Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Lebanese band Who Killed Bruce Lee are back with a swagger, sounding better than ever

With a long-awaited debut album in the bag, Who Killed Bruce Lee, who are back in Dubai as part of the concert series The Other Side, might be the slickest, hippest, most danceable band to break out of the Middle East in 2016.
The Lebanese indie-electro band Who Killed Bruce Lee, from left, bassist Pascal Sarkis, drummer Malek Rizkallah, guitarist and singer Wassim Bou Malham and keyboardist Hassib Dergham. Courtesy Who Killed Bruce Lee
The Lebanese indie-electro band Who Killed Bruce Lee, from left, bassist Pascal Sarkis, drummer Malek Rizkallah, guitarist and singer Wassim Bou Malham and keyboardist Hassib Dergham. Courtesy Who Killed Bruce Lee

It hasn’t been too long since indie scenesters Who Killed Bruce Lee last gigged the UAE. But in many ways, the band who will take the stage on Friday, January 29, as part of concert series The Other Side, barely resembles the group who played here just five months ago.

That gig, at McGettigan’s JLT, was the last before the Lebanese indie-electro quartet decamped permanently to Berlin to record their debut album, with Nick Cave and Depeche Mode producer Victor Van Vugt at the helm, and mount their biggest European tour to date.

On Friday they return – tighter, more toned, energised, with a swagger – and with an album in the bank, all set for release on February 26.

“We quit our jobs, sold our cars – it was like picking up four lives and dropping them a continent away,” says keyboardist Hassib Dergham with a laugh. “We were already really good, but now we’re even better – like a slap in the face.”

The band, affectionately abbreviated to WKBL, formed in Beirut in 2009, but have just one proper previous release to their name, a self-titled EP in 2012. That five-track record did a fine job of distilling the group’s thrilling live sound – an electro-rock hybrid in the post-LCD Soundsystem mould that pits dance rhythms and synth hooks alongside punky guitar stabs and frontman Wassim Bou Malham’s soaring falsetto.

But good as it was, that EP is more than three years old. As one of the region’s most successful indie exports, there’s a genuine sense of hope for the band’s first long-player.

“Finally,” says Dergham with a sigh. “The sound is us, but 2.0 – it’s still groovy, dancey and rock ’n’ roll – all the good stuff. Dirty and raw but at the same time very polished.”

hRecorded at Riverside Studios in Berlin, the album takes it’s name from one of the 11 tracks, Distance Rendezvous – “a typically Lebanese mash-up of English and French”, says Dergham – and comes out of a manic month of subterranean sessions late last year.

“We were underground for 30 days – it was the most intense experience,” he says. “It’s our first time living full-time together – we share a place, we share a bus, we share everything. It’s the first time in our lives we can dedicate all our time to music.”

Not every band gets such an opportunity. WKBL’s big break came after a celebrity “discovery” of the kind rarely seen outside of the movies. In 2013, the quartet went head-to-head with Mashrou’ Leila at Beirut’s Red Bull SoundClash. Dave Gappa, former frontman of German rock band H-Blockx (best known for the 1995 hit Risin’ High), was in the audience.

“He said ‘I like your music, stay in touch’,” says Dergham. They did, and when the band wrapped their European tour in Paris a year later, Gappa brought a friend along. That friend was the chief executive of German A&R company Brainstorm Music Marketing, who signed the band on the spot.

“They told us we were the best live band they’d heard in five years, which was just amazing,” says Dergham, still sounding as if he is slightly in disbelief.

The band put their crowd-­winning sound down to regular instrument-swapping and a democratic “try anything” approach to composition.

“Whenever someone has an idea, we all jam it out, however ridiculous it is,” says Dergham. “And sometimes they’re pretty ridiculous.

“It’s the first band I’ve been in, which actually has four equal heads.”

Watching the band perform, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether possessing not just any head, but a shiny bald one – and a mane-ish black beard – is part of the job description.

Dergham laughs. “Well, our drummer has a full head of hair,” he says. “It’s a shame he’s hidden at the back of the stage.”

• Who Killed Bruce Lee perform on Friday, January 26, at The Other Side at And Lounge, The Address Dubai Marina; doors open at 9pm. Advance tickets are Dh100 from www.platinumlist.ae (Dh120 at the door). For more information, visit www.whokilledbrucelee.com

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: January 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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