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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

How a Dubai record store is proving that there's still an appetite for vinyl

The success of a new independent record store in Dubai proves that the emirate is truly a hipster hangout

Vinyl lover Shadi Megallaa took a risk with The Flip Side that has paid off. Victor Besa for The National
Vinyl lover Shadi Megallaa took a risk with The Flip Side that has paid off. Victor Besa for The National

When, in the summer of 2014, Shadi Megallaa announced loudly from the cover of a now-defunct weekly local music magazine that he would open a specialist vinyl record store in Dubai, it sounded like a braver, more eccentric endeavour than it does now.

This is in part because of a global vinyl revival, which last year registered sales at a 25-year high as 12-inch albums were readily stocked by Europe’s supermarket chains and

clothing retailers.

But this is partly, also, because Dubai’s cultural vogue has evolved at a phenomenal pace over the past three years. A proliferation of food trucks, open-mic nights and leftfield homegrown clothing brands speak of a sudden hipster invasion, some where the vinyl fad fits right in.

“Dubai has changed a lot in the last three years – it sounded crazy at the time,” says Megallaa of his 2014 launch. “People kept asking me ‘Are you out of your mind?’– but now, not

so much.”

The DJ-turned-entrepreneur’s dream finally became a reality recently when The Flip Side opened in Alserkal Avenue.

READ MORE: LISTEN: Flip Side DXB's Shadi Megallaa shares the best sounds you'll ever hear

Three years ago, the arts hub was still largely a stomping ground for those in the know, but today, following a 2015 expansion that doubled its size and applied a welcoming sheen to the former industrial area, it is now known by many taxi drivers and regarded by visitors as an emerging tourism destination.

Alserkal is an ideal location for a record shop. The Flip Side’s airy warehouse space wafts with both arty affluence and nostalgic reverence. Vintage blues and jazz resound from overhead speakers. Iconic and rare record covers line the walls – a mix of familiar faces like Bob Marley and Etta James, alongside nerdy new compilations of obscure, decades-old African and Arabic recordings.

“If this doesn’t work, what have I got to lose?“ says Megallaa, before dashing off to flip a spinning Art Taylor record – a classic 1960 session for the prized Blue Note label – over

to side B.

“It’s very surreal knowing you’re the only person in a whole country doing a thing – not many people can say that in any field. Every day I wake up and it blows my mind.”

His courage and patience appear to be paying off. When we stopped by, many of the racks were bare, a surprising result of selling out 70 per cent of the shop’s stock as quickly as it hits the shelves.

“We had a lot,” he says, surveying the empty space. “But they bought so much.”

Egyptian born, UAE-raised and widely travelled, Megallaa, who has been collecting records for almost two decades, wants to recreate the cultured, slightly nerdy community vibe of the record stores of his youth, hosting regular record launch parties and small-scale

live gigs.

While billed as Dubai’s only independent vinyl store, The Flip Side is not technically the first. Ohm Records had a small record shop at their base in Sheikh Zayed Road, but The Flip Side is likely to be the largest.

The store’s eclectic stock is divided into genres – blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, reggae – with no space for mainstream pop or rock releases. Aside from a rack of house and techno singles likely to be riffed by DJs, and a smattering of ambient records, nearly all the music is decades old.

Most of the imports are priced somewhere over the Dh100 mark. Releases on Megallaa’s homegrown Ark to Ashes imprint start at Dh56 – but there is a second-hand bin of bargain cast-offs, all set at a flat Dh10, mainly electronic 12 inches which come straight from the owner’s own epic collection.

“A lot of people come in and ask for a specific record. We can get it, but the point of coming to a record shop is discovering new music,” says Megallaa. “If you know what you want, just go and order it online.”

The Flip Side’s success will be likely to depend upon the fortunes of the global resurgence of vinyl.

Last year, more than 3.2 million records were sold in Britain alone – a 53 per cent increase on 2015, and a 16-fold increase on 2007, when digital downloads began dominating the music charts.

This newfound lust for the medium is widely seen as a rejection of the Mp3 age, a re-embrace of physical media – but it’s also clear this growth cannot be sustained, and there will soon come a time when the LP-shaped bubble bursts.

“Vinyl is not going anywhere,” says Megallaa. “When the apocalypse comes and computers are extinct, there will be a pile of vinyl, still playable. Even after all the people have gone, vinyl will be here.

“Aliens will find them, and love them – that’s why they’re keeping us alive.”