Creative State, a platform run by Vuse and Late Knights by Factory People have recently teamed up in the Middle East to announce their brand new concept Away To, a new and safe socially distanced live stream / party taking place each Friday around the Middle East, including Egypt, Beirut and Dubai. They have designed the concept to encourage artists to stay active isn the current climate. The later Late Knights features local and up and coming talent and shows off a positive ethos to the Middle East offering a real insight into the music scene and is supported by platform. Here we chat to Mohammad Kanso from British American Tobacco (BAT) who run Vuse and Samer Makarem from Factory People.
What made you start Creative State Live? When did it come together?
Mohammad Kanso, Head of Activations at British American Tobacco (BAT) – Creative State Live by Vuse was launched in April during the peak of lockdown restrictions. We wanted 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 has transformed to highly produced set-ups and socially distanced parties in partnership with Late Knights. However, 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 – Creative State Live is one of our such initiatives.
Samer Makarem, Head of Marketing at Factory People – At Factory People, we have been nurturing the music scene in Lebanon for the last 15 years. On almost a weekly basis, we welcome esteemed artists from around the world- while also cultivating local talent through our residencies. We noticed that despite the cultural wealth of the Middle East; this image wasn’t being portrayed to the rest of the world-where the media either focused on the regular stereotypes: War, Instability or focused on mass-produced pop superstars. We started 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.
Who is behind it, who does what, what are your aims?
Samer Makarem – Late Knights is a collaborative and team effort that extends from the wonderful artists who have accepted to be part of the process all the way to our videographers and producers on the ground- who we call the behind the scene heroes. Our ultimate aim is to showcase the plethora of talents and sounds in the Middle East, and to showcase them on a global stage. We believe that communities that develop art & culture are inherently richer, and we actively work towards that umbrella in everything we do. In the “Away to” Project, it’s a team-effort between ourselves and Creative State Live- where we handle the artistic logistics (Bookings, location, production) whereas the Creative State Live team are responsible for the overall logistics and distribution.
What is the scene in the Middle East like?
Samer Makarem – We can’t really generalize the Middle East and talk about it as one region as opposed to the individual countries and their contribution. That individualism brings forward a very rich and diverse scene from Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Dubai. There has generally been a move towards electronic becoming mainstream in the last few years, but that move to the mainstream allowed a lot of artists to not look at worldwide trends but to look inwards to their own communities, histories and stories to develop a unique and personal scene.
What sounds are popular? Is there a healthy underground?
Samer Makarem – Yes, there is a healthy underground. As mentioned above, electronic music now competes with hip-hop, pop and R&B as the most popular- and co-exists with the Arabic pop scene. The underground has become more about artists from the Middle East sharing a sound that is personal to them and to their communities, and presenting it in a multitude of ways. In Away to, we always aim to showcase a Live Act who is playing their own production, in addition to two DJs with differing sounds.
How hard has it been to find these locations and get permission to use them?
Samer Makarem – It isn’t that hard to find the locations because we have a strong community who have been sharing a lot of ideas with us about shooting here or shooting there. It was really nice to see how excited and proud people are to showcase their regions to the world- in an interesting and unique way. Some permissions had to go through government authorities such as the pyramids, but the rest have been pretty straight forward.
What made you pick them?
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 have been the biggest challenges in getting this project off the ground?
Mohammad Kanso – We’re a community platform that launched during the peak of lockdown regulations. We quickly adapted our strategy from offline to digital, and launching the Creative State Live initiative was a big part of that. Initiating it while major (and more established) brands were launching similar digital events was a challenge that we tackled head on by not just copycatting what others did. We generated significant international and regional buzz by prioritizing music, community and beautiful venues.
Samer Makarem – When it started as DJs shooting in their home it was pretty straight forward to manage, but when we elevated the level of production- achieving that consistency and engagement was tricky to manage but apart from that this has been a passion project, so we took all challenges to heart.
Which bits have made you most proud to have achieved?
Mohammad Kanso – We are proud to see a community form around these online streams. Creative State Live has become a way to meaningfully connect people digitally across the world through music. We’re also super proud that the initiative showcases young, new talent alongside well-established international artists – giving everyone, no matter how small or big, a platform.
Samer Makarem – Seeing comments from the world that they think our country is stunning, and that they are eagerly awaiting to visit. That is honestly what makes us the proudest. Feeling like that we are running a tourism campaign, and running the flag of our region high through music and in a way that resonates with an entire generation. Also getting to have the local acts have their moment where a worldwide audience gets to hear their sound, and see them, whereas they might not have had a chance to hear the acts without the streams.
What are you looking forward to most about the events?
Samer Makarem – To keep discovering beautiful locations, to keep a great connection between various promoters around the region, to keep knowledge sharing, to keep the artist exchange and to really keep showing the region for its beauty.
Mohammad Kanso – We’re looking forward to evolving the event series to be more innovative and engaging as the world recovers and regulations ease. We want to continue to film in incredible, unique locations with unique and talented individuals. Finally, in the long term, we want to inspire movements and host events that’ll allow for our community members to better connect with each other and their shared interests.