Marko Ben-Aicha of Smokingroove on underground house in Dubai
When it comes to DJing, sometimes two musical minds are better than one. Even more so when they happen to be brothers. Some of the world’s most successful DJs get behind the decks with their siblings – Greek-Belgian electronic music duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike aka Dimitri Thivaios and Michael Thivaios, New Yorkers The Martinez Brothers…
For Dubai-based brothers Marko Ben-Aicha, 37, and Safe Ben-Aicha, 39, known as Smokingroove, it’s a similar story.
The pair started out in the mid ’90s in their native Tottenham, London. It was elder brother Safe who took an interest in DJing first, with Marko following suit. ‘He actually started off with two hi-fis from the market,’ recalls Marko. ‘He got good and entered a competition and I remember looking at this sea of speakers and just seeing his head bobbing up and down, and I thought, “Man I have got to learn to do this”. So I got him to teach me.’
Today, Marko and Safe are one of the most in-demand production and DJ duos in Dubai (their home since 2007 and 2011 respectively). They also won the award for Best Dubai DJ at the Time Out Dubai Music & Nightlife Awards this year. ‘I’ve wanted one of those microphones [The Time Out Dubai award] since I came to Dubai. It’s such a big accolade,’ Marko says.
Growing up on music by Grammy Award-winning house DJ Roger Sanchez and Chicago producer Derrick Carter, the brothers’ influences have remained the same. ‘Roger Sanchez puts out such an energy. It’s because of him I believe you can play a record the same as another DJ, but it has a different effect because of your personal energy,’ says Marko. In the past year alone, the brothers have notched up 186 gigs, playing to thousands at Sandance and opening and closing for acts such as Fatboy Slim, David Guetta and Basement Jaxx. But it wasn’t plain sailing from the beginning. ‘My first gig was at Chi@The Lodge, Al Nasr Leisureland, and I got booed for three hours straight,’ Marko reveals. ‘I came in playing Chicago House when everyone was asking me to play Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto. I don’t like that and I don’t believe in playing music I don’t like.’
The Londoner didn’t let that initial setback work against him, though, and nine months later Marko became a Pioneer DJ in the UAE. Today, he’s also entertainment director at The Basement in TECOM’s Boutique 7 Hotel & Suites. His main objective for the venue is that it remains a house and techno spot. ‘The concept of The Basement for me is raw. I believe most of Dubai has forgotten the true essence of what clubbing is – the music, the dancefloor, the sound,’ he says. ‘The nightlife scene has evolved and, as a city, Dubai does have variety. I feel that a lot of clubs just do the same, and right now it’s cool to be underground. I’m personally not a fan of the sparklers and bubbly. I’m trying to create a venue that DJs want to play in. I tell people when they come to the club, don’t harass the DJs for music, if you are looking for commercial sounds you’re in the wrong club.’
Popular monthly events including Shibuya, Covert, Glitch and House U are currently on the entertainment roster. Weekly nights include Secret Circle every Monday and the newly launched De.Con.Struct on Fridays. ‘I look for people promoting nights that are consistent and who don’t sway,’ Marko explains. ‘Dubai doesn’t care about a particular brand. It’s got to be the right hype. People here go to what they feel is a good fit.’
Having played at the newly launched DXBeach alongside British producer Mark Ronson, Marko is treating The Basement as a training ground for bigger ventures, in the hope that he will one day own his own nightclub. Who knows, maybe one day, ‘Smokingroove’ will be the go-to hotspot… The Basement. Open Mon, Thu and Fri 10pm-3am. Boutique 7 Hotel & Suites, TECOM, www.smokingroove.com (04 434 5555).