In the three years since its launch, the three-day Gulf Bike Week has attracted thousands of bikers, families and musos to both the daytime festival and evening concerts in Dubai’s Festival City.
As well as showcasing the latest bikes, off-road and all-terrain vehicles, this year the anticipated 40,000-strong crowds will flock to stunt bike shows, charity rides and a battle of the bands starring local talent from around the region. But it’s the concert line-up that’s receiving so much attention this year, with international stars Pharrell Williams and N.E.R.D., Mike Posner and Amy Winehouse all set to take the stage at the 15,000-capacity arena.
‘We knew that Amy Winehouse was looking at doing a handful of exclusive shows around the world so we suggested that Dubai/Gulf Bike Week be one of them and she loved the idea,’ says a spokesperson from Done Events. ‘We spent many months throwing ideas around and our aim was to try to appeal to a really broad audience, both bikers and non bikers and I really think we have done that. Our lineup is incredibly talented and diverse.’
With that in mind, Time Out Dubai meets the much-hyped stars of this year’s show.
N.E.R.D are cool. Super-cool. How many other rock/funk/hip-hop groups are named after a life philosophy that also works as an acronym (No one Ever Really Dies…)? How many US bands include two members (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) who are also an over-achieving production duo (The Neptunes)? A dream team who have worked with everyone from Britney to Ol’ Dirty B*****d, and helped to shape the sound of the late ’90s to early noughties, at one point having produced more than 40 per cent of the music being played on US radio? None, actually.
We’re guessing, then, that N.E.R.D may not be quite as excited about their upcoming Dubai gig as we are. ‘I can only judge it by the pictures I’ve seen, and it looks amazing,’ Pharrell tells us down the phone from New York. ‘A couple of my friends have visited and they say it’s the most incredible place you’ve ever seen, so you should definitely put it on your bucket list.’ High expectations indeed from the Virginian-born singer, drummer, keyboardist, songwriter and fashion designer (Pharrell co-founded clothing brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Footwear). In fact, with so many trades, it’s hard to single out one description for him, so we ask him to do it for us. ‘I don’t put one over the other, though I recognise that music is what shaped me,’ Pharrell explains. ‘So that’s the number one priority. We, as N.E.R.D, love all the opportunities we get.’
With this, he bounces the conversation back (via conference call) to Shay Haley, the second vocalist (and apparent ‘root’) of the band. ‘We’ll be playing all four albums,’ he says of the Dubai gig. ‘We haven’t formulated the setlist yet, but we’re going to give people a balance from each album.’ That’s including gold-selling In Search Of… and Fly or Die, as well as 2010 record Nothing.
The latter is about everything in today’s muddled world, conceived as a ‘time capsule’ for the decade, according to Pharrell. After nothing and everything, what next? ‘Outside ventures are the next N.E.R.D project. It’s going to be massive!’ Pharrell exclaims, suddenly losing his cool-for-school tone. ‘We can’t get into specifics because there are other people involved. We want to sell records, but for us the most important thing is our connection with the kids. We’ve come up with a way to revolutionise how people enjoy their music.’ Intriguing. Could it be social media-related? ‘No no, it’s completely different. When you finally hear about it, you’ll be like, oh, okay, that’s what they were talking about.’
The pair may seem full of confidence and swagger, but that hasn’t stopped them occasionally slipping up, often quite literally. ‘I fell off stage about four months ago,’ Pharrell reveals. ‘It was a SpongeBob moment, the look in my eyes… I probably could have held up a picket sign and said goodbye.’ Before they go, then, we have to ask one more question: if no one ever really dies, what were they in a previous life? ‘I think when we thought of the name N.E.R.D, we didn’t want to be all philosophical,’ Shay explains. ‘We just thought it was a cool name to celebrate.’ And if one thing is true: N.E.R.D are cool. Very, very cool.
N.E.R.D play Dubai Festival City on February 10. Tickets from www.timeouttickets.com.
The 22-year-old US singer-songwriter behind brilliantly bitter pop hit ‘Cooler Than Me’ talks gold vending machines and Brandon Flowers with Becky Lucas.
Where are you now?
I’m in London… [Phone goes dead; then we’re reconnected.] I missed you!
Yes, you too…! So you’re coming to Dubai. What do you make of the place?
I’ve never been there before, but I’ve heard crazy things. I don’t know how much is true, but I’m excited to find out. I’ve heard you can buy gold in a vending machine…
Not sure about that…
And that you can ski inside a mall.
If you can ski inside, who knows what else is possible? That opens up Pandora’s Box for me.
You’ve become famous pretty quickly in the past few years. Is your head still spinning?
I don’t know if I’m used to it, but I’m having a blast. I make a living by making music, which is something I love, so I couldn’t be more grateful. I use the word ‘job’ very loosely.
Are you still in touch with the girl that inspired your track ‘Cooler Than Me’?
No, she’s terrible.
Does she know it’s about her?
She’s really vain, so even if it wasn’t about her she would have assumed it was.
Are any of your other songs about people you know? Should they be worried?
Only if they’ve done me wrong!
So that’s kind of a yes?
Yeah, well, I only write about things that have really happened to me, otherwise the music would be contrived, and not be coming from a real place.
What’s on the agenda for 2011?
We’ll be touring Australia and Europe, and I’m in the studio right now working on my next record. It’ll be a similar sound, but better. I produce all of my own music, but sometimes I work with other producers. So far I’ve been with Andy Bronco and this guy Labrinth in London. But I plan to work with RJ-D2 in the next couple of weeks.
Is there anyone else you’d like to sing with?
The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. He’s fantastic.
Which of the countries in which you’re playing are you most looking forward to visiting (apart from Dubai, obviously)?
Apart from Dubai? Well, Dubai’s my number one, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you. I’ll be arriving a day or two early just to soak it all in. I’m really excited to be there!
Mike Posner plays Dubai Festival City (supporting N.E.R.D) on February 10. Tickets from www.timeouttickets.com.
She has more tabloid headlines than Grammys to her name, but it finally seems as though this troubled star is getting her act together. After wowing the critics with debut album Frank in 2003, it was follow-up Back to Black that saw her catapulted into the public conscious and to the top of the charts, with the disc hitting number seven in the US Billboard 200 and becoming the UK’s best-selling album of 2007.
After a few well-publicised years of turbulence and increasingly bizarre behaviour between 2005 and 2009, journalists around the world were already penning Winehouse’s demise, until she sought refuge in St Lucia and apparently cleaned up her act. Shortly after, she teamed up with clothing label Fred Perry for a retro-inspired collection, launching in October 2010. And despite personal problems that span everything from imprisoned husbands to substance abuse and mental health issues, she has been credited (by Jay-Z no less) with revitalising the British music industry, opening doors in the States for British musicians such as Duffy and Adele, and making 2009, the ‘year of women’ in the music business, according to one paper.
On January 8 2011, the award-winning singer-songwriter made her live comeback at Brazil’s Summer Soul Festival, playing her first full show since 2008 and looking in much better shape. And, if recent reports are to be believed, a markedly healthier Ms Winehouse has managed to finish recording her latest album, including a duet with critically-acclaimed lady killer Cee-Lo Green.
Amy Winehouse plays Dubai Festival City on February 11. Tickets from www.timeouttickets.com.
Last and next…
Last album you bought?
Shay: For me it would be Kid Cudi (Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager) and Cee Lo Green (The Lady Killer).
Pharrell: Yeah, I would agree. I really love Cee Lo’s album.
Last film you saw?
Pharrell: True Grit. Those Coen brothers are genius guys.
Shay: The Town with Ben Affleck. Awesome.
Next person you want to work with?
Pharrell: I’d like to do more with [US singer-songwriter and Nine Inch Nails frontman] Trent Reznor.
What else can you expect?
The three-day festival, which runs from Thursday 10 until Saturday 12 at Festival City, will host more than 150 exhibitors: bike brands Harley Davidson, Honda, KTM, Ducati, BMW, Polaris, Kawasaki and Victory will be showcasing their latest machines and accessories, alongside custom bike builders.
But it’s not just an exhibition, nor is it just for bike owners and enthusiasts. Visitors of all ages can watch live stunts by motoring experts at the FMX Arena, races between all-terrain vehicles at the ATV/UTV Zone, and a motorbike ride that’s expected to be the largest in the Middle East: more than 800 bikers are set to ride from Festival City to Dubai Marina in support of Dubai Autism Centre. There will also be a live battle of the bands on both Friday and Saturday featuring bands from around the region, including Tim Hassall and Behold the Locus.
Day passes Dhs40 per person, excluding concert access. www.timeouttickets.com.