x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Authentic Dubai hip-hop night satisfies those crate expectations

There's no glitz or glamour at Deep Crates, but the clientele are drawn to this hip-hop night by their love of music and B-boy culture.

B-boy Zee Crush is a Deep Crates regular. Antonie Robertson / The National
B-boy Zee Crush is a Deep Crates regular. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Deep Crates party is not glamorous. There is no bling, no VIP section and no dress code. The outward display of opulence that is mainstream Dubai doesn't match the Che Guevara posters that adorn the venue's walls. Instead, the sound of records crackle as DJ Lobito uses his instrument of choice: two turntables, a mixer and vinyl. Here, DJing is considered an art form with skills measured through record scratching and other turntable techniques. At the party's core is a celebration of vinyl culture.

"For us, vinyl and collecting music other people don't have is a culture," says Deep Crates' 30-year-old main DJ and organiser Lobito, whose real name is James De Valera. "The majority of recorded music never made it to CD and mp3, and there is amazing music out there that can only be found on vinyl."

The name Deep Crates is full of meaning. Before laptops and CD players, DJs used milk crates to store records. It refers to a culture of "digging" through the crates and playful musical exploration. It's creatively weaving together random sounds and transforming old to new through musical sampling.

This meaning isn't lost on the Deep Crates crowd. Mario Christopher, 40, a hip-hop producer turned advertising professional, came specifically for the reference. For him, hip-hop is not just music but a culture steeped in such rich traditions as break-dancing, MCing, turntablism and graffiti - all lost in the mainstream. "I can't find hip-hop in the UAE. I came just for the music - even if there's no one here."

The crowd is small but the party has a loyal following. Every Thursday Deep Crates takes over Casa Latina, the bar housed in the two-star Ibis Hotel Barsha, that's more reminiscent of a Bur Dubai bar or a trendy East London hipster joint. Dubai's creatives and artisans crawl out of hiding. Hipsters, high heels and B-boys blend into one another freely.

"[This is] the only place that supports hip-hop culture and B-boys," says Zeyad Al Harbi, 26, an Emirati B-boy and MBA student. Zeyad, aka Zee Crush, and his B-boy crew come weekly because Lobito plays "breakbeats". "Before this place, there was no place to break dance and B-boy. We used to break at other hip-hop clubs and the bouncers would stop us."

DJ Lobito, a regional representative of Afrika Bambaataa's Universal Zulu Nation, didn't start Deep Crates for the money. "I got tired of hearing the McDonald's equivalent of music everywhere, cheaply made, over-processed, full of harmful chemicals and not good for the soul," he says.

Anyone hoping to hear mainstream "hip-pop" radio tracks won't find it here. Instead you'll hear the original track your favourite commercial song sampled, alongside a mix of soul, funk, reggae, old school and Latin, which attracts a crowd of musical enthusiasts.

"We play only what we feel is fine music and generally we play music that only serious vinyl enthusiasts would be able to name. As a result we attract serious music lovers as well as people who are open to new sounds and new ideas," says Lobito.

Expatriates feeling it difficult to adjust find a sense of home with the laid-back atmosphere. "I've been to a few places [and] they seem to be mainstream," says Morea Mahmuti, 24, a masters student who recently moved to Dubai. "This seems like a place where you can just be yourself."

While some come to dance and others to listen, what connects Deep Crates' newcomers to the B-boys, expats and DJs is a thirst for a non-commercial space with quality music.