As with all new festivals, Dubai Sound City had a few teething problems, but it is certainly one to look out for in the future, writes Daniel Fahey.
Overall – 6.5/10
Ambitious is a word to be guffawed at in Dubai. After all, this is a city built on a desert and the birthplace of the seven star hotel. So a festival with 70 bands playing over seven venues in just three days should be easy, right? Well, not quite. The Middle Eastern version of Sound City – an established Liverpool-based festival with a similar template – sadly finds its debut hampered by cancellations and a lack of ticket sales. There looks to be a need and an appetite for such an event, for both jet setters and locals alike, but in terms of its inaugural edition, Dubai Sound City has found its way to the airport, it’s just looking for a hotel.
Saturday night headliners Echo And The Bunnymen are the big loss, as is a highly anticipated De La Soul appearance. It’s difficult enough for UK festivals to replace the big names at the last minute, let alone out here in the United Arab Emirates. But, that aside, there are a number of shining performances from bands that have never played in the country before and the festival’s future will be as welcome as the air conditioning is in the nearby shopping malls.
Current locals have a penchant for the more glossed Western acts, with the likes of Beyonce and The Killers the usual big draws, and Sound City’s mission is to show the Middle East that there is more on offer than big pop stars, including a regional scene that’s waiting to thrive. Unfortunately there aren’t enough ticket-holders on the Thursday or Saturday to prove it to this year, but with an international conference running throughout the day, the promising importance of this event could become apparent within another 12 months.
Dubai is a land of luxury, boasting seven star hotels, lavish yachts and private beaches, but what it seems to lack is the most important trait a city can have: character. Sound City on the other hand has character in abundance but, this year, it lacks quality. The Farm, Ocean Colour Scene and Happy Mondays may be reputable names, but nowadays they’re all well past their best and organisers may well need a rethink in 2010.
The site – 7/10
Held over several venues around Dubai, the main live action takes place in The Irish Village – outside a large crescent-shaped row of faux-Irish pubs and shops that back onto the city’s Tennis Centre. With a backless see-through main stage, much like Coachella (but with a building site behind it rather than a desert), the arena is fairly compact but with a superb sound system. There is plenty of room to sit down and an ample amount of bars to serve up to 6,000 revellers.
There are also a plethora of bars and clubs that make sure the party continues well into the night including 360 – a circular club with a outside terrace that’s surrounded by the Gulf, the claustrophobic palace club Alpha and the 3,000-capactiy Chi with a large garden area when things get too hot.
Getting there and back – 7/10
There are comfortable flights direct from London - or via Doha - that take around seven hours to get to Dubai. Once here, relatively cheap taxis are the life blood of the city and it will take around five minutes to get to the festival’s epicentre, The Irish Village, and around 15-20 minute taxi rides to the other venues from there. But, the journey is fairly straightforward for the distance travelled.
Atmosphere – 6/10
With an audience mainly made up of ex-pats and plenty of flowing alcohol, the atmosphere sways from catching up on the venue’s benches and lazing on the grass to a few pockets of people getting into the music. Many fans chat through a lot of the sets and there are only a small number of genuinely appreciated musical moments, with lighter turnouts on the Thursday and Saturday not helping things. There are a few groups of drunk and rowdy lads onsite but they’re only a danger to themselves when they step outside the Irish Village to dodge a platoon of taxis.
The Wombats – 8/10
It’s already hot enough to make a stone sweat, but when The Wombats announce that they’re “on a mission to try and be the sweatiest band in Dubai,” they really do mean it. Bassist Tord lunges and waltzes around the stage with vigour, singer Murph jogs on the spot and drummer Dan, well, drums, as the hardest working band of the weekend finally wake up a slumbering Saturday crowd. ‘Kill The Director’ is hot enough to induce heatstroke and Tord’s part in ‘Party In A Forest (Where’s Laura)’ is played at full pelt but it’s up to ‘Backfire At The Disco’ that makes sure fans are gasping for breath.
Super Furry Animals – 8/10
Finally, they’re back! After a string of sub-standard festival performances this summer, the Welsh wonders make light work of their imposed headline show with a stunning bout of their greatest hits. ‘The Very Best Of Neil Diamond’ with its James Bond-style bassline really kicks (obviously it’s shaken not stirred) and ‘Demons’ is gleaming-ly delivered before a rather limp showing from Gruff Rhys lumbers ‘Inaugural Trams’. ‘Juxtaposed With U’ is thrown in for good measure as the group use placards that read ‘Woah!’ and ‘Applause’ as unsubtle hints for audience participation. It’s the heavy-riffed finale of ‘Crazy Naked Girls’, though, that proves their finest moment.
The Human League – 7/10
In such a sharp suit, belting out ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, you could mistake Phil Oakey for the lost member of a wedding party, but Thursday’s headliners offer more than just whimsical memories of yesteryear. Flanked by Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, who change costumes three times during the set, the group show that 80s over-indulgence isn’t all lost. A young Billie Joe Armstrong look-a-like does the lead guitar wank-ery with a catalogue of odd eighties instruments – synth guitars, guitar synths, whatever – as the group’s memorable hooks flood the night. ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ is as glossy as it is on record and ‘Love Action’ builds the set's momentum until a heady finish of ‘Electric Dreams’ is irresistible karaoke.
Dan Black– 7/10
When some acts are faced with a small crowd, they sulk their way through their set, pick up their pay cheque and shoot off before the ink even dries. Not Dan Black. Despite only playing to only a few scores of people, the rising star charms the crowd with his body popping and updated 80s electronica. ‘Yours’ with its disco pows and hip hop beat is crisp live, but the audience respond best to ‘Alone’, a Chemical Brothers cusp of dance pop.
Happy Mondays – 4/10
Well past their best and without Bez, the Happy Mondays fail to live up to their headliner status. The band are tight, but Shaun Ryder spends the entire show with his finger in his ear, singing like a nasal northern bingo caller. A female vocalist, presumably ringed in to hide Ryder’s inadequacies, jumps around the stage and onto monitors but it still feels like there is a lamp of oomph from the whole. ‘Kinky Afro’ is nothing to write home about and ‘Andy Warhol’ is just awful. ‘Rev Black Grape’ is about passable before it ends, rather unceremoniously, with a plodding ’24 Hour Party People’.
The Parlotones – 3/10
With their bassist refused a visa, The Parlotones soldier on as a two-piece and, despite a few fans who’d cheer if they even saw a poster for the band, they fail to deliver anything of notable substance. Instead we’re ‘treated’ to some middle of the pub rock. It will be a few more years on the circuit yet boys.
Echo & the Bunnymen – 0/10
With Ian McCullough sick, the Bunnymen don’t make it to Dubai and organisers lose their Saturday night headliner at the last minute.
De La Soul – 0/10
Hot anticipation for the hip hop greats is extinguished when organisers add them to the list of no-shows for the event.
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