Not all heroes wear capes.
When you think of Dubai, you might think of an international hub of culture, art, and activity. That might be true, but not so much for record collectors of the United Arab Emirates. Up until last week, Dubai didn’t have a single independent record store. Enter Shadi Megallaa, founder of The Flip Side record store and protagonist of the Dubai music and record collecting scene. The Flip Side opened just last week in Dubai’s up and coming art and design district, Alserkel Avenue. The shop promises to cater for all musical tastes and provide a meeting point for musicians and fans of all walks. Beyond being a record store, it will open its doors for film screenings and in-store performances from bands and DJs alike. But the road to opening a record store in Dubai hasn’t exactly been a smooth one.
Fascinated by the scene in Dubai, the lack of independent record stores in the city, the process of setting up shop and the drive to do so when the odds are not in your favor – we spoke to Shadi about his experience with bringing his vision for a Dubai record store to life!
Are there currently many record stores in Dubai? From what I’ve heard, there’s a big gap – why is that?
At the moment there are no independent record stores in Dubai, which is exactly why I decided I had to do it. Virgin Megastores have a vinyl section, but I wouldn’t really call it a record store. No decent record shop should stock One Direction live. I never really wanted to open a record shop, I just had wanted to get my daily fix of “black crack”. I’m talking about vinyl of course. This project has been in the works for about almost 2 years, so the more I’ve gotten into it, the more I’ve realized that this is really the only job I would ever want to do. The first record shop in Dubai was OHM Records and I believe OHM shut down around 2004 or so. That was right around the time when the digital DJing craze had begun with Serato and Traktor which came a bit later. It was just a case of bad timing for OHM, as well as the fact that Dubai’s music scene was really in its infancy then. As for why there has been a big gap since then, I guess its because people don’t usually like to go into a market that doesn’t really exist. There are far too many risks for most people, but I’m not most people. The reason I’m doing it is because I’d love to never have to work a mind dumbing corporate job again in my life and what better way to itch my fix for vinyl than having my own store.
Sounds like you’re pretty determined to bring vinyl to the UAE. Where does that drive come from? What inspires you?
I haven’t always been that driven. You could say I was a slacker for a big chunk of my early adult life. It really kind of happened over night. I just realized that complaining all the time took a lot of energy out of me, so I decided to channel all of that energy into changing the things I was complaining about. First it started as an artist. I was frustrated with having to ship my music around to labels to get it signed. I wanted to release my music when I wanted and how I wanted. So I started my label Ark to Ashes in 2013. Through the label I slowly started getting a lot more confident in what I was doing, but mostly determined. That was around the time I moved back to Dubai from New York and I was really missing just walking down the street and coming home with new records. The shop was actually my parents’ idea, but at first I didn’t think it would work. Slowly over time I just got really tired of having to wait a week for records to get here in the mail, and that’s when I decided that I was gonna put all my energy into opening my own record shop. As for what inspires me, I really would have to say it’s music. In reality, inspiration comes from all aspects of life, whether it be from people, nature, art or anything that involves creativity really inspires me. Mostly music for me because I’ve always been a bit of a recluse. People suck up way too much of my energy and I feel drained after lengthy human interaction. The only way to charge up is to listen to music or make it.
Is there a big demand for record shops in Dubai? Are people into physical music media over there?
There definitely is a huge demand for vinyl and physical media in general now in Dubai. Hence why it’s been very stressful to open the shop with all the pressure. I think in the past couple of years a lot of the younger generations have slowly started to appreciate the act of owning a physical object. I won’t get into the debate as to which medium sounds best, because thats a never ending discussion. As for MP3s, you never really own them. They’re just a bunch of 1s & 0s sitting somewhere on your computer. If you drop your laptop and it dies a horrible death, it will take your music with it. Then again, the whole hipster movement probably has something to do with it. The negative side of that is that lots of corporations and establishments have also jumped on the bandwagon because it’s “cool” and they want to be able to appeal to the “cool” kids. I’ve seen lots of that and it really makes me cringe. I’ve been approached by a couple of nightclubs in Dubai asking me if I could sell them some vinyl so they can hang it on their wall as decoration. That infuriates me. If they wanted to support the culture how about getting a couple of turntables in the DJ booth for starters. Needless to say, I declined. Looks like I’m turning into the typical grumpy old record shop owner already. I’m really not grumpy, but when people disrespect the whole culture then they’ve missed the point.
What kind of music is popular at the moment in UAE?
Well the flavor of the month is clearly House music, but not always the good kind. People love the boom boom here. I guess it’s the most accessible. There is a lot of incredible house music, but theres a lot of sub-par music on the menu as well. The last 2-3 years there has been a lot of other music popping up around town thanks to some great promoters who are willing to take a risk and promote lesser-known artists to push the boundaries a little bit. A lot of times people are open to new music, but if promoters don’t subject them to new sounds they will just stick to their comfortable little corner and never really think about it. It is of course not that easy for many reasons. Mostly financial. I don’t really go to all those typically overpriced Dubai super clubs so I’m only answering this question from my own point of view. If you asked someone else, you could get a completely different answer. Thankfully lots of my friends throw some great parties in town and are all pretty solid DJs. I never really have a shortage of good music to hear around town if I choose to go out.
What’s the music scene like in Dubai? Are there a lot of local bands, DJs, and live music?
The music scene in Dubai is slowly but surely getting better all the time. There are quite a few great local bands including Abri & Funk Radius, Muhaisnah Four, Bull Funk Zoo, The Swing Revue among others. Dubai doesn’t cater much for live music but hopefully that will change. My dear friend Ismat Abidi started Freshly Ground Sounds, which is a platform for less known musicians to get together and jam. I’m really happy to see it grow over the last few years. All it takes is a few people around town who really take initiative and bring matters into their own hands to change their environment. As for DJs, you can’t throw a rock in the air without hitting a DJ these days. I’m sure thats not just in Dubai put pretty much everywhere you go. There are tons of average DJs, but there are definitely a few DJs in town that I really dig.
What have been some of the biggest challenges to you opening a record store?
There have been obstacles all along the way. The biggest challenge at first was finding the perfect location. Dubai is not so easy to find great locations. There is a huge infatuation with malls here. I’m not sure why since I avoid malls like the plague, but I knew a mall would definitely not be the place for a record shop. I got lucky by getting the chance to open the shop in Alserkal Avenue, which is a creative hub for arts and creativity. I really couldn’t think of a better place to be. It’s great to be surrounded by art galleries and all sorts of other wonderful creative outlets. I’m very thankful for it. The other biggest challenge was getting registered. There are a list of activities you have to choose from to get your business registered. A record shop wasn’t even on the list. I had to run around and figure out a way to get it on there. I had a record in the car at all times for when they’d ask me what a record was, I could just pull it out. Granted, the record got destroyed in the sun, but it wasn’t one I’d play again, and the way I see it, that record had to be the sacrifice. It took one for the team. The third biggest challenge was just dealing with contractors. My dad is an architect, so that saved me a lot of time and was great working with him to design the space. As for the contractors, lets just say I wish I never have to deal with one again. Other than that, there weren’t such huge challenges other than the fact that I have to make big decisions on a daily basis. You also never realize the amount of little details that make all the difference in the world.
How were you getting hold of vinyl records over there before deciding to open a shop? Are a lot of people also doing the same?
I would usually order records online from Phonica, Juno, Decks, and a few others but that’s not really digging. That being said there was no greater feeling than having the postman show up at your door with a package. Of course, there’s Discogs, which I cannot live without. I’ve got so many records I’ve wanted and missed through Discogs. I can’t thank you lovely folks at Discogs enough. The last time I went to New York I stocked up on so much music it kept me going for quite a while. Another thing I love to do is go to Cairo and meet my friend Hamada at his antique/record shop and stock up on Arabic 45s. He would sell these black bags filled with a 100 7″ records in each bag. A lot of them were so beat up and scratched. They wouldn’t have covers either, but sometimes you would find some serious gems. There is still some charm to those old records. Each one of those records has been through so many hands. They tell a story. I love that.
What did you do before you decided to open a record store?
Before I started working on the shop, I studied Sound Engineering at SAE in New York and before that I was working on-and-off at my dad’s architecture firm. I would usually work for 2 years, save up money and leave. When I ran out of money, which was usually another 2 years, I would go back and do it all over again. I did that a few times. The first time I moved to Switzerland, and the second time around I went to New York. I’ve got too many records now so it doesn’t look like I’ll be moving again any time soon.
What will be your store’s speciality?
My goal is not really to have a speciality but more to stock quality music across all genres. My first batch of orders are as spread out as I could possibly make them. We’ve got space for about 5,000 or more records on the shelves in the store, so that will take quite some time to fill up. There are a few genres that I lean more towards like Dub, Jazz, Blues, Soul, Funk, Bossa Nova, Afrobeat , Hip Hop, House/Techno and music from other regions around the world. I’m also planning to start a Flip Side record label once the shop gets going. The plan actually is to have a recording studio on the mezzanine floor in the shop. That is what took the longest out of all the construction work we had to do. The recording studio is a whole new project on its own. Hopefully that will come together over the next year, if I can manage it. I’m also hoping to sell some of those used 7″ records from Cairo. They will be a little cheaper due to their condition, but I really like the idea of giving people a chance to buy music that they would not get a chance to otherwise.
What does your own record collection look like?
My own collection covers all sorts of music, really. I did start out DJing house/techno. Well, it was more progressive house back in those days. I’ve mainly been DJing house/techno through out my DJ career. I did find it pointless just collecting house music because I don’t really listen to it so much at home. I also got fewer and fewer bookings so I started collecting all kinds of music. It has been really refreshing to me since I did that. I started my radio show called The Shady Shadow Show about 3 years ago or so because I wanted to showcase all that music I loved that I wouldn’t get a chance to play at a club in Dubai. Since then the show has been going great and it’s just made me want to buy more and more non-dancefloor related music. Let’s see what happens in the future, but why would you ever want to limit yourself to one kind of music? There so much incredible music from all around the world.
What’s your holy grail record?
Oh wow. You just hit me with the million dollar question! Thats a really tough one. Off the top of my head it would probably have to be everything on the Themes International Music label. Probably Alan Tew – Drama Suite Part II. That record goes for some big bucks on Discogs. That’s if you’re lucky enough to find a copy in good condition. I’m usually a mint condition kinda guy, but sometimes you gotta settle for very good. I’d love to get my hands on Part I as well. I really dig that label. There’s some great music by people like Alan Hawkshaw, Allen Parker and Brian Bennett amongst others. There are just so many records I need in my life, so picking one is tough.