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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

The end of the Music Room story hints at a rich legacy for the Dubai scene

While the eclectic gigs ranged from bands making their live debuts to relative music luminaries playing intimate affairs, what bound them was the quest to produce top-quality live music

The Boxtones paid dues at the Music Room for five years. Sarah Dea / The National
The Boxtones paid dues at the Music Room for five years. Sarah Dea / The National

A chapter in UAE music history will be celebrated this weekend as the Music Room, a Dubai institution, heads into its last few days.

The gritty indoor club, located beside The Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai, will sign off with four shows symbolising its trademark adventurous programing. Tonight is the official goodbye bash featuring the resident house band Evolver and a who’s who of the local rock scene. Thursday will features psych-trance stalwart DJ Regan take the stage, and the following night will be the Finnish death metal crew Kalmah before it all ends on Saturday with the reggae vibes of Kenya’s Natty Bwoh.

“I do get emotional thinking about it,” says the manager, Carlo Javakhia.

“In the last four-and-a-half years I hosted more than 240 shows and you can see throughout the years how it [the Music Room] evolved and simply rediscovered local talent. It was an open house for new gigs and music legends.”

It is that open-armed approach that helped the Music Room establish itself as more than just a live venue, but a place for music lovers. While the eclectic gigs ranged from bands making their live debuts to relative music luminaries playing intimate affairs, what bound them was the quest to produce top-quality live music.

In a classic trickle-down approach, Javakhia and his team’s passion and open-mindedness attracted promoters of the same mindset, and that brought in the crowds.

For Ryan Noronha, it was the perfect venue to bring diverse acts to the UAE. Over the last five years, he was responsible for bringing artists such as the Nepalese rock trailblazers Robin and The New Revolution, Indian hip-hop pioneer Punjabi M C and the annual Freedom Rocks concerts where Indian and Pakistani rock bands shared the stage.

“The Music Room, I think, will go down as a place that gave a chance to music from other nationalities,” he says.

“There was no bias when it came to the language, and that is still something in Dubai that has to change [in other venues]. But you are seeing new clubs that are starting to do that now and that directly stems from the influence of the Music Room. It gave people something new to listen to.”

And for bands such as The Boxtones, the tight stage offered an opportunity to hone their craft.

Relative newcomers to the UAE may only know the Dubai five-piece as a slick rock group that released two albums of original material. But seasoned UAE gig-goers would recall the band - in their previous line-up - rocking away over five years ago as the Music Room’s resident covers band.

“It was a place that told bands in the UAE that here is somewhere that you can play,” says frontman and guitarist Gary Tierney.

“And that’s why it was so varied. You had so many different things going on all the time. When we were the resident band, I remember they opened the stage for other bands on Thursday or a Friday where they can run their own events. They were very few places that did that at the time.”

While certain sections of the local music scene may bemoan the Music Room’s absence, Noronha says it presents a much-needed opportunity for acts and promoters.

“In a way it did what it was meant to do. The Music Room did a great job in giving anyone a chance,” he says.

“But now it’s about quality. The time has come that if you are [good] quality you will get a chance to play and if you are not then, my friend, you should go back to your room and practice. For a lot of people, the Music Room was a place for passionate part-time musicians to play. Unfortunately, for them, that will not happen now unless another Music Room comes around.”

Which could be on the cards, according to Javakia.

Citing financial constraints caused mainly by its Bur Dubai location as a factor for its closure, Javakhia will not discount a Music Room return.

“In Bur Dubai, we were attracting clients that don’t live in the vicinity. During certain events and the weekends, they didn’t mind to come but generally it is not an area where our clients hang out,” he explains.

“That’s why I don’t think we are leaving the market. It is a business decision that we need to move from that location. Now, if we find the right fit in terms of location and accessibility then we can then discuss it.”

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Read more:

Why UAE-based acts Gaya, Funk Radius, The Recipe, and more are finding it harder to breakthrough to mainstream

Let the good times roll: 17 shows in the UAE to check out before 2017

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

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