More than a decade after the popular Beirut Groove Collective first brought global soul-fuelled records to the Lebanese capital’s underground nightlife scene, the DJ duo behind the famed club night have moved their signature sound to London.
Co-founded in 2009 by internationally renowned DJ Ernesto Chahoud, the vinyl DJ collective used to run one of Beirut’s hippest weekly parties, the BGC All-Nighter, playing obscure 1960s and 1970s clubbing records from around the world. The collective’s range of eclectic sounds regularly packed the dancefloor with hearty partygoers until dawn and became a staple of the famously nocturnal city’s social scene.
Chahoud, who has one of the largest vinyl collections in the Middle East, specialises in Arabic and Ethiopian music, and has a taste for little-known gems and obscure dancefloor stompers.
Widely credited for introducing funk and soul to the city, the music researcher says the promotion of vinyl culture is about “digging” into new music.
“They call it digging-type club nights where there's always a new thing you're listening to. The records we play are mainly rare to find … it is also about digging into obscure records from the Arab world, Africa and elsewhere that we unearthed. This is the point of strictly vinyl. It basically means that the first time you are going to hear them will be at our club night,” Chahoud tells The National.
“We were lucky that we weren’t in Lebanon when the explosion happened because our club is just by the port … I don’t even want to really think about it, I was really lucky,” says Chahoud, trailing off. The couple's home and his record store, Darkso, were also damaged by the blast.
Shooter, a British DJ and music journalist from Derbyshire, had been living in Beirut since 2010 when she moved on a whim after picking up a copy of Zena Khalil’s book, Beirut, I Love You, in the library.
After a decade living and DJing in Beirut, Shooter, who ran the BGC's club nights with Chahoud, who she met and married in the Lebanese capital, was ready to move back to the UK. The couple have now made London their new home and want to bring the eclectic sounds they cultivated for years in Beirut to the city.
“We don't stick to one specific genre. We're very wide now we play basically anything that's good for the dance floor, mostly from the '60s, '70s, '80s and from literally all over the world. Sometimes Ernesto will play Soviet jazz records,” says Shooter.
“Basically anything that is obscure and designed for clubbing!” Chahoud jumps in.
The duo are coming close to the end of their four-week residency at the Palestinian-run Finch Cafe in London Fields and have upcoming sets booked at other clubs around the city. Their first performance this summer with soul DJ Malayka Erpen was sold out. Shooter admits it’s exciting for them to be part of the recent reopening of clubs and bars and the reception from revellers has been positive so far.
“We get a lot of reaction from people here because I think we are introducing sort of a new sound to the clubbing life in London with all of this authentic Arabic, clubbing music, that’s rare and mixed with Ethiopian, African, Armenian music,” says Chahoud.
The collective is catering to a crowd that’s more interested in sampling alternative funk-driven music than the typical beat-heavy pop tunes of other Arab music nights, he says.
“It's not the same as the typical Beirut clubbing experience, but it’s a Beirut underground music experience that fits everybody who's looking for a different kind of music.”
BGC will perform at Finch Cafe, London Fields, on Friday, September 3. More information is at instagram.com/beirutgroovecollective