What can you expect from a house night in the Middle East? Ask anyone to comment or hazard a guess and their response is likely to involve a number of presumptions: undeniably commercial names, inaccessible hotel nightclubs, painfully overpriced drinks.
In reality, though, these are no more than preconceptions. Scratch only lightly beneath the surface and what erupts is a picture of a country where a group of UK-born DJs, producers and promoters are at the helm of enforcing change for the Dubai dance arena. Enter Audiotonic; the label, weekly club night, radio show and pioneering name which is synonymous with a dedication to bringing some of the biggest international names in house and disco to the Middle East.
This is the launch of the eighth season of weekly Friday nights held at 360, the club built in the expansive grounds of the famous five-star Jumeirah Beach hotel. Having already played host to the likes of Ralph Lawson and Alex Niggemann this season, those behind Audiotonic will be importing names including Noir, Huxley and Maxxi Soundystem.
In a country which imposes such stringent anti-drug laws and regulates partying so tightly to the extent that DJs must have full licences to even stand behind the decks, putting on weekly club nights seems to be more hassle than it’s worth. Yet the red tape, it seems, is being overcome. Already this weekend, stories float about of Kenny Glasgow from Art Department’s set the night before, and Frankie Knuckles being in town to play a five-hour set at the Sand Dance festival. What’s emerging is a picture of a comparatively more colourful line-up choice than a quiet October weekend in London could even hope to offer.
360, as its name implies, is a completely panoramic venue. Built way out past the shores of the Arabian Gulf, it’s a two-tier open-air club completely surrounded by ocean and overlooking some of Dubai’s most impressive landmarks. Fitted with Funktion One rigs that line the complete circumference of the circular-shaped club like street lamps, we're at arguably one of the most impressive and mind-blowing locations on the globe to listen to good quality house music. Audiotonic resident Julian Jinx plays a varied selection of suitably deep house offerings like David August's 'Hamburg Is For Lovers' and 'Raining Again' by Betoko, and it’s hard not to notice the loud and infectiously elated mood of everyone around.
It’s around 11pm and Danny Daze — the Miami-born launch party’s headliner — takes to the decks of the upper open-air terrace, and flows a selection of tech house before dropping his widely appreciated 'Your Everything feat Louisahh'. It’s been over 30 degrees all day, and now at capacity, the crowd should resemble a mangled and melting mess, but instead remain as sophisticated as the surroundings they’re partying in. Downstairs, The Revenge, the Glaswegian DJ/producer known best for his penchant for, and dedication to disco-dominated sets, plays off to a downbeat melodic start.
Highlights of his seamless set include Dusky’s 'Lost In You', and his own rework of Marvin Gaye’s 'Heavy Love Affair'. By the end of his set, The Revenge has completely packed out the downstairs arena. From start to end, the Audiotonic crowd maintain an infectious level of enthusiasm to equate to those at the most liberal substance-fuelled raves in London.
On first glance, Dubai is a world which seems a million miles away from inhabiting the standards of underground clubbing we are used to in the UK. But clearly there’s an appetite for house music and a simple desire to deliver the best names in dance music on the Middle Eastern doorstep. The passion invested in the Audiotonic brand is evident now in their eighth season. With a handful of releases under its belt, a successful radio show and a sell-out weekly club night, it’s unlikely Audiotonic will remain purely within the plush, corporate confines of this Middle Eastern financial centre — keep those peepers peeled.