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A punk guide to Dubai with Fat Randall

Since its rapid rise to a tourism hotpot, Dubai has become somewhat of a white whale for Australians. Indeed, very few of us will have the pleasure (read: bank balance) to explore the city beyond a few hours lay over at its airport.

The rise to the top of people’s list of bucketlist destinations was indeed rapid for the United Arab Emirates city. At the turn of the ’70s, there were just 13 registered cars in Dubai. Now there are more than 2 million.

While Australia is proudly home to big things like Pineapples, Bananas and Prawns, Dubai is home to the world’s largest building, the world’s largest shopping mall and the world’s largest man-made island. And yet it grows still.

In and amongst the glitz and the glam (and gold bar ATMs) of Dubai lays a punk scene held together by locals and expats alike, as we would learn speaking with Fat Randall, UAE’s answer to NOFX, et al.

Growing up as a young punk in Dubai, what are some of the places you would hang out? 

Dubai was a really interesting place to grow up with regards to the music scene. The “rock music” scene kind of took precedence over an individualized punk scene, so there were loads of people primarily into metal, followed by punk and grunge/alternative. It was a collective. Gigs used to happen anywhere and everywhere we could stick a drum set, amps and a PA down (colleges, hotel ballrooms, people’s houses, skate parks), but the turnout and support was always incredible. As the majority of us were underage when the scene was at its peak, we mostly hung out at house parties, played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater at friend’s places or went out for shwarmas (Arabic street food) outside of gigs.

How would you describe your typical Dubai punk? 

At this moment in time, a Dubai punk is your 9-5 worker. Everyone who comes out to Dubai does so to make a living and put food on the table for themselves and a lot of the time for their families back home. Music ends up being a bit of an escape from the daily grind. Back when the scene was at its peak and the majority of us were teenagers, I’d say we were all a bunch of angsty kids that just loved music, going to shows and hanging out. 

How does the general Dubai community take to punks, and punk music? 

For the most part, it appeals to a very small crowd. Dubai is a very transient place and loads of people have come and gone over the years. Typically, there’s been a culture shift that accompanied these transient spells and when the rock scene slowly started to fade and shows starting moving on to bars and venues, we ended up losing touch with the high school and college kids, so there wasn’t much continuity. But, there are folks who still love their punk and make an effort to get to a show. 

What do you think is the biggest threat to the punk community in your city?

Ah, there’s a load of things. Lack of venues. Lack of bands. Lack of people into this culture. People’s priorities are different as well. But, I think as long as there are bands from this region flying the flag and getting out there and trying to stay relevant by releasing content, playing shows and touring, people from here will take notice and support you for sure.

What are some of the best record shops for punk music in Dubai, and what makes them special places?

There isn’t really a record shop dedicated to punk here. Closest thing we have to anything that supports local music is Virgin Megastore and that’s down to Moutasem Kabbani who runs ‘Metal East Records’ as a passion project while working full time at Virgin. He goes above and beyond to get local artists to get their music or CD’s on display at these stores.  

What’s the best way to find punk music in Dubai? For example, are there radio stations dedicated to punk? 

Honestly, it’s social media and then getting in touch to find out more. Radio here does nothing to support local music. There’s one that does a segment on local artists for an hour once a week. We’ve had rock stations in the past, but they’ve closed. It’s just not profitable enough. So, we play the hand we’re dealt and make the most of every avenue available to us. We’ve managed to get slots at Punk Rock Holiday in 2016 and Rebellion Festival in 2017, thanks to social media.

Other than record shops, are there any other locations in the city that are important to its punk rock music community?

Not so much, but there are a few independent tattoo artists and clothing brands that we consider a part of our scene. Check out “Nick Automatic”. They’re a clothing apparel company we’re endorsed by who are originally based out of the Philippines, but they’ve setup shop here as well.

I’d love to know about some of the live music venues in Dubai! Where are some of the best venues for punk rock music? 

The last iconic venue we had here was called ‘The Music Room’ where Romario, our singer and bass player was the in house sound engineer. It was probably the only venue that really went out of its way to support local bands and artists. But, that closed down in 2017 and since then we haven’t really had a “home”. Promoters find a way and find new venues that are willing to accommodate shows, but it’s not the same. That said, there is a venue called ‘The Fridge’ that has supported local talent for a few years and a new-ish coffee shop/barbershop/bike workshop called ‘Möto’ that’s slowly starting to become synonymous with the music scene here and we are trying to cook up a few other ideas as well at the moment, so watch this space!

Other than Fat Randall, who are some other great punk bands making moves from Dubai?

There’s a cool Filipino punk band here that do songs in both Tagalog and English. They’re called ‘Tsinelas’ and a couple of the members are scene veterans! Another band to check out is a newly formed hardcore band called ‘Victory in Defeat’. I believe they’re working on material to release at the moment. Honestly, think that’s it for active punk bands writing original tunes! There’s a dude based here name Sean who is another scene vet that’s recently released a song with his old band ‘Lowprofile’ from South Africa! 

What are your tips for any punks traveling through your hometown? 

Get in touch! We’d love to hangout, listen to some tunes and show you the authentic side of Dubai!