The electronic music scene is gaining ground in the UAE with new clubs sprouting up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But local DJs often struggle with the bureaucracy and monopolies rampant in the industry.
As an art form, music is not immediately associated with business. However, for the people behind the decks, the experience is marred by technicalities such as fees, bookings, agents and a host of guidelines. Coupled with the fact that the country’s nightlife scene seems to be dominated by a handful of professionals, this makes establishing a lucrative career out of DJing a challenging endeavour for newbies. Often, amateur artists have to resort to day jobs to keep paying their bills.
Changing fan base
The Abu Dhabi-based DJ Shadi Megalla has played in venues around the world. Working in production and live performance for more than 15 years has exposed him to the many issues inherent in the field.
“One of the biggest issues here is that the expat communities that make up most of the fan base leave. Most people come to Abu Dhabi for a few years and then go back to their home countries. This makes it hard to establish a long-term connection with the people,” he says.
One of the other glaring issues marring the scene is the lack of awareness concerning types of electronic music. Over the past 20 years, many genres have mushroomed in the world of dance music and their export into the local party scene has been slow at best.
Megalla recounts his first experience with drum ’n’ bass when he was a teen: “A friend had bought back a tape with him to Abu Dhabi and the sounds were just so unique and unlike anything I had ever heard here. It was a real eye-opener and it pushed me to discover a new world.
“Today, thanks to the internet, it is much easier to get exposed to new styles but unfortunately most clubs in Abu Dhabi stick to commercial music, which makes trying new sounds a risk.”
And then there’s the host of pricey equipment. “There are a lot more options today – people can just buy software and make music on their PCs. However, I like to mix with records and this has racked up a huge investment on my part,” he says.
Aside from the equipment, Megalla needs to get his records from abroad as no place in Abu Dhabi actually sells them.
Making a mark
While the selection of nightclubs in Abu Dhabi fares on the lighter side, the choices in Dubai are better. “A lot of people who live in Abu Dhabi make their way to Dubai every weekend to listen to great music. There are more venues and styles available,” says Megalla.
But young talents such as the DJ and producer Salar Ansari still face different issues when it comes to playing in Dubai.
Currently a resident at the underground Analog Room, Ansari has noticed a stifling monopoly when it comes to the industry.
“Unfortunately there is no platform in place for supporting new talent,” he says. “People here have their teams – and the promoters or club owners make it hard for fresh names to make it on the scene.”
Despite the different issues each DJ faces, both Megalla and Ansari agree that there is a general lack of awareness about the art of the matter. Despite the lack of exposure and the elitist attitudes of organisers and club owners, both artists persevere in introducing fresh styles to the club crowds out to enjoy good music.
• Shadi Megalla performs at Boogie Box, every Thursday from 10pm to 3am, at Pearls and Caviar, Shangri-La, Qaryat Al Beri. Salar Ansari is a resident at the Analog Room, Holiday Inn Al Barsha, where he will be playing on Thursday night.
You can also listen to his music at soundcloud.com/salaransari