December 6th kicked off the highly anticipated three-day festival for lovers of urban pop culture – Sole DXB. Thursday night welcomed visitors to a free-of-charge film screening on the mainstage. ‘Rock Rubber 45s’, a documentary following the story of sneaker culture pioneer, New Yorker Bobbito Garcia. This film delivered its purpose as a gateway to the subsequent days for both existing Sole DXB followers, as well as curious attendees perhaps less familiar with this event, and generally unfamiliar with aspects of urban culture and its origins. Nonetheless, it got us psyched up for the Friday & Saturday program abundant with acts, talks, features, activations and a fine musical line-up.
What did we expect?
Sole DXB, started as a niche event comprising a dozen or so exhibitors (mainly independent local fashion merchants) catering to sneaker-heads and urban fashion enthusiasts. It is now a juggernaut hip hop festival drawing in tens of thousands of visitors, and 2018’s edition promised nothing short of bigger, better experience for the 300dhs ticket price tag.
In the build-up to the event we observed how the program cross-functioned the performers on board. For example, rappers like Nas or Yasin Bey [Mos Def] were involved in ‘talks’ perhaps better described as live interviews/discussions which took place in designated workshop areas in the daytime, along with performing their sets on the mainstage.
Our anticipation was certainly heightened by this year’s program which boasted solid musicians, film screenings, a basketball tournament, rap battles/cyphers and various workshops, and of course, headliners Nas and Giggs.
What we saw & What we liked
Starting with the layout, the best thing was having something to see or do, pretty much at every physical part of the event. From the moment you walk in till you reach the fencing, you are drawn in either by some cool activations led by the bigger brands, some beautiful & creative artwork or clothing provided by local independent brands, you had of course the main stage and two food courts at either end of the event.
We like the evenly dispersed format which allowed local brands to be seen alongside the bigger brands who spared no expense in preparation for this event, whether through the structure of their booth or through the flamboyant unveiling of new products at Sole.
The fashion enthusiasts held no prisoners at Sole. The general look ‘n feel of Sole DXB this year was catchy, innovative and very well pulled off thanks to the bold and striking crowd members. Sole DXB posted much of these in their ‘People of Sole’ trail on their Instagram page (@soledxb).
Now let’s talk music. The calibre coupled with the variety of acts ranging from 80’s retro rap such as Roxannse Shante, to young Trap artists like Zenden Lavon. We also liked the introduction of hard-hitting acts from the likes of Grime artist Slowthai and South African rapper Youngster CPT.
Local acts such as Reem Ekay took the mainstage to perform to their local fanbase, but we’ll talk more about local acts in the next section.
What we didn’t see and what we wanted
To anyone who attended the previous 2017 edition as well, would have noticed a glaring difference in the level of participation of the local artists performing. While many of the local artists were seen at Sole, and took part in various aspects of the event, we saw next to nothing on the mainstage. If their involvement was more in the form of hosted DJ sessions, battles or cyphers etc which all took place within the booths in collaboration with certain brands which is not a bad thing, but it’s not what we want to see for our local artists.
We want to seize the opportunity of the presence of major, respected international artists and leverage them perhaps to push local acts as and where they can, whether through collaboration or endorsement perhaps?
We want to see more local music Sole!