The much-anticipated South African DJ makes his Dubai debut this weekq. Time Out tracks him down for a quick chat before he takes the stage.
You may be only vaguely familiar with the name of Ryan Dent, but in a quick straw poll of Time Out’s South African colleagues it was obvious that in his native country Ryan is definitely A Big Thing. In fact, as he tells us with voice crackling with energy and enthusiasm, that’s one of the reasons that he’s heading out to Chi this week. ‘There’s quite a big South African contingency in Dubai, so basically I’ve had a lot of requests to go over there. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.’
What tunes will he be packing in his luggage? ‘I expect that there will be a slightly more commercial vibe out there, by which I mean I’ll be playing for a very varied audience; I think Dubai tends to have a varied crowd. So I’ll play bit of everything, really so long as it keeps the energy up, that’s what’s needed.’
Keeping the energy up, of course, is something that Ryan is more than familiar with after 14 years of spinning discs. But his first taste of the tables didn’t come from a nightclub at all. ‘At first, back in about 1992, I was just listening to a bit of techno with friends,’ he says. ‘But we didn’t really go to clubs at that stage. Then I moved to Cape Town to study zoology and, while I was there, I went to a house party. I woke up before everyone else and the DJ had left his decks and his tunes there, so I tried spinning it and I thought: Geez, man, this is something I have to pursue. After my 21st birthday I got a couple of turntables and from there I was spending six to eight hours a day mixing tunes.’
And since then he’s gone from success to success, something he attributes to his diverse taste in music. ‘Scenes come and go, clubs come and go, but if you approach music with an open mind, that will keep you alive,’ he smiles. ‘I play a lot of house and a little bit of electro – I play commercial electro mostly, because a lot of it has gone quite heavy lately – and I play a little bit of tech and vocal here and there too.’
So what decides his playlist at any given gig? ‘A lot of it varies depending on where I am and it also depends on the weather too. I’ve found that the colder place, like in Europe, the harder and colder the music is. Germany, for example, is all about techno. Comparatively, the warmer it is the funkier and more uplifting it is.’ So presumably Dubai in the summer has to be just about the housiest place on Earth? It is awfully hot out here at the moment after all, and it's going to get hotter. ‘I’ve been told that,’ he laughs. ‘A couple of other people have told me it’s ridiculously hot at the moment. I said, “I can imagine!” And they said, “No, you can’t. You really have no idea.”’
By the time he steps up to the decks at Chi, however, Ryan will have done a little last-minute revision, not just on the weather but on the clubs as well. ‘I’m going to check out a few places around town the day before I play. And a friend of mine, [Dubai DJ] Charl Chaka, has been living out here for five or six years, so I’ve phoned him up to get some more info one what’s happening. I think I’ll be pretty much on the ball when I start playing.’
With about 8,000 tracks at his disposal, there shouldn’t be much danger of him not finding something to keep the crowd moving. But to carry that many tunes means that he’s had to give up his beloved vinyl. ‘I miss it, but I had to make the change. The thing about vinyl is that it was a very visual thing, you could look at vinyl and know what it was immediately, but now I have to read the names as I’m mixing.’ Not that there’s any danger of him going the whole hog and hiding behind an iMac.
‘I played on [music software] Ableton and it was all too structured; there was no mixing with it, it was all a case of throwing a cross-fader over at the right time. It’s too easy to just press play and have it all sorted – it’s all a bit soulless. I like to be hands on, it keeps you on your toes and that’s always a good thing.’