There is a chasm in Dubai’s rock scene. On one side is the local talent, making music that most will never hear, and on the other is the annual Dubai Desert Rock Festival, which hosts the biggest musicians in the world. And, with the exception of a few amateur bands opening the festival and a few local bands who’ve managed to turn pro, there is little else to connect the two.
Or at least there wasn’t. ‘We’re going to change the way the system works,’ says Nikhil Uzgare of PR firm Hook, Line And Sinker, whose new plan may be the most important thing to hit Dubai’s rock scene in years. ‘The local bands die out because there’s no platform for them. They all just realise that they have nowhere to go and they stop doing it. But we’re creating that platform.’
The platform in question is Rock Nation, a live music event that will run every two weeks from now until December, with a break for Ramadan. It will provide a venue for local talent of all levels, from pros Juliana Down, to experienced amateurs like Moonshine (pictured) and up-and-coming kids on the Dubai scene.
‘So what?’ You may shrug. ‘There are already local music events that are doing just that.’ True enough, but Nikhil promises that Rock Nation will be very different.
‘We’re going to focus on having great sound quality. All of the local gigs at the moment have average-quality sound, so people who aren’t really into rock go to them and get the impression that it’s a completely amateur scene. To change this, we’ve got Thomsun [distributors of Yamaha products in the UAE] providing stage equipment like mics and amplifiers, as well as a team of engineers and mixers who will work on the event. They’re also going to do workshops for bands before the gigs that will give them do’s and don’ts on how to use the equipment on stage.’
Not that all of the bands will need this help. The opening night, to be held this Saturday, will have Dubai veterans Juliana Down and Moonshine, with Sandwash and Point Of View lined up for August 23.
Nikhil and his team aren’t just focusing on the details, though – they also have a much larger plan for the event. ‘The pro bands will do their thing and, along the way, we’ll choose three amateur bands,’ he explains. ‘At the end of the run in December [those three bands] will be able to play alongside five professional bands at a concert that we’re going to call Mega Rock Nation.’ They’re currently in talks with two ‘big international acts’ to headline the event, but either way, Mega Rock Nation will go ahead.
If international acts don’t sound like it fits well with the concept, we’re assured that they’ll just be a bonus – the real focus is on pushing the Dubai scene into achieving its potential. Peter Kotikalapudi, organisational assistant for the event, explains: ‘All that many local bands here want to do is record a demo and play to a few hundred friends every odd weekend, and they’re content with that. That’s why bands like Sandwash and Juliana Down stand out, because they want to move beyond this. Rock Nation is going to give the bands something long-term to focus on, and give them some real exposure.’
But they can’t do that without a little help, explains Nikhil. ‘Thomsun is helping out with the stage, and Rage – which makes extreme sports accessories and clothes – is helping us with merchandise, but to be frank we don’t have any cash sponsors. We want to tell any potential sponsors that they are missing out on a very large, very loyal audience.’
It’s an audience, asserts Nikhil, that’s worth pursuing, not just for Mega Rock Nation in December, but right now. ‘The big gig will only happen once, he says, ‘so the real mileage is in the smaller gigs. And once we’ve finished the big one, we’ll do it again with a new series of gigs and a new database of bands, over and over again, until rock is a household name.’
Ryan Moonshine, lead singer of Moonshine, Rock Nation’s first-ever band, spills the beans.
How’s it feel to be opening the first Rock Nation?
First impressions are always the most important, so we’re going to work hard on putting on a great show. The headliners, Juliana Down, are a big, big band, so we want to make sure we’re on par with them.
How much experience do you have?
We’ve got tonnes of experience – we’ve played Africa, Bombay and several other countries. But we still feel the buzz when we get on stage – the moment that goes is the moment you should give up music.
What do you think of Rock Nation?
Anything that promotes rock music is good. There are rock events in Dubai but there’s not much that pushes the local bands unless they’re going to play covers. It’s a great chance for bands to get together friends, family, strangers and people who heard them on MySpace.
What will you be performing on the night?
We’re doing eight originals, mainly, with about five or six crowd-pleasing covers. The originals will be the full track list from our debut album, which should come out in November. The working title is A Taste Of Moonshine.
Any final thoughts?
Corporate reps should look into sponsoring these events, everyone who comes to these gigs has money to spend.
Rock Nation begins at Touch on August 16.