DJmag.com's Middle-Eastern correspondent Wajih Halawa reports on the region's growing dance scene, and from the area's most important clubs.
Sure, you probably know more about the Middle East from the sometimes graphic news broadcasts, but there is also a musically-oriented movement bubbling underneath in a few cities.
Last year brought new hot spots for dance music in the Middle East to the limelight, led by cities like Dubai (UAE), Beirut (Lebanon), Amman (Jordan), Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) and Manama (Bahrain).
Just last July, DJmag.com profiled Jordan's growing scene.
Around that time there was the annual Distant Heat festival in the exotic desert valley of Wadi Rum, this year headlined by Armin van Buuren.
Sarah Main played at a Pacha party in Jordan
With the hotel bombings that shook the Jordanian capital of Amman last November, though, things changed drastically in the typically quiet Arab nation surrounded by unrest (Iraq to the east, Israel to the west, and Syria and Lebanon to the north).
Jordanians felt the bitter taste of terror, and the disruption to their hum-drum lives changed much of what was normally regarded as routine.
The nightlife took a hit as well, with clubs closing for the first couple of weeks and reopening with strict security measures in place.
But Jordanians were intent on living their lives and not letting the violence overtake their need for release.
Amman's night people fought back full force on December 17 with a packed first anniversary party featuring Pacha Ibiza residents Sarah Main and Andy B at Prana, the favored underground music hotspot of the town.
Prana has seen no fewer than 20 international DJs performing at its events, including Deep Dish, Behrouz, Danny Howells, and Robert Owens.
Dutch veteran Fred Numf, who played at Prana in Amman just under a year ago and in Beirut early in December, remains very upbeat.
"Amman is a nice place with a good crowd. I think we did a nice job, and the buzz is now there," he says.
"Now it's time to get a grip on that and treat it the right way."
Barry Gilbey was impressed by the Jordan scene
The Amman scene has also seen the recent opening of newcomer Myth, an upscale lounge and club catering to several tastes, as well as the complete renovation of longtime favourite Nai, from the classical Arabesque look to a modern yet definitive Oriental feel.
Unfortunately, there is still a problem with defining music formats at venues, although professionalism as a whole saw some improvements.
Local DJs also continue to struggle in a market dominated by wage wars and rampant piracy, particularly since the dominance of pop music means this is not a vinyl market, and distribution of dance music is absent from the region as a whole – with the exception of stalwart Ohm Records in Dubai.
But the year ahead is still looking positive as underground music fans grow.
In a city that once never heard dance music in its clubs, two events in Amman on New Year's Eve featured seven local DJs as well as Andy Moor from the UK.
Playing the summer closing party at Prana at the end of September, Barry Gilbey at Prana was also excited.
"I was really surprised by the quality of the scene out there and had an amazing time with Jordanian DJs Wajih, Kalice and Hasan, as well as the management of Prana.
"It's a superb club and I really think the scene in the Middle East is going places!"
Fred Numf played in Lebanon
2005 was especially turbulent for Lebanon, with a spate of assassinations that swept the country since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a bombing on Valentine's Day.
The Lebanese people have been resilient, though, and life has continued unabated.
Clubs and special events had a strong showing throughout the year with only brief interruptions.
Besides several special themed events, Beirut's highlights this year included Anthony Pappa for New Year's Eve, as well as Seb Fontaine, Paul Oakenfold, Armin van Buuren, Fred Numf, Ferry Corsten, Paul van Dyk, and an unprecedented audience of almost 14,000 for Tiësto.
Online communities in Lebanon are thriving, with the likes of Beiruitnightlife.com, LebaneseRavers.com, and VibeLebanon.com creating a network for music lovers, DJs, and promoters to stay up-to-date with events and talent.
Although records are somewhat available at one or two music stores – often for as much as $15 each – dance music is almost entirely in the realm of downloaded tracks that are burned to CD and resold.
A few hundred miles to the southwest, the Gulf emirate of Dubai continues to set global standards in speedy city expansion.
With the significant expatriate community in Dubai and an open environment, this has brought with it a burgeoning nightlife that has seen all kinds of DJs visiting, from Erick Morillo, Miguel Migs and Jamie Lewis to Ferry Corsten, Timo Maas and Gilles Peterson.
With an extravagant club scene flourishing, Dubai is already operating at an international standard, and is attracting more global talent although local DJs are already quite well-established.
Dubai also boasts a proper underground music store in Ohm Records, which is an exclusive Middle East distributor for labels like Choo Choo, Fingerlickin' and Subliminal.
Karim Miknas aka Mr. K
A small and quiet island state in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain has seen the gradual emergence of its own breed of nightlife over the past five or six years, as the small kingdom has opted for a more open society.
Standing at the forefront of the Bahrain scene is Lebanese-born Karim Miknas aka Mr. K, whose long years on the American West Coast have served him well in his business.
Considered the leading owner and operator of dance clubs and lounges in Bahrain, as well as being an established DJ himself, Miknas has expertly targeted different audiences with his venues.
Along with partner Ken D'Souza, he has reserved his crown jewel, Likwid, for the underground.
Likwid's line-up in 2005 included such names as Marshall Jefferson, Angel Moraes, Simon Dunmore, ATFC, Andy Caldwell, Kyoto Jazz Massive, Danny Marquez, Jim Masters, and many more.
In spite of a promoter war that left the scene in shreds last summer, Miknas continues his dedication to the underground and is living up to his name as a cornerstone of the scene in the Middle East.
For more Middle Eastern clubbing pics click here.
Email Wajih Halawa at [email protected].