What’s on Dubai’s playlist?

Local and international DJs on uniting the diners through a rich musical repertoire


These famous words of Julia Child ring in our head as we sit down for a meal at a restaurant in Dubai,

DJ REGARD took over The Penthouse, FIVE Palm Jumeirah, in September

“Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.” Courtesy of the culinary skills that Dubai is known for dining out is a much-loved activity with many of us, and that combined with live music coming from local and international DJs only combines our two loves i.e. arts in every form - music and food. Nicolas Hillman, general manager, musical director and DJ, The Birdcage, Pullman Dubai Downtown, said, “It’s the music which attracts people. At The Birdcage, our ethos is to connect and bring people together through the musical journey with the right atmosphere. When it comes to curating a music playlist for the UAE audience, I keep in mind the fact that they connect through the feelings and energy that House Music evokes.”

The crowd in the UAE is knowledgeable about music and EDM in particular. They want a whole experience which delights and entices their senses.

Emery Swelam, DJ, who vouches for the power of EDM

Reading the audience

"The key to a successful performance is about correctly reading the mood; the energy of your audience within the context of timing and location and playing directly to the moment at hand,” said Sam Starks, music director and resident DJ, FIVE Hotels and Resorts (FIVE Palm Jumeirah, FIVE Jumeirah Village and FIVE Zurich). “It always depends a little on the venue and genre of music that is being played. A ‘do’ is definitely reading your audience and playing on the variety to keep them engaged and connected with the music,” said JP Mäyeur, resident DJ, The Birdcage. Sam shared how he has been making playlists all his life, and now he plays a number of live gigs, alongside some of the world's top DJs such as Lost Frequencies and Robin Schulz, “My playlists for FIVE's music label, FIVE Music on Spotify reflect the 'Sound of FIVE' a multi-genre offering that plays to an international audience of music lovers.” Nicolas, who has over ten years of international experience in the nightlife, bar and restaurant industry stated that most of UAE diners are music literate, “They’re seeking out places that not only serve good food but also offer a good ambience. It’s no longer just about food anymore, it is about the perfect combination of factors like music, location and liveliness, et al. that keeps them engaged.”

UAE audiences/ diners are well-versed music lovers; ones that are open to all genres of music from Melodic House to R’n’B, hence open format DJs like myself are able to joyfully create multi-genre playlists.

Sam Starks, music director and resident DJ, FIVE Hotels and Resorts


Dubai is a multicultural hub and a melting pot where music genres from across the world thrive and constantly evolve. Patrons in the UAE are discerning, well-travelled and are exposed to different cultures and a diverse musical repertoire.

Nicolas Hillman, general manager, musical director and DJ, The Birdcage

What not to do when creating a playlist?

“As a DJ, I’ve played in different clubs and restaurants here in Dubai with a diverse playlist. I always keep in mind to connect with my audience as music is a great equaliser, especially EDM. It has the power to unite and send a message of peace,” said Emery Swelam, resident DJ, The Birdcage. JP added that for him when it comes to music, he believes there is no ‘don’t’ “Music should not be limited and should be able to encompass any genre, nationality, or culture.” Sam advised, “Don’t blindly follow trends or imitate popular artists. An inauthentic sound will never resonate with listeners." Nicolas advised, “Never stray away from your musical DNA as this is the core of your venue and what keeps the people coming. Stay true to your venue’s music direction.” Emery opined how one should not make the music so exclusive that you exclude a certain crowd, “I always make sure the whole crowd is vibing and are taken on a journey through the music. If you watch people in festivals listening to EDM, you will see happy faces no matter where they’re from, and that’s why I play EDM because I believe in its unique power to unite people.”

The DJs at The Birdcage blend amazing music and an atmospheric vibe to create a sensory experience
Diners in the UAE are starting to become musically educated because now the music has become part of the overall experience in restaurants and it’s no longer just something you have in the background.

JP Mäyeur, DJ, who vouches for reading the audiences


And the most loved music genres are

The top three music genres as per Nicolas are Melodic House, Latino music and Open Format music. Sam voted for House, Commercial and Hip Hop. JP said the top three music genres that Dubai loves are Arabic, R’n’B, and Electronic. Emery said, “The music that Dubai is loving right now includes Organic House, Melodic House, and Groove and Tech House.” The after-party for the Wanderlust Brunch at JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, which goes underground for only three days (October and November), will boast performances from a line-up of a few of Dubai’s favourite DJs such as Natalie Brogan, Andy Swift, and Wanderlust Resident DJ Adam J., and an exclusive appearance by international DJ duo, Basement Jaxx DJ Set. The recently concluded weekend party (from Wednesday to Sunday, until 17 September) witnessed the biggest gathering of the region’s celebrity DJs, including Aseel, Amory, Kanary, Empire, and Nick Tohme at STAGE Dubai, the region’s luxurious Arabic nightlife venue. Last Friday, international DJ and producer, known for his hit ‘Ride It’, DJ REGARD brought his signature sound to The Penthouse, FIVE Palm Jumeirah.

This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.

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