Recently announced soiree ‘Away To’ one of biggest talking points coming from the Middle East is a new socially distanced live steam which has taken place in Egypt, Beirut and Dubai. Its arrives from collaborative mins Creative State which is powered by Vuse and Late Knights by Factory People, both encouraging local talent to stay active all whilst showing off a positive atmosphere in the industry. We speak to the Head of Activations Mohammad Kanso from Vusa and Samer Makarem about the latest projects.
Introduce yourself and give us some background? Tell us who does what?
My name is Mohammad Kanso and I am the Head of Activations at British American Tobacco.
Creative State Live by Vuse was launched during lockdown as a means to bring music and entertainment to people stuck at home. Over the months, what started out as regional DJs broadcasting live sets from their homes transformed to high produced set-ups in partnership with Late Knights. Despite the change in production, Creative State Live’s main mission has always been to highlight and encourage the musically talented community of the region to continue promoting their craft during difficult times. Creative State’s aim is to support the creative community and give them a platform to be heard.
My name is Samer Makarem and I am the Head of Marketing for Factory People, the group behind Late Knights- our music & culture content channel. This was a collaborative project between ourselves and Creative State Live. On this project, the Late Knights team is responsible for the creative production of the streams- sourcing locations, booking the acts, shooting, producing and editing the films.
How did you first get into dance music, where and when? Was it easy to access?
Samer Makarem – Factory People has been the main driver behind the electronic music scene in the Middle East for the past 15 years, starting with our first club The Basement that we opened in 2005. So, dance and electronic music has become part of our social fabric for a big portion of millennials in Beirut and the region, so definitely was easy to access.
What determined the lines up for these events?
Samer Makarem – Our booking team leads on the lineups, where the objective is to show a diversity in artists in each stream. Ensuring we have a healthy balance of representation between male & female DJs, live acts, local electronic sounds and more. Through this diversity, we showcase how rich and developed our scenes are.
What challenge have covid-19 thrown up to your organization? Will it have a lasting impact?
SM -Our core business at Factory People is the nightclubs themselves, where the online component Late Knights was to complement what happens in the scene. We are thankful that we were able to continue with Late Knights during the period, as every challenge throws an equal opportunity. Right now, the biggest challenge is the unknown nature of COVID-19, where there hasn’t been a global response and each individual country has taken its own measures. As we know music is a global venture, with artists from around the world, visiting all sorts of countries in one sort of weekend. That is the biggest challenge for all of us in the industry in terms of planning. We can’t really tell the lasting impact for the time being, but what we do know is that music will always be something that unites us and that is a power that won’t go away easily.
Mohammad Kanso – Covid-19 circumstances were obviously a huge challenge for our live engagements, yet it was those same challenges that inspired Creative State Live. We saw the problem that was being presented as a chance to innovate with the community. Of course, we still faced operational challenges, like finding a way to make the streams entertaining to watch, while being safe and respectful of restrictions for those attending.
How have you decided which locations to visit on these streams?
Samer Makarem – As a macro-plan, we wanted to keep every stream diverse from one another- so in picking the locations we made sure to show very different locations, but each has its own unique beauty.
What finds these organizations, is there a long term future in this kind of online partying do you think?
Samer Makarem – As long as people cannot connect with each other over music physically, then the online partying is here to stay as an alternative. We are adaptive species, and while the online partying can’t replace the real thing- the responses we have received about this initiative has been tremendous.
Mohammad Kanso – The future for Creative State Live is to continue to unite those with similar passions under one (digital) roof. Whether there’s a lockdown or not, the music community will always have a place today and talented artists will always deserve a platform to showcase their skills. Our job is to act as a congregational platform for those changes
What are the differences between the reality of music in the middle east and what what we in Europe think we know about it?
Samer Makarem – It is much more diverse and developed than what the world thinks about it- and unless you have been to the Middle East, there is still a preconception that the region is dangerous. This difference in reality is what drove us to start Late Knights. to show the real sound of the underground in the Middle East, where we shot, edited, wrote and produced all the films in house. The scene is developed with DJs and artists being able to play a multitude of sounds, but in the last few years we have had worldwide trends but to look inwards to their own communities, histories and stories to develop a unique and personal scene.
What have you learnt over the first few streams? How have you evolved and improved the set up?
Samer Makarem – The first few streams started in the DJ’s bedrooms so was fairly simple to manage! We then evolved the streams to having full production, in addition to introducing the world’s first socially distanced dancefloor. That message was to show the world that music is here to stay, no matter how dark things might seem round now. Moving forward, we are aiming to present bigger and better locations.
What sounds are popular in the mIddle East that are native to the Middle East, do you think ?
Samer Makarem – The Middle East has always been a melting pot of culture, and with a lot of influence from the west. That melting pot nature has allowed for the development of a unique and futuristic sound, that blends the native sound of our regions such as the Mezmar, the oud, the orchestral scales, mixed with the electronic sounds. This has recently exploded and we’ve seen a lot of acts start playing local artists, and there has been a new awakening about the sound the Middle East has to offer.