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Dubai nitelife’s rising shock value

Club owners’ attempts to replicate controversial western brands seems totally pointless says Shane McGinley

One of my favourite interviews I have ever done was with Steve Kaufman, the pop art genius who rose to fame as assistant to the legendary Andy Warhol. Kaufman claimed in a late night chat from LA that he had lived the life of 100 men and the stories he told were brilliantly entertaining, but mostly unprintable.

A lot of Kaufman’s tales were set in the infamous Studio 54 night club in New York, which was world renowned in the late 70s and early 80s for its hedonistic and extravagant shows and mix of eccentric and fun-loving A-list superstars, music, art, fashion and pushing the boundaries of what was legal and acceptable in late 1970s America.

This week, the owners of Dubai’s Cavalli club will launch Cavalli54, a new club night based on the iconic Manhattan venue. “It's going to be fabulous,” the PR tells me, but I do wonder how this is all really going to work.

It surely won’t be anything like the original Studio 54, other than the fact they will both have the same two numbers in their name. If the A-listers who made it past the red curtain into the New York club were to come back for a reunion they would surely be arrested if they demanded to be able to repeat the same antics deemed acceptable back then.

“It won't be as scandalous as we would have liked - no naked woman on a horse but Cavalli's worked hard to make it into a fantastic night,” the PR adds.

While it will no doubt be fabulous and fantastic, you wonder what the point is, other than to find a new unique selling point to entice punters in the door in the midst of Dubai’s increasingly overcrowded night life.

Similar issues arose earlier this year when The Act opened in Dubai – in the tallest theatre in the world, of course. Based on The Box in London, which the Daily Mail declared “Britain’s seediest VIP club”, it claimed it was going to push the boundaries of night life in Dubai.

Time Out Dubai reported that one of the early shows included the following: a theatrical courtship between a midget and a woman dressed in a man’s shirt, a female singer complete with dance troupe, a fascinatingly unusual ditty where a woman who reminded us of a geisha was risen into the air by her hair and Alice in Wonderland-style oddities consisting of performers in giant rabbit heads.

The club also has sister clubs in Vegas and New York and are known for their sexually driven entertainment shows and acts which wouldn’t go amiss in some of the more liberal parts of Europe. As the region continues to juggle the western desire to push boundaries with the conservative Muslim beliefs of its locals, you wonder what point these clubs serve, other than cynically offering club founders a chance to earn a quick buck in the Middle East.

At the end of the day, those who loved the originals will feel disappointed by the tamed down pale imitation and owners will surely become frustrated by the restrictions and demands of a new audience looking to push the limits of what is considered shocking.

Stop Press: In another case of pointlessly trying to marry a western brand with a conservative Muslim region, it was revealed UAE developer DAMAC is to open a Paramount-branded residential project in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, claiming they want the project to “reflect Hollywood glamour and California cool lifestyle”.

Paramount is a studio that brought us film classics such as ‘Team American’, ‘Titanic’, ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Wayne’s World’, ‘Indecent Proposal’, ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘Footloose’, ‘Grease’ and ‘The Godfather’.

Saudi Arabia is a country where cinemas, theatres, contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex and free speech are all banned. Figure that one out!

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Posted by: mick

Another venue for those Dubai expats who feel the need to be something more than they are and to pose-battle and wallet-compete with other shallow and flaccid souls. I'll stick with my venues that need only have seats, food, reasonably priced drinks to accomodate good friends that are together for good conversation and laughs.
Glad that I never got caught up in the DXB exotic and empty lifestyle. I don't feel the need to go back home after another 5 years gagging to tell stories of how I was rubbing shoulders with people who believed they were notable.
Class in Dubai is arbitrary and driving chic on-loan is not overly impressive. Keep the upmarket nightlife coming, folks ....I'm sure there will always be queues ready to go.

Posted by: james

excellent article very well written

Posted by: RAH


"...you wonder what point these clubs serve, other than cynically offering club founders a chance to earn a quick buck in the Middle East."

Spot-on, Shane.

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