Tse Tse Fly founder Simon Coates on being signed by a UK record label for their latest album
Simon Coates, founder of Tse Tse Fly.
“This is the counter¬culture in Dubai," says Simon Coates, introducing the sound-art collective he founded last year, Tse Tse Fly Middle East.
“There is no counterculture. There are brave attempts – but it isn’t something you can import or throw money at. It has to come organically from the people who are already here.
“[We are] a reaction against the environment. It’s a bunch of people who are pretty [peeved]. What we’re doing really isn’t normal."
A collective of about a dozen audio creatives – sound artists, DJs, musicians – Tse Tse Fly (TTF) have been steadily raising eyebrows and expanding minds since they hosted the region’s “first sound-art club night" last September. It is described as “sound art", because at TTF, conventional ideas of melody, harmony and rhythm – the things that typically signify music, especially of the club-night variety – are strictly optional.
Naturally the artistic community came out en force for the grand unveiling. Coates, former general manager of Dubai arts hub Ductac, estimates that more than 200 people crammed into tiny Al Barsha bar Casa Latina. Subsequent monthly events have proved more eclectic in terms of attendance, something that seems only to please Coates, a man distinctly unafraid of ruffling feathers.
“I’d rather have five people who get it, than 200 people who don’t," says the 48-year-old British artist.
The collective found a particularly sympathetic audience when five members flew to the UK for their first international engagement, hosting an evening at Blackpool’s experimental Other Worlds festival. The organisers were so impressed they signed Tse Tse Fly to their Must Die Records imprint, to release a debut compilation album.
Set for release this year, Easy Listening Vol. 1 will feature specially commissioned pieces of “sound art, noise and experimental music" from about a dozen UAE-based artists. Among the featured acts will be Bahrain-born Hasan Hujairi, Abu Dhabi-based American multimedia artists Jonny Farrow and Isaac Sullivan, Dubai-based UK noise producer Black Line, Lebanon’s Nour Sokhon, and Coates himself.
The irony of the fact that it is perhaps the least marketable sounds to emerge from the country that are finding an international audience clearly strikes a chord with Coates.
“It’s very hard to explain the feeling you have when you read the words, ‘We would like to release your album,’ coming to us in Dubai from an established label in UK – I nearly ripped his arm off," he says.
Currently on hiatus for the summer, the monthly live events will resume in September. A typical evening at Casa Latina offers a mix of experimental live musical performance, DJ sets and film screenings, all hosted in an otherwise-conventional nightlife environment. “It’s all about subversion, taking a traditional concept and turning it on its head," says Coates.
“If you host an ‘art’ event in Dubai, it will typically do less well than a ‘music’ event. By subverting the classifications, we’ve been able to tap into the club market and that’s opened a lot of eyes."
But by breaking down barriers so readily, opposition, and even antagonism, becomes inevitable. Coates quotes Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire as an inspiration, the fabled nightclub where anarchistic art movement Dadaism was born.
“We have genuinely had people coming up and asking for David Guetta," says Coates. “Another person asked us to refund their Uber because it wasn’t what they expected.
“The achievement is that we actually do this at all in a place like Dubai."
Making things happen in Dubai is something Coates – a lifelong artist with a background in the music industry – knows more than a little about. After emigrating to the UAE, Coates ran Ductac for two years from 2013. Last year, he established a Middle East base for Hungry Castle, the -Barcelona-based artist collective known for large-scale, tongue-in-cheek installations.
But as his own creation, it appears to be Tse Tse Fly that is exciting Coates most right now – and naturally the album is a crowning achievement. Set for release in September, it will drop almost exactly a year after the first club night.
In the meantime, questions of definition may continue to puzzle observers, but Coates only seems to enjoy this intangibility – “subversion" is a word he returns to time and time again.
“We’re not an art gallery, we’re not a club night, we’re not a pop group – there’s a lot of things we’re not, and we’re happy with that," he says. “We’re the antithesis, we are the antidote, of commercial – we make no money, we’re not commodifying what we do at all. It’s a square peg in a round hole. And I like it that way."
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