A trio of the region’s best unsigned acts will take the stage tomorrow in the final of Rolling Stone Middle East’s Street to Stage competition. Saeed Saeed tells us what’s in store
Three acts remain heading into the finals of Rolling Stone Middle East’s Street to Stage live-music competition, now in its second year. The winner gets a mentorship deal (and possible record deal) from Sony Music Middle East, coverage by Rolling Stone Middle East and a trophy. The biggest prize, however, will surely be bragging rights across the region. Taking the stage at the Hard Rock Cafe at Dubai Festival City tomorrow are the singer-songwriter Craig Perry and the rockers The Boxtones, both from Dubai, as well as the Jordanian alternative rock group Stich.
Rock’n’roll boot camp
Street to Stage instils in contestants a real do-it-yourself ethic. Artists cannot whine about the lack of opportunities for exposure; you need to make it happen. Fifteen acts go to the second round after the judges approve their initial tracks that were uploaded online when the competition opened on June 4. On August 12, each act received a pack containing a camcorder and competition gear; the new objective being to record a new song and shoot an accompanying video within a week to upload on to their dedicated online competition page. The same format continued for three more weekly rounds until the top three were announced on September 8.
Rolling Stone Middle East’s marketing manager Nikki Rutherford admits the competition is “intense” but just what the local music scene needs. “A lot of the artists who were in the competition say that if it wasn’t for this they wouldn’t have any reason to push themselves,” she says. “If you are an unsigned artist you probably wouldn’t think about shooting a video and this is what this competition is about; to take people out of their comfort zones.”
A learning experience
Less than a year ago, Craig Perry limited his songwriting to a series of bedroom recordings. The guitar only came out at home when close friends were around. The Dubai finalist and British national, who works for Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), only recently began performing publicly. His first solo show was last year at Adnec as part of National Day celebrations. The 29-year-old says the competition came at the right time as he felt ready to share his songs with the world. “The competition has been a catalyst for me,” he explains. “I had many of these songs in my head for years. But I learnt there is a very big difference between a song that is in your head and actually getting it into the studio and honing it down to a point where it is actually finished.”
Boosting the local scene
Rutherford says as well as discovering new talent, the competition has been established to support the still nascent local music scene. “Out here you tend to find bands playing cover music or what they think the people want to hear,” she says. “You usually find that if a band is doing really well the first thing they want to do is get out of the UAE, which is a real shame. We want to keep these bands here and support them for as long as we can.” Perry has already felt effects from the competition. Nearly 1,000 fans have liked his Facebook page since it was launched in July and he has a television appearance on MBC and a few gigs lined up soon.
“I am even getting messages from people overseas who said they are connecting with my music,” he says. “That is just simply amazing and it does give you the confidence to keep on going.”
• Rolling Stone Middle East’s Street to Stage Final is at 7pm tomorrow at the Hard Rock Cafe, Dubai Festival City. Free entry. For details, go to www.rollingstoneme.com