x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Signing is a big deal for rockers

In front of a large crowd of ardent fans, Barney Ribero and his bandmates from Nervecell are used to causing a stir.

Nervecell's three members are (from left) Barney Ribero (rhythm guitar), James Khazal (bass guitar/vocals), and Rami Mustafa (lead guitar).
Nervecell's three members are (from left) Barney Ribero (rhythm guitar), James Khazal (bass guitar/vocals), and Rami Mustafa (lead guitar).

In front of a large crowd of ardent fans, Barney Ribero and his bandmates are used to causing a stir. The three musicians, known to their followers as the thrash-metal band Nervecell, have gathered a huge support base in the UAE since they formed seven years ago, but have struggled to reach a wider audience. Last week, however, Nervecell took a big step toward realising that ambition: the band signed a management deal with Center Stage Management (CSM), the Dubai-based company behind the annual Desert Rock Festival.

CSM will be responsible for promoting Nervecell's third album and organising global tours, and Mr Ribero hopes the deal will unlock the doors to the European rock scene. "CSM have turned the music scene around in this country," he said. "Everyone who has lived here long enough knows how limited the music we can access is but with Desert Rock CSM have brought bands over who we would otherwise never have heard.

"Now that our band is signed to them we can meet other promoters. Over the summer there are about 40 rock festivals in Europe and with this new partnership we hope to play at some of them." Lara Teperdjian, executive vice president of CSM, said Nervecell were a "true asset". She is passionate about the local music scene, and is determined to give it an international voice. "I started CSM with my sister in the late Nineties because we simply love music," she said. "At first we organised one-off concerts but then we started arranging open auditions for local bands and the response was phenomenal."

There was "a huge amount of talent but very few opportunities for it to be heard," she added. "That's why we introduced battle of the bands at the Desert Rock Festival and decided to branch out into music management." In 2004, CSM signed Juliana Down, another Dubai rock band, and helped them to tour Europe. Mr Ribero hopes the signing of Nervecell will encourage other ambitious acts to overcome some of the hurdles bands here face. To play a live show, each performer needs a licence, as does the venue, and landing an independent CD distribution deal is difficult.

"A lot of people say it is really hard to break out of the red tape in this country," he said. "But we started from scratch and worked hard. We recorded our own CD and approached promoters ourselves. We arranged a few concerts and then started sending out press kits to agents. "Now all that has paid off, it just goes to show that it can be done. I hope our signing gives others inspiration." The bureaucracy can make it hard to stage spontaneous live music events, such as open-mic nights, but one organisation has found a way round the problem.

"We hold the open-mic nights at two branches of Bert's Cafe on Tuesdays and Saturdays," said Rosario Olaes, content editor for Dubai Lime, an online community for musicians and artists. "As we don't charge for entry, the individual musicians don't need a licence. There is no money in it for anyone, but our main goal is to give artists a voice. There are bands who wouldn't come out of their bedrooms if it wasn't for our events."

Dubai Lime was set up in 2006 by Steve Vaile and Ram King, expatriates with a passion for music who saw a distinct lack of variety in the UAE. "In Dubai all the live bands you see play covers of the same songs," said Ms Olaes. "Mr Vaile and Mr King wanted to hear something original so they launched Dubai Lime to give local people a platform." Now they also organise art exhibitions and provide an online directory and internet forum on which subscribers exchange artistic ideas.

The live music scene in the Emirates is vibrant. With a wealth of nationalities living here, there (are many different cultural influences and new bands are forming all the time. However, with very few agents and management companies willing to sign local talent, most of these acts find themselves restricted to the underground scene. To break into the mainstream, they need financial backing - a dream that, for Nervecell, has become a reality.

Abri, a soul band from Dubai, were given similar support last year when they were signed by Music Master. They released an album, Sunchild, in November and have since enjoyed huge national and some international success. They are currently on tour in London. It was, said Ms Teperdjian of CSM, all about having faith. "The Middle East is bursting with talent," she said. "Just because nobody hears it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

"The scene is changing a lot and we need to keep supporting local music. After all, if nobody had given bands like Metallica a chance then even they wouldn't have made it. "I think the UAE definitely has music worthy of the international stage." For more information on Nervecell visit www.myspace.com/nervecell @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae