BEIRUT: It was 1993. The official governmental station, Radio Liban, went live on air with a show named “Ruptures.” That show broadcasted alternative indie music to the Lebanese masses back when it wasn’t fashionable yet.
The man behind the decks, carefully curating the music and hosting artists for live sessions and interviews, Ziad Nawfal embarked on a journey to become one of the pioneers of the Lebanese alternative scene.
“Ruptures” transmitted the sound of local and international indie, and musicians came on air for interviews or live performances. A change of name naturally had to occur, these live sessions became known as “Ruptured Sessions,” which specifically referred to live music sessions.
In the early 2000s, he worked at a record store called La CD Thèque for around 10 years, and at “Incognito,” the record label that was an offshoot from the record store.
Having developed his own direction, taste, and knowledge in music, combined with practicalities and techniques he learned at the label from Tony Sfeir, who owned the label. Nawfal told Annahar, “ I owe him a huge debt actually, even the more practical stuff like getting the barcodes, printing, deciding on paper, where to go to print the CD itself, all of that stuff I learned from them as well.”
With a scarcity in local indie record labels, Nawfal, and his long-time collaborator, and owner of Tunefork Studios, Fadi Tabbal, were ready for something to call completely their own and decided to launch “Ruptured," the label in 2008.
“It was two record labels more or less that existed at the time,” Nawfal said, “a highly experimental record label, “Al Maslakh”, and “Incognito” which released some alternative artists but mostly oriental alternative or oriental music, but it closed in 2008. They had released a couple of records for “Scrambled Eggs” and “Munma,” and Rayess Bek."
Ruptured Records officially started producing in 2009, and Nawfal did not stop there.
He went on to organize the first Ciné-concert in Lebanon with a local band, the now-disbanded XEFM (Fadi Tabbal, Charbel Haber, Abdallah Ko, and Tony Elieh) who played live music to the legendary Russian film “A Man With A Movie Camera.” Metropolis cinema later picked up the concept and started doing it on a regular basis.
Another milestone for the producer, music promoter, organizer, and DJ was putting on a concert for the Lebanese -now internationally acclaimed- alternative band Mashrou’ Leila back when they had only one song on the radio. The concert went on to host 300 people at “The Basement”, previously accustomed to a crowd of 100 or less for such alternative concerts.
That was when Nawfal knew that Leila was offering something new to the music scene and that “this was a big deal, you could tell that the band would go on to do great things. You could feel new things coming.” he said.
Nawfal became the sole owner of the self-financed label, which functions in three ways: producing an album from A to Z where Nawfal gets involved in the choice of songs, artwork, paper, and everything in between; distributing and promoting a completed album; or supporting an artist with ready artwork and music in producing their album.
Among the multiple local and international artists releasing music through Ruptured; Scrambled Eggs, Munma, a French duo called Imaginary Soundscapes, Sharif Sehnaoui, Tony Elieh, The Bunny Tylers, Kinematik, Kid Fourteen, Mme Chandelier, Postcards, and Interbellum. The label also went on to produce five Ruptured Sessions CDs with eight tracks each featuring 40 artists.
"I remember when we came up with the idea for the very first CD, “Ruptured Sessions Vol 1,” it was a big victory for us to do it alone together and everyone played for free at the concert. Nowadays, it would be impossible to do something like that. Even myself, I wouldn’t ask anyone to play for free because a lot of these bands have made tremendous progress."
But the smooth winds did not stay for long, as the music scene evolved many challenges arose especially with the rise of music streaming and social media platforms which led to the rapid downfall of CD culture.
Both independent record labels and musicians are facing a dilemma today, where "releasing a vinyl or a CD is very close to commercial suicide for the labels. At the same time, if you don’t have an online presence, an account or some presence on iTunes, Soundcloud and Spotify, you don’t really exist," Nawfal explained.
Significant changes in the culture of consumption over the past decade have forced local artists to modify their approach to live playing and touring, since concerts have become the only way to make a steady income and sell any merchandise. In addition to this many musicians, especially amid the experimental scene, have entirely left Lebanon and settled elsewhere, for lack of decent local opportunities.
Another major brick wall that local artists ran into and prevent the natural evolution of the music scene is the lack of tour promoters and band managers. "There’s one band manager, and that’s Fadi Tabbal managing Postcards. There aren’t really any agents, for a while, I did all of that for different artists. That’s what missing."
Nostalgically looking back at the local music scene in 2008 when things were just starting, Nawfal explained how there were a dozen bands and artists creating at the time. A mood of camaraderie was present, as they all collaborated and supported each others' music.
The concerts were hosted and based at iconic, yet scarce music venues that no longer exist today such as "The Basement,” "Club Social,” and " Walimat Warde.”
Yet, the scene still had ego and friction in its core even though the bad blood wasn't as public as it is today. He recalled several instances of musicians arguing and quarrelling over artistic differences, something that still goes on to this day. “I’m pretty sure musicians argue the world over, but seeing as Beirut is so small and everyone is pretty much involved in everyone else’s business, animosity is very palpable.”
Nawfal's perspective of the competition and friction that has always existed in the scene is less threatening. "I don’t mind the fact that people dislike each other in the music scene, because I believe it makes you create better music. You want to be better than this person who just released an album, played at a concert, or just got an interview."
Artistic differences were a natural course of events that can lead to different paths in the music industry. Nawfal having faced that very turmoil with Tabbal, where they started Ruptured Record together but ended up going their separate ways.
More recently, Nawfal organized a 12-hour drone music concert with his partner Nathan Larson, which was unprecedented in the region. The event featured 18 artists spanning from all over the globe, and three visual artists who dazzled the audience with their abstract and tranquil works.
It was a major achievement for him as he organized everything related to local artists completely alone, while his partner, Larson, took care of the foreign artists. "It was nice to remember that I can do something like than on my own without needing anyone. For a while now, I had been working with other people very closely, I lost track of what I could and couldn’t do on my own."
Nawfal is busy preparing the next release for Ruptured Records, a limited vinyl edition of Lebanese post-rock band Kinematik’s second album. The music was recorded at Tunefork, and the album will be released in partnership with Portland’s alternative record shop and label Beacon Sound. “With Beacon Sound, we had already collaborated on a vinyl release of Fadi Tabbal’s solo record “Museum of disappearing buildings”, and figured it might be beneficial for both of us to pursue working together.”
Nawfal still broadcasts his radio programs several times a week on Radio Lebanon 96.2FM, the government frequency, tirelessly documenting the local alternative scene and its myriad offshoots.
Karim El Horr contributed to this article.
For the Record," is Annahar's new music section. It aims to cover in-depth the underground independent music scene in Beirut, which has become known around the world for the alchemical mix of local and international artists. This unique and innovative scene, defined by its superior audio-sound quality and the incredible amount of talent, has become the center of attention to many local and international audiences, initiatives, and artists.
For further information contact, Chiri Choukeir: firstname.lastname@example.org
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