x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Indie bands battle it out at Red BullSoundclash

Two regional indie heavy weights will square off in Dubai on Thursday night as part of the Red Bull Sound Clash concert. Saeed Saeed tells us what we need to know.

Autostrad. Courtesy Red Bull
Autostrad. Courtesy Red Bull

It’s two concerts in one, as Jordan’s Autostrad and Egypt’s Wust El Balad take over the Dubai International Marine Club for a night of regional indie music spanning rock, jazz, reggae and Middle Eastern rhythms. While there is always friendly competition whenever two bands share a bill, the rivalry here is implicit as Red Bull Soundclash aims to put both groups through their musical and performance chops, with the audience ultimately deciding the winner.

The format

Thankfully it won’t be a cacophony of two bands simultaneously trying to outdo each other. Both Autostrad and Wust El Balad will command their own adjacent stages and go through five competitive rounds.

The opener focuses on covers with each band performing a rendition of an existing song in their own style. The musical interaction begins in the second round when each band performs an original tune before the opposing group takes over midway to add their own spin on it.

The follow-up round focuses on musical dexterity with both groups reinterpreting a self-penned song in a different genre. The fourth round has the groups perform with a mystery guest to be revealed on the night. After performing one more song of their choice in the final stage, the band attracting the highest cheers – measured by a decibel meter – will be declared the winner. The winner will revel in regional bragging rights, exposure and the chance to sell their CDs to the public.

In one corner: Autostrad

The Autostrad singer and bassist Avo Demerjian says his band have been diligently rehearsing for the event. “We are working very hard because it is an honour to be chosen to be part of this concert,” he says. “We are looking forward to coming to Dubai and showing what we can do and playing our music to an international crowd.” Formed in 2007 in Amman, Autostrad songs are removed from the escapism of their pop peers. Through three albums, the band focus on everyday issues facing Jordanians such as financial struggles, poverty and the search for solace. “We want to connect with the listeners and our songs have to reflect what they are feeling and facing,” Demerjian says. “They’re also general topics that I think that many people outside Jordan can relate to.” Indeed, Autostrad are regulars on the road having performed in Egypt and Lebanon in addition to the Gulf including Abu Dhabi and Oman.

The challengers: Wust El Balad

Led by the singer Adham El Saeid, the Cairo group have been plying their trade since 1999 and are regulars on Cairo’s music scene, including the famed Cairo Jazz Club, in addition to being UAE live favourites. “This will be our third time coming to the UAE,” says El Saeid. “We always love it there because there is a lot of energy in the crowd and they enjoy and understand what we do.” El Saeid says the blending of Egyptian folk music with rock, jazz and reggae comes naturally to Wust El Balad because of the collective’s varying tastes. “We have eight members so there are definitely going to be a lot of different influences,” he says. “When you put us together in a room, it’s just about keeping it natural and seeing what flows. The mixing of styles does not become difficult if it is done naturally.”

Not about the competition

While promising to do their best to clinch the title, both groups look forward to supporting each other. There is a big respect between the two camps, Demerjian says. “We both know of each other and, personally, I am looking forward to seeing them play,” he says. “We are happy to be coming to the UAE and perform and share the experience together.” El Saeid has nothing but praise for the Jordanians. “They are an amazing band and I can’t wait to be playing with them,” he says. “We will both put on a great show, hopefully.”

• Red Bull Soundclash is on Friday at the Dubai International Marine Club. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets are Dh125 from www.virginmegastore.me

sasaeed@thenational.ae