Alpha’s new Saturday Night Fever, Nasimi’s new ’80s night every Wednesday, and the monthly Retrospect throwback night at 360°.
But it’s popular beachside hangout Barasti that has been leading the charge of late with a plethora of old-school acts, including Jocelyn Brown, Snap!, D:Ream and Sister Sledge. Meanwhile, Chi has been getting in on the action with a live performance from aforementioned ’90s favourites East 17, as well as last week’s DJ set from Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor, to be followed on January 28 by Melanie Blatt, of Brit girl band All Saints. Trilogy’s contribution to the retro revival is a set by Boy George on February 10, while beloved Bur Dubai live music spot The Music Room has also staked a claim on the nostalgia trend, reinforced by last week’s performance from UK indie band Republica. The latest announcement is that Meydan will host the Here and Now tour in April, featuring ’80s stars Boy George (again), Belinda Carlisle, Kid Creole and The Coconuts, Paul Young, The Real Thing and Curiosity Killed the Cat. Phew.
Clearly these retro acts are popular, but does this mean Dubai is dropping even further out of the musical loop? ‘I don’t think we’re out of it here,’ says Chi manager Angelique Ferra. ‘Dubai has an older partying crowd than, say, Europe, so a lot of clubbers here originally grew up with those acts in their home countries.’
Barasti Beach director Martin Metcalf agrees, offering another explanation. ‘More than anything, it’s to do with the fact that clubs in this city are saturated with house music,’ he explains. ‘I could bring over David Guetta if you wanted me to, but everyone else is doing that. We want to offer something to a different crowd, because not everyone is into the top 20 DJs.’
Surprisingly, rather than being out of touch with cutting-edge music, Metcalf reveals Dubai is actually following a global trend. ‘[UK-based retro club night] Guilty Pleasures’ monthly events in London sell out faster than any other venue, and it now has its own SingStar PlayStation game. It even partnered with British talent show The X-Factor for a Guilty Pleasures week on the show,’ he explains.
Often, older acts are also better value for money as far as promoters are concerned, playing sets that can last three times as long as those of ‘current’ stars. ‘I looked at bringing over [Abba tribute band] Bjorn Again – these guys sell out stadia, pulling in up to 40,000 people for their shows,’ Metcalf explains, ‘Can you imagine the remuneration they’re asking? For the amount I’d pay someone like that, I could get a modern top 40 act, but then the question is; do you get a top 40 act to come out and do 30 minutes, or Bjorn Again to do two hours? It’s a tough call sometimes.’
But it’s not always promoters doing the running. Often, artists will approach the promoters; their trips will be part of a larger comeback tour. ‘It’s a bit of both,’ explains Ferra. ‘Sometimes a band is planning a comeback and trying to regenerate a following – such as East 17, who are releasing new material this year – but sometimes we’re specifically looking for a particular act.’ Chi has recently been approached by new club night Rockstars Gone House, which features a roster of musicians-turned-DJs, including Tommy Lee, The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, Boy George, Shaun Ryder from Happy Mondays, New Order’s Peter Hook, and Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen. It seems we can expect to see a lot more ’80s and ’90s acts at Chi over the coming months.
And while Metcalf may find it difficult to choose between old-school and new acts for the Barasti Beach stage, he has still pencilled in a sizeable collection of familiar faces for gigs this spring. While nothing has been confirmed, he reveals we could be seeing Coolio, Haddaway, Salt N Pepa, MC Hammer, Rob Bass and DJ E-Z Rock, Young MC, Heavy D and the Boyz and Madness on the beach this year, interspersed with a few younger faces such as Faithless and Snoop Dogg (okay, perhaps not so young). So, is Dubai the land of the comeback star? Yes it certainly is – but this time, we’re ahead of the curve.
Here’s a blast from the past: these big-name stars rocked Dubai while our retro acts were topping the charts elsewhere
Gloria Gaynor: These days, you’re more likely to hear ‘I Will Survive’ being belted out on a karaoke night at Harry Ghatto’s, but when she sang it in Dubai back in 1980, Gaynor’s most famous hit was a mere one year old.
Tina Turner: She has made several appearances here since, but Tina’s UAE debut came in 1981 at Dubai’s Hyatt Hotel.
Chaka Khan: This American diva brought her big voice and even bigger hair to the stage with a live performance in the UAE back in 1993.
Boney M: Their biggest successes were back in the ’70s, but a renewed interest in the ’90s paved the way for the ‘Daddy Cool’ singers to visit Dubai in 1996.
Peter Andre: He may have had a barnet resembling spiders in a scrum and a chest that had seen more wax than a surfboard, but Andre was enjoying his heyday when he played Al Nasr Leisureland in 1996.