Indie-folk trio Vandalye on their rise in the UAE’s music scene
Among the most sudden ascents on the UAE music scene has been the rise of Vandalye.
Formed less than a year ago, the emotive, indie-folk trio released their debut EP last month. Launched in front of a packed crowd of more than 200 new fans, From the Beginning went on to top the regional iTunes chart. A few days earlier, the band had played a support slot for Blur drummer Dave Rowntree.
Vandalye played their first open mic in September, but the story goes a little further back, to a house party in Spain two years ago.
The band’s musical core is twin brothers Lucas and Thomas McCone who, in another world, might be professional tennis players. Brought up in Dubai to parents from New Zealand and Belgium, the brothers moved to Spain at the age of 13 to train for a career in tennis. But after six years – and much physical and financial investment – they chucked it all in.
Thomas quit first. When he flew back to Dubai at the age of 19, it was the first time the twins had spent a day apart. Six months later, Lucas, inspired after meeting a supportive producer after jamming at a party, followed suit.
“Thomas quit because tennis wasn’t going well – I quit because I wanted to do music,” says Lucas. Thomas doesn’t argue.
“I wasn’t really good, but I was progressing,” adds Lucas. “It looked like in a few years I might maybe get to ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals] level. But I realised I didn’t have the passion.”
Back in Dubai and working – Thomas at their brother’s real-estate company, Lucas as a tennis coach at a five-star hotel – the twins, now 22, began performing live on Dubai’s emerging open-mic circuit.
Also on the scene was young British singer-songwriter Scott Attew – the twins’ junior by quite a stretch, but everyone says he looks older.
“The first time I saw them, they were pretty rubbish,” says Attew, completely serious.
At a subsequent gig, however, he heard something that appealed in one of their songs and introduced himself. The next day they jammed – and within a few hours they had written one song and rearranged another.
Joining forces in a band was a foregone conclusion. When it came time to launch their EP, they symbolically did so at the scene of that first encounter – Dubai’s Jazz@PizzaExpress. Taking their name from a treasured song – mournful US alt-rockers The National’s Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – Vandalye were invited in February to contribute a track to local showcase album, GoPlayTheWorld.
A month later, they performed to more than 1,000 people at the Dubai beachside festival Sounds by the Sea. In April, they supported British rockers Big Deal at The Other Side.
For bigger engagements, Vandalye augment their sound onstage with more musicians – the plan now is to recruit a full-time bassist and drummer. However, the core sound is driven by the twins’ inventive acoustic guitar work, often employing chiming open tunings, the palette enhanced by piano, mandolin, banjo and lap steel parts predominately played by Lucas, while Scott adds percussion. The reference point that crops up most often is, unsurprisingly, Mumford & Sons. Attew quotes the poetry of Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan among his lyrical inspiration.
The twins are looking forward to attending music festival Latitude this summer in the United Kingdom, where headliners The National, The Maccabees and New Order are playing.
The trio are aware of their good fortune. Their biggest complaint appears to be that, if anything, they have found it too easy being a band in Dubai. After a few months they were able to support themselves as full-time musicians, through lucrative branded gigs and private VIP parties. Following the struggle of the tennis world, the twins are acutely aware that, as young musicians in the UAE, they are getting a deal that seems almost too good to be true.
“In Dubai, you can be the best, and then you go to Spain and you’re playing on court 39 in front of your coach and one other person,” says Thomas, employing a tennis metaphor.
“That’s why we don’t take any of this seriously.
“But it’s a struggle when you don’t get to see other bands to inspire you,” he adds. “We have no one to learn from.”
“We are the band everyone is watching,” says Attew, “but that’s what scares us. If we are that band, then there’s no one to look up to.”
From the Beginning is out now on iTunes, Dh15