Physical Graffiti in the UAE

No, not the Led Zeppelin landmark - a new homegrown act worth hearing

(Image Credit: White Cube photography)

As local music expands and evolves, local alternative-folk band, Physical Graffiti go from strength to strength. Nerses Sanassian from White Cube Studios chats to the band.

Zubin Aroz, Ankhurr Chawak and Darren Dharmai form the up-and-coming three-piece collective known as Physical Graffiti, who have recently taken the UAE by storm with their original take on alternative folk music. They have just released their EP on iTunes, and they are preparing for the biggest season of music yet.

How and when did Physical Graffiti get started?
Zubin: Physical Graffiti have been together for a little over a year. We all met while in the audio engineering programme at the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Institute in Dubai. At first we were all friends, and when we decided to jam together we noticed there was an amazing musical chemistry between us. Forming a band seemed like the natural next step.

Where did the name ‘Physical Graffiti’ come from?
Z: We never thought we’d grow the way we did and so never took naming the band very seriously. We even played a few shows without a band name, we would just introduce each of our individual names. It was after a show on the way home that we collectively agreed to put an ultimatum on the name search and chose one then and there. At the time Led Zeppelin’s album Physical Graffiti was playing. We thought it was a cool name, so why not call ourselves that?

You’ve become very well established in what seems like very little time. How did you guys get yourselves on the map?
Z: Well it started off small. Our first show was at Bur Juman Mall. We heard of an opening and jumped.

Darren: At that point in time we had no original music so we played two covers to a crowd of 40 mall shoppers who really didn’t care much about us.

Z: Our first big break came from a radio show on Radio Spice where we performed live on air. From there, we noticed increased attention and were getting invited to play more shows in the city. In December of 2013, we played at an event called Freshly Ground Sounds where the crowd response was overwhelming.

Physical Graffiti have a very strong following in Abu Dhabi. Was that intentional?
Z: We love playing in Abu Dhabi! We were initially very surprised at how much is going on here and are grateful that performance opportunities aren’t restricted to Dubai. Our first show in Abu Dhabi was through Freshly Ground Sounds. We then played at the Sheraton B-Lounge Open Mic Night and were reached out to by AUHDIO to perform for their event as well. We’ve played 36 shows since December 2013, and 20 of them have been in Abu Dhabi!

What’s the key to being a successful indie band?
D: Consistency. Once you reach a certain level as an independent local musician, your crowd expects a certain standard from you. It’s not entirely about meeting their expectations, but committing to that standard helps to keep things going. It’s also very important to ‘keep at it’. Whether you’re writing new music, recording, playing shows or posting updates to social media, maintaining your momentum is very important as an independent musician in a growing scene like the UAE.

How many songs do Physical Graffiti have now?
Z: Nine originals as of now and we’re working on the tenth. We’ve been working in secret to put an album out. We haven’t announced the date so that we’re not pressured to meet a deadline, but our EP was just released on the iTunes store – check it out.

Do you have any other exciting projects coming up soon?
Z: There’s one we’re really excited about. We’re writing the original soundtrack for a documentary called Black Sheep scheduled for release in October. We’re really looking forward to that experience. We liked the documentary and thought that our music could really work in a documentary setting. And we all stepped up to the challenge of writing songs with lyrics about other people we’ve never met!

What’s the formula to writing a Physical Graffiti alternative-folk hit?
Z: Words floating in my head is where it starts. I then capture it on paper and sing them over one of the many guitar lines I’ve written in the past, trying to match the emotion and flow of the lyrics and guitar. From there it becomes a group effort. I present the song to the band and each member puts their own twist on it. It’s amazing how everyone’s contributions always complement the song and bring out the true mood and emotion intended by the lyrics.

D: Our other secret was former percussionist Wafik Moussa, who really brought discipline to the band in our early goings and helped define and structure the sound known as Physical Graffiti.

How should readers here feel about the local music scene?
Z: Support your local acts. The guys like us just starting out need it more than ever and we owe nearly all of our success to the people who show up to our shows. Otherwise we’d still be stuck playing music in our bedrooms. If you’re curious on where to learn about the independent music in your community, we recommend checking out The Fridge, Freshly Ground Sound, Triple W, AUHDIO and, of course, White Cube. These are places we all look to stay in touch with the local music scene.
For info, visit EP available on iTunes.

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