The other side of live music

Bored of the stadium acts and hotel lobby standards in the city? Then Dubai's live music venture The Other Side could be just what you're looking for. Andy Buchan investigates

With sweat dripping from the ceiling, raw, muscular blues erupting from the speakers and 600 music fans crammed into the joint hustling towards the action, The Other Side – Dubai’s latest live music venture – was born this August.

“In less than a month we came up with the name for the concept, booked the first band, locked in the venue and launched The Other Side,” says Dania Ismail, one half of the project along with Audrey Soler. “A true labour of love. Nothing like passion and adrenaline to start a new project.”

The musical mandate is simple: The Other Side put on live bands, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern talent. The band on the opening night were The Wanton Bishops, a ferocious blend of rock ’n’ roll rhythm and blues from Beirut, and they’ve been followed by other regional talent, including ex EMI signings Lumi, Safar, The Postcards and more.

“The Other Side concept is all about live music,” says Soler. “Anyone who attended a live music concert knows that whatever the music it is all about the experience: the sound, the entertainment on stage, the atmosphere, the smell and more... It is a very primitive experience. It is not about the music genre anymore.”

This is very true: they’ve hosted reggae (Hollie Cook), Beirut indie (Zeid Hamdan & The Wings), Syrian/Egyptian electronica (Bosaina) and several local talents, including Josh Montheath, Gaya, Elphnt and Adam Baluch.

Despite the challenges that face anyone wanting to put on live music – the lack of appropriate venues, the costs and an electronic or DJ-heavy scene – they’ve succeeded where others have rarely tried.

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The Other Side's events have attracted a loyal following in Dubai over the past four monthsImage: The Other Side

And they’ve attracted a die-hard following over the last four months, after eight gigs held at the Address Hotel in Dubai Marina. “We’re talking about Dubai’s cool cats, fake free, real music people that know and appreciate good music when they hear it,” says Ismail. “There is a very laid-back attitude. You’ll see more sneakers than heels. It is about meeting same-minded people, running into old friends. It is intimate. Some are fans of the band playing that night, some are their friends. Many are musicians themselves. We see a lot of people coming back to each of our events. Some have not missed a single one of our shows. Our dedicated fans are like family.”

Now taking a break for the month, the night will be back in 2016 with more of the same no frills, rock, punk, electronic, funk, soul, and reggae vibes that made the first season such a winner. But what other Middle Eastern bands are on their hit-list? 

“Someone told us one day that we had covered most of them already,” Ismail says, laughing. “There are so many more. The Middle East music scene is changing fast and to the better. People can now express themselves and music is no longer underground. Bands are multiplying in the region and they need live music platforms like The Other Side to be able to perform.

"We are sort of incubators for bands from the region. Some of them are well-known abroad and also in their countries. Dubai is the cross-road of the Middle East with so many Arab nationalities living in the same environment. This is the perfect stage for all these bands that we want to bring to The Other Side. We won’t disclose them for the moment, but we really would love them to play along with international talents. Stay tuned.”