The Record Label that shaped the Dance Music Culture of Dubai and Middle East – by Leonidas Raisini
In the heart of Dubai, where the desert harmoniously met the burgeoning skyline, Raisini Records planted its roots in the early 2000s. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 incredible years since i launched Raisini Records in the Dubai desert in 2003. What started as a dream has now evolved into a global celebration of house music.
Our journey goes beyond the sands of Dubai, collaborating with international Grammy-winning legends such as the Godfather of House Music Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, David Guetta, Tiesto, Afrojack, Deep Dish, Maurice Joshua, Craig David, and a myriad of super-talented producers behind global icons like Shakira, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Akon, P. Diddy, and many more.
From collaborating with dance music maestros to partnering with producers behind chart-topping stars, Raisini Records has not only shaped the musical landscape of the Middle East for two decades but has garnered global success. As we stand on the precipice of two decades, our journey, marked by unforgettable music and memories, continues to echo across the vast expanse of the musical universe.
In 2003, the inception of RAISINI Records marked a pivotal chapter in my journey. Fueled by a rejection from major labels, the decision to forge an independent path was a testament to the belief that Dubai could be a hub for diverse musical artists. The label’s foundation was laid on the ethos of innovation and a relentless pursuit of pushing boundaries.
My musical journey began in the early 90s with a passion for Music and a vision to bring new genres of music to the Middle East that was shaping geographically and culturally. The dance music scene was still in its infancy, and many were not familiar with the non-commercial genres.
In 1999, I established my brand RAISINI as an entertainment agency to host clubbing events and promote my music performing. There were a couple of nightclubs in Dubai that were commercial so we would hire conference rooms and ballrooms in luxury Hotels and create ‘weekend’ nightclubs and book international DJ’s to perform.
While organizing events and hosting gatherings pulsating with electronic beats, a dual dream took shape: introducing new genres to the Middle East and learning the intricacies of the music trade to launch my label.
Defecting from Universal Music & Virgin
By chance, I was offered a job at Universal Music (Middle East) as a Label Manager, where I learned the nuances of the industry. During my time at Universal Music, I discovered that my mentor Sir Richard Branson was launching his Virgin Megastores in UAE and across the Middle East. Seizing the opportunity, I joined and invested in the project to become part of it, just so i can learn, and gain access to the music industry.
A few years after my experiences at Universal Music and Virgin, I founded Raisini Records, the first Electronic Dance Music record label in Dubai. I pursued this venture after being rejected by major labels such as EMI, Universal, Virgin, and SONY, despite having established good relationships with Universal Music and Virgin Megastores. Raisini Records went on to feature the finest dance music from around the world.
Launching my label was not just a response to rejection; it was a passionate endeavor to curate and showcase the finest dance music from local and international artists. Raisini Records became a platform for genres like House, Tech House, Minimal, and EDM, a space where the beats echoed the heartbeat of a city that was swiftly becoming a global cultural hub.
Influence of International Artists on Label’s Success
The pivotal role of international artists has been instrumental in shaping the success story of Raisini Records.
The label’s inaugural release ‘Deep in House’, by the acclaimed artist Roland Clark, marked a significant milestone, propelling Raisini Records into the global spotlight. Dubai’s burgeoning reputation on the world stage contributed to the label gaining substantial attention. The signing of Roland Clark, celebrated for hits like ‘I Get Deep‘ on Shelter Records and ‘Flowerz‘ featuring Armand Van Helden, further solidified the label’s emergence as a noteworthy force in the industry.
Throughout its illustrious 20-year history, Raisini Records has had the privilege of collaborating with an exceptionally talented and respected roster of artists in the dance music realm. The label’s unwavering commitment to international talent is evident in its partnerships with legends such as Roland Clark, Tom Moulton, Marshall Jefferson, Roy Davis Jr, Inaya Day, Joe Claussel, Alix Alvarez, Rocco, Pierre Ravan, Jay-J, DJ Pap, DJ Spen, and more.
These artists, revered in their own right, played a crucial role in putting Raisini Records on the global map, positioning it as an emerging force from the desert. Their contributions went beyond individual acclaim, collectively shaping the label’s distinctive sound and establishing it as a leader in the dynamic dance music scene.
Sounds of Raisini
Raisini Records has consistently found its roots in the captivating beats of US Soulful and Deep House music, paying homage to the influential styles of legends such as Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan. However, this commitment to tradition has not hindered the label’s growth; instead, it has propelled it into an exploration of new sounds from various corners of the globe.
In 2008, a significant expansion took place with the creation of the sub-label ‘Deeper Sounds of Raisini.’ This innovative branch delved into the realms of Minimal and Tech House sounds inspired by German/European underground sounds, alongside the rhythmic and vibrant Afro House sounds emanating from South Africa. This diversification allowed Raisini Records to stay at the forefront of the dynamic and ever-changing music landscape.
Later, in 2012, the label took another bold step with the launch of Ultra Raisini, dedicated to pushing the boundaries of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and commercial dance music. This strategic move not only showcased the label’s adaptability but also ensured its relevance in a music industry constantly evolving with new trends and genres.
As part of the label’s evolution and rebranding, a pivotal decision was made to merge the three distinct labels—Raisini Records, Deeper Sounds of Raisini, and Ultra Raisini—into a unified entity in 2022. This consolidation aimed to streamline the brand and present a cohesive musical identity. The comprehensive catalog of all three labels underwent a meticulous process of remastering and re-releases, ensuring a fresh and polished sonic experience for the audience.
Raisini Shaped the Dance Music culture in the Middle East
During my tenure at Universal Music and Virgin, I observed the absence of House and Dance Music labels in the region. This sparked my curiosity to delve into the genre, its history, artists, and labels. Subsequently, I attended every global music conference such as MIDEM, WMC Miami, ADE, Sonar, Popkomm, marking the beginning of introducing dance labels and music to Dubai and the broader Middle East/North Africa region.
Raisini Records played a pivotal role in shaping the dance music scene resonating across the region. I introduced a diverse array of independent record labels, including Global Underground, Ministry of Sound, Yoshitoshi, Pacha, Strictly Rhythm, Subliminal, Kingstreet, Hed Kandi, Ninja Tune, Shelter, Nervous Records, Traxx, Defected, among others.
Over two decades, we hosted prominent dance music clubbing events and festivals, turning Raisini into a trailblazer that introduced various musical genres to the Middle East.
The initiatives didn’t stop there. Raisini organized weekly clubbing events and music festivals in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, Manama, Casablanca, Sharm el-Sheikh, promoting these labels and the associated artists.
We were instrumental in booking talent for most events in the region, contributing to the explosive growth of the scene with the opening of numerous nightclubs. Dubai’s expanding luxury hotel industry led to the opening of high-end restaurants and nightclubs, further enhancing the music and clubbing scene.
These events transcended mere entertainment; they were educational journeys into the realms of house and dance music, featuring iconic figures like Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Deep Dish, Sasha, Tiesto, Afrojack, Marshall Jefferson, Roy Davis Jr., Danny Krivit and several others.
These gatherings marked Dubai’s initial exposure to the foundational sounds of house music, showcasing artists from the top labels we introduced in the region, thereby shaping the city’s nightlife.
Raisini not only pioneered house music promotion but also established Dubai’s inaugural house label, becoming a catalyst for the city’s lively clubbing culture. With global events spanning Ibiza to Moscow, Raisini’s influence extended far beyond Dubai, leaving an indelible mark on the dance culture of the Middle East.
Our visionary approach and dedication to diversifying the soundscape have transformed Dubai into a global hub for music enthusiasts, with Raisini Records setting the benchmark for independent labels in the Middle East.
Timeout Magazine dubbed me the ‘Godfather of House Music‘ in the Middle East, recognizing my instrumental role in shaping the dance music scene across the region. This acknowledgment, coupled with winning the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award in 2008 and Top 100 Men in UAE for multiple years, further solidified the label’s impact on the region’s cultural landscape.
The introduction of diverse independent record labels to the Middle East, along with hosting iconic dance music events, set a standard that others sought to emulate.
Raisini’s Journey: Touring, Festivals and Music Conferences
As the label continued to gain traction, its sonic footprint expanded beyond the Middle East. Over two decades, Raisini Records embarked on global tours, hosting events in renowned clubs from Dubai to Ibiza, Miami to St. Tropez. The label’s ability to seamlessly blend the soulful and deep house roots of the U.S. with sounds from Germany and South Africa showcased its versatility, keeping it relevant in an ever-evolving musical panorama.
The label also actively participated in and attended global music conferences to establish itself as a key player in the industry. These conferences included MIDEM in Cannes, Winter Music Conference (WMC) in Miami, SONAR Barcelona, Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) in Amsterdam, POPKOMM in Cologne, and several other festivals around the world.
Fans at the Heart of our Success
Our supporters, unwavering in their belief in the power of our music, constitute the backbone of this musical community. From the lively dance floors of our events to the digital realms where our catalog discovers new listeners, it is the energy and enthusiasm of our supporters that propel us forward. Their passion serves as the driving force behind our commitment to delivering music that transcends mere entertainment—it transforms into an experience that resonates with the soul.
The collaborators, whose visions have intricately woven with ours, play a vital role in expanding the horizons of our musical tapestry. Whether through groundbreaking partnerships with renowned artists or innovative ventures into technology, these collaborations serve as the harmonies that enhance our compositions. Together, we have crafted a fusion of sound and innovation that defines the essence of RAISINI.
Navigating Challenges and Innovations
In its early years, Raisini Records faced challenges as Dubai’s music scene sought its identity. Undeterred, the label embarked on an ambitious journey, using music festivals and club events to showcase its unique electronic sounds, introducing Dubai to diverse and pulsating rhythms, which became the signature sound of Raisini.
The most significant challenge arose in 2020 with the global pandemic-induced hiatus that halted the music and entertainment industry. Turning challenges into opportunities, I used the downtime to reinvent the brand. The decision to rebrand and relaunch Raisini Records resulted in a remastered catalog, new artworks, and strategic partnerships, successfully reconnecting with a growing community of loyal fans.
Adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic, my team and I swiftly explored alternative ways to promote and distribute music. Shifting our focus to online promotions, virtual concerts, and digital platforms, with increased online music releases, became key strategies to engage our audience and ensure the label’s relevance. The pandemic, despite its adversities, became a crucible for resilience and innovation.
The shutdown of all club and entertainment activities made it nearly impossible for the label’s artists and DJs to tour and promote their music, dealing a significant blow to the industry. Live music events and touring, crucial income sources for many musicians and record labels, were abruptly halted.
Navigating the complexities of the digital music revolution, Raisini Records recognized the need to evolve in an industry undergoing a profound shift.
In 2020, I decided to relocate the headquarters of RAISINI Records to London, foreseeing increased growth opportunities, access to a broader audience, and the chance to explore new ventures by being based in Europe.
The future of RAISINI Records is marked by promise and innovation. Over the years, the label has not only navigated shifts in the music industry but has embraced them. The early adoption of technology, investments in startups, and the foresight to diversify into other areas of entertainment have elevated the label beyond being a mere conduit for music. It has transformed into a multifaceted entity, weaving together the realms of entertainment, technology, and entrepreneurship.
RAISINI Records now proudly owns a vast catalog of music, comprising over 2000 songs, administered by the parent company RAISINI.
Despite its success, the label faced challenges in the wake of the digital music revolution, impacting the industry financially. Recognizing the need to adapt to this evolving landscape, I understood that strategic changes were essential for the survival and continued success of his label.
20-Year Anniversary – A New Beginning
Approaching the 20th anniversary of my record label, I eagerly anticipate the future with excitement and ambition.
As we celebrate this milestone, we not only acknowledge the significant achievements but also reflect on the countless stories within each beat, note, and collaboration. These narratives represent the heartbeats of RAISINI Records, echoing the collective spirit of everyone contributing to this incredible journey. The enduring success of Raisini Records, standing as one of the very few labels to thrive for two decades in the industry, fills us with pride and earns respect from music enthusiasts worldwide.
The journey from a small startup in Dubai to a global industry name stands as a testament to passion, hard work, and dedication. Weathering two decades in an ever-evolving industry, the label has garnered respect from music lovers globally.
Running a record label is no small feat, yet the story of Raisini Records is one of triumph against the odds. From facing rejection by major labels to attaining global recognition as the ‘Godfather of House Music‘ in the Middle East, it embodies a narrative of perseverance and an unyielding belief in the unifying power of music.
Reflecting on the past 20 years, we express gratitude for the amazing artists, DJs, producers, and fans who’ve been part of our journey. From our inaugural release to our first festival appearance, these remarkable moments fuel our enthusiasm for the adventures that lie ahead.
As part of our anniversary celebrations, we’re thrilled to unveil an exciting new release schedule, showcasing incredible music from our talented artists. Furthermore, we’re gearing up for a new world tour to promote the label and its artists, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to share our music on a global scale.
In closing, I extend my deepest gratitude to every individual—artists, collaborators, and supporters—integral to the RAISINI story. Your contributions have woven the rich tapestry of our musical legacy. As we step into the future, let’s continue crafting new verses, exploring fresh harmonies, and creating music that resonates not only with the ears but with the very essence of the human experience. Here’s to the next 20 years and beyond—may the melodies of RAISINI continue to echo across the vast expanse of the musical universe.
I’ll leave you with my favorite tunes from RAISINI Records over the past two decades.