When Dubai's only independent record store, The Flip Side, opened in 2017, the city had a fledgling vinyl culture, but founder Shadi Megallaa has been watching that steadily grow over the past two years. "It's been amazing to see people in Dubai not only get into it, but really embrace it," he tells The National.
The Alserkal Avenue store is fairly small, but it’s impactful. A carefully curated selection of tunes lay in boxes marked by their genres (jazz, blues, techno, funk, hip-hop, reggae – and so on). The walls are lined with rarer records and punchy posters featuring western and Middle Eastern artists. Through its stock and (not-so-carefully-curated) series of events, Megallaa aims to support a burgeoning alternative music scene, away from the more commercialised tunes consistently played on the radio day after day.
Scroll through the gallery above to see inside The Flip Side.
“Our shop’s mission is to turn people on to music they normally wouldn’t have discovered themselves,” the Egyptian-born, UAE-raised store owner explains. “It would be much easier to just stock all the music that people already know and make as many sales as possible. For me, it’s a lot more rewarding to challenge people’s boundaries a little.”
Last Saturday, dozens of like-minded music-lovers gathered in the modern, wood-panelled space to listen to nine local “beat-makers” spin their stuff in an event called The Flip Side x Flippin’ Tarboosh EP03. Other past events have included documentary screenings, international DJ sets and record release parties. Local DJ Nuff-Ced has just introduced his “Surface Scratch” series, in which he’ll showcase a specific subgenre for a couple of hours. “A record shop is a very integral part of any community,” Megallaa says. “The shop is a place for us to get together and showcase our talents or just simply enjoy each other’s company in a laid-back atmosphere.”
And “laid-back” is the operative word. There’s no official programme, but every week or so, an in-store event pops up on the schedule spontaneously, and The Flip Side’s fans flock by after hearing about it through word-of-mouth or noticing it on the shop’s Facebook page. “It’s not a very conventional way of doing things, but I much prefer the flexibility and the chance to surprise people every now and then.”
Unconventionality, after all, is the aim of the game. “I’ve always done things my own way and that has helped The Flip Side stand out.”
It hasn’t been easy to make it all happen, though, Megallaa admits. Shipping rates, in particular, have made it tough. “It would be a lot more profitable and convenient to be located anywhere in the US or Europe, as that’s where most of our stock comes from,” he says. “The other challenge is time – 24 hours in a day is simply not enough sometimes, but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”
Despite any difficulties, he and his team have done a good job of giving vinyl culture a boost, and attracting all walks of his life to the store. “Every week we get more people coming in for the very first time. I never tire of their initial reaction. It seems people are still amazed that a record shop could exist in Dubai.” And it isn’t the only thing Megallaa is focusing on at the moment, either. He also runs his record label, Ark to Ashes, and is an artist himself. He’s looking to start The Flip Side record label, too, for which he’s got “lots of ideas”, and will launch an online store, something that’s happening “very soon”.
“Stay tuned for that,” he says.
With the record shop, label, events, merchandise, radio show (The Shady Shadow Show) and zine (No Budget), Megallaa and his crew are clearly working hard to create an authentic scene and an inviting atmosphere that makes you want to stick around a while. "It's not really about me wanting to attract a certain type of person," he adds. "I want them to be attracted to what we do and what we stand for.
“Everyone is welcome, except people with a false sense of entitlement. If you think the world revolves around you, then The Flip Side probably ain’t for you.”