Making it in Dubai isn’t always easy, but if you’ve got talent and a good idea then it’s certainly possible. Anyone who saw 500 revellers bouncing to African beats at the last Slob Fest on November 7 will attest to that. And so will Ben Jones and Ash Adams, aka local indie duo The Meerkats, who will be playing at Slob Fest’s second coming this week. After all, in just six months the pair has gigged across Dubai, played all over the Middle East and even supported hip hoppers Arrested Development at a trio of gigs. ‘That’s the thing about Dubai,’ says vocalist Ben, ‘if we were playing [my hometown of] London there’s no way we’d get to support them. You can tailgate a band that’s doing well on the indie scene, like my old band Sunstones used to with Babyshambles and The View, but here you get to play to bigger crowds. And more diverse ones, too – you’re not restricted to indie clubs.’
In fact, The Meerkats’ various gigs in the city have netted them a gaggle of fans – an idea that Ben finds hard to believe ‘We were playing not long ago and we heard a few people singing along to this one part of one of our songs,’ he laughs. ‘It was really random. To be fair, it wasn’t a hard part to sing – it’s only three words repeated about 40,000 times, so it’s pretty straightforward.’
Ben might wrap the band’s success up in self-deprecation but he’s clearly happy with the direction they’re heading in – especially since he never expected to be in a band again. After musical differences put paid to Sunstones, Ben left both the UK and music behind. But a chance meeting changed all that around. ‘I bumped into Ash in Chi, funnily enough, in July 2008. He was a friend of a friend and he asked me if I wanted to come around and listen to his stuff. I said OK, but I wasn’t too bothered about playing again. But I really liked what I heard, so I thought why not?’
The result is a selection of indie tracks that combine arms-in-the-air, cheerful melodies (by Ash; lyricist Ben admits that he has ‘the musical ability of a brick’) with thoughtful lyrics on love, loss and heartbreak. ‘Don’t be fooled by the music,’ he says, ‘the lyrical content is often masked by the happy facade. It’s like going out and putting on a brave face.’
The idea of putting on a happy face seems oddly appropriate for a band in a city as arguably superficial as Dubai. Ben agrees: ‘Me and Ash both struggled with that, and that’s why we got on so well when we met. It took a long while to meet people out here who were genuine and intellectually stimulating. Thankfully the indie scene here is good for that – you can go and chat to people who aren’t all about Gucci shoes and Prada handbags. It’s just chilled out and relaxed, like normal life.’
Which – and how’s this for a segue? – brings us back to Slob Fest, the dress-down, laid-back live music night that The Meerkats will be playing at on Friday. ‘I went to the first one and I thought it was amazing – it was a really good idea to get the local bands together and use them to promote [Gulf4Good and Dubai Foundation For Women And Children]. And the crowd was great, too – really diverse, like the crowd at Arrested Development. You had the indie guys, but you also had a lot of the club queens that you’d expect to see flouncing around posh nightclubs like The Apartment. Well, I call that posh, but I’m from Hackney in London, which isn’t that posh at all. But yeah, I can’t wait.’
The rest of the fest
Who else is on the bill at Slob Fest? Read on
The main club in Alpha will be opened by The Meerkats, who will be followed by Abu Dhabi’s favourite rockers Juliana Down and then new boy Jonas Desai – he’ll be joined by his entire band.
Meanwhile, up on the roof – er, the balcony – Holly Major will be making her second Slob Fest appearance, this time with cohort Cassiano. They will be joined by fellow singer-songwriters Mike Drowley and Mike Ross.
The Meerkats play Slobfest at Alpha on Jan 16