A look at the growing vinyl record scene in the UAE
For music lovers, the charms of the vinyl record are clear and undeniable – the records look cooler and sound better.
Slowly, the format has been making a comeback, as serious collectors increasingly opt for the joy of having row after row of LPs on a shelf over the intangible ownership of a download or the minimalist stylings of a CD.
The UAE hasn’t been far behind the curve, with speciality stores starting to pop up to nurture and serve the growing demand.
Shadi Megallaa made waves last year when he announced plans to open his own record shop, Flipside.
An underground DJ with a private collection of more than 6,000 records – and the man behind the UAE-based vinyl-only record label Ark to Ashes – there are few people better placed to speak about the format’s timeless appeal.
“Records have outlasted every medium that’s come along – and they are not going away any time soon,” says the 36-year-old Egyptian, who grew up in Abu Dhabi and returned to the UAE recently after living in New York.
“It’s the physical aspect, the artwork – it’s a whole experience. When you look at a record, you remember what shop you bought it [in], what was going on in your life – it’s a piece of history.”
As any audiophile will attest, vinyl’s analogue warmth and depth blow any digital download out of the water. And there’s simply no way a tiny CD case can compete with the cover-art detail of a 12-inch record sleeve.
And for DJs, the black disc represents a rite of passage – it is the very format that created and defined the possibilities of mixing, scratching and juggling, upon which the craft is based and judged.
Once thought a dead format, the worldwide vinyl revival has been well documented. While CDs were usurped by the convenience of streaming or downloading, neither iTunes nor Spotify can conquer the human desire to hold or collect a tangible product.
So, sensing a new untapped market, record labels began pushing lush, lavish vinyl packages – eminently cool, colourful and timeless, and ideal to brighten up a bookshelf or bedroom.
Last year, for the first time in two decades, more than a million vinyl LPs were sold in the United Kingdom – and that figure is expected to double this year. The same monumental growth has been observed in the United States, with sales leaping from one million in 2007 to more than nine million last year.
In recognition of this growth, an Official Vinyl Chart was just reintroduced in the UK. Tellingly, the stats they shared to mark the launch showed that classic albums such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles’ Abbey Road ranked among the decade’s top 10 vinyl best-sellers.
The rise of the record is steeped in nostalgia. For many casual fans, buying a cumbersome LP is not an essential purchase for everyday listening, but more like a souvenir poster of their favourite band – one wonders how many first-time vinyl record buyers even have a turntable on which to play it.
For most, it is surely a brand new commodity. After initial rumblings in the late-noughties, vinyl sales suddenly began to spike in 2011 – the year downloads outstripped physical sales, on both sides of the Atlantic, for the first time.
That same year, the region’s main music retailer, Virgin Megastore, introduced a small collection of vinyl LPs to its flagship outlet in The Dubai Mall. In 2012, the range was rolled out across most of its stores, with the catalogue expanding since then.
An early champion of vinyl in the region was the Deep Crates Cartel, who often set aside time for strictly vinyl sets at their former weekly nights at Casa Latina, a concept that has been replicated elsewhere since.
In recent years, pop-up vinyl shops have become increasingly common at cultural fairs and events, and the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre hosts semi-regular This Is Vinyl events at which enthusiasts buy, swap, chat and listen to records.
Online, regional portals are cropping up, including the mail-order store Vitamins and Vinyl – which stocks a range of about 100 wilfully eclectic records – and the second-hand dealers Zed Records Dubai.
What we don’t have in the UAE is a record store – but that is set to change, thanks to Megallaa. He says a shop space has been secured in Dubai’s art hub Alserkal Avenue and he is hoping for a late-summer launch.
Technically, he won’t be the first. Local promoters and record label Ohm had a vinyl-only shop on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, but it closed some years ago because of lack of demand.
Megallaa isn’t fazed. He has plans to turn the unconverted on to the craze – and grow his customer base – by creating a community hub around the shop, a place for like-minded individuals to congregate, host workshops and listening sessions.
“Why will it work? Because it’s not just about records, it’s about the cultural significance. It brings people together,” says Megallaa.
“A lot of people have never been exposed to records, so they don’t know they want to start a collection – I’m opening the door to them. It’s going to happen – it’s the only job that I would enjoy. Opening a record store is all that I want to do.”