Just five weeks after the last Sandance brought the likes of Richard Ashcroft, Sasha and Chicane to these shores, the beach festival is back for a fourth incarnation (its third this year), with its biggest and most diverse line-up yet.
Headlining privileges have been tastefully split between the rock and dance worlds, with The Script and Groove Armada jointly topping the bill. Early-evening grooves will come from acoustic Aussie troubadour Pete Murray and legendary decksmith Norman Jay, while electro-poppers Sneaky Sound System and hard-house act Funkagenda will help keep the audience on the sand until late.
It’s not easy standing in the shadow of an older peer, as The Script would no doubt attest. They’re Irish, come from a working-class background, play guitar and rock stadiums. They are therefore ‘the next U2’.
In fairness, the trio haven’t helped themselves. It was career-defining stadium sets supporting Bono and co that helped The Script to break the mainstream, eventually shifting nearly two million copies of their eponymous debut album. Meanwhile, lead singer Danny O’Donoghue shares a vocal coach with Bono, while the U2 frontman’s daughter Eve Hewson just happened to star in the video for last year’s Script hit ‘For The First Time’.
‘It’s funny, my mother asked me if we were the next U2 last night,’ drummer Glen Power, 30, tells Time Out on a crisp line from London. ‘You laugh, but there’s no way we’re U2. They’re big idols. It’s flattering to be mentioned in the same league.’
Irish stadium-fillers U2 are not the only ageing statesmen to give The Script a leg up: Sir Paul McCartney cherry-picked the band for a historic support slot at New York’s Shea Stadium, before taking time out to dispense some personal advice.
‘Before the gig we heard this knock at the dressing room door, and Paul McCartney walked in,’ recounts Power. ‘He gave us advice about how to talk to an audience that big; it was like a masterclass with one of the best musicians in the world.’
That historic meeting was just two years ago, by which time the band’s eponymous debut had already exploded off the back of hit singles ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’ and ‘Breakeven’. Its controversially-titled follow-up, Science & Faith – described by Power as a metaphor for ‘the yin and yang of relationships’ – also topped the UK and Irish charts when released last year.
The Script’s meteoric rise has been sold as your typical rags-to-riches blockbuster. In the words of their press pack: ‘Three young Dubliners took on the world with the emotional detritus of their own hard lives.’
The reality, of course, is a little less romantic. O’Donoghue and guitarist Mark Sheehan were both members of mid-’90s boy band Mytown, before moving to the US to hone their craft as songwriting guns for hire. It was only following a move back home, where they recruited Power, that they made the decision to remarket themselves as credible rockers – something that sharing a stage with Take That and Westlife, and even writing a song for Leona Lewis, has failed to entirely undermine.
‘It’s down to the honesty in the music,’ says Power. ‘Some of our songs have a rock element, but it’s a thin line. It’s hard to get away with, but I think we’ve managed. The main thing we worry about is the fans, not the critics.’ The tightrope walk between pop and rock has been carefully traversed by songwriters O’Donoghue and Sheehan, their efforts imbued with a healthy tonic of national pride. ‘Being Irish was very important,’ explains Power. ‘It gives you the hunger to do well; there’s a mentality of being the underdog.’
Sandance will be The Script’s first visit to the Middle East, and the drummer pledges it is again the fans – not the size of the promoters’ chequebook – that will lead the band to Dubai. ‘There’s always an excitement in the camp when we’re going somewhere new,’ explains Power. ‘I’m dying to get over there and see what the reaction will be. We’ve seen a lot of activity on Twitter – it’s heating up now.’
Yet when we explain the beach-based concept of the event, Power is more than a little surprised. ‘Wow! I’m glad you told me – I better top up my tan!’ he laughs. ‘We’re like three of the palest guys in the world. If it’s on a beach and the sun is shining, I’m expecting lots of beautiful people.’
As dance legends Groove Armada reinvent themselves (again) with an ambitious ‘stadium rave’ project, we caught up with one half of the duo, Brit Tom Findlay, ahead of their headline Sandance slot.
What can we expect from your Sandance set?
This is a new incarnation of Groove Armada, and we’re calling it Red Light. We’ve been on the road with a band for years and years: we did [2010 albums] Black Light and White Light and it was the high point with a live band. It was great, but we felt a desire to go back to a club-based vibe. We want to recapture the feeling of the raves we went to growing up, and bring it out into a stadium show with lasers and all sorts.
And what do you expect from us?
Last time we came out we were pleasantly surprised; there’s a great vibe and a big expat community. It was really fun and we met up with a few old friends. It was a more clued-up and savvy crowd than we’d anticipated.
You’re basically playing a huge beach party...
It’s going to be incredible. The sort of set we deliver will really work for that. We’ll be arriving in Dubai after 10 days in South America playing after Beady Eye, so we’ll be used to odd bills too.
So can we expect all the hits?
You can expect all the songs you’d usually expect – but we don’t play them like you’d expect. It will be a different vibe altogether. These are our secret edits, mixed with cuts of heavy acid house and tunes we’ve been picking up over the past year.
The promoter told Time Out that he’s expecting ‘Superstylin’ to be the highlight of the day. Why does that tune have such an effect on people?
He’ll be waiting until near the end of our set then! I think it’s got that element of dance music and ska – there’s a lot of that reggae, skanking sound. Everyone loves ska: you put that with a banging beat and you can’t go wrong. I must have played that 18,000 times, but I still enjoy it.
That’s a lot of times to spin a tune. After 12 years and eight albums, how do you keep it fresh?
By constantly trying to achieve something different with each project. I wouldn’t say we are great artists, but all great artists, whether it’s Madonna or Bowie, do that.
What would you have done with your life if you hadn’t become a musician?
I probably would have been a history teacher, shouting at people. One day I might be – you never know.
There’s still time! How much longer do you see the Groove Armada brand continuing?
We say five years, but then we do another five years. There will come a point where we won’t be excited any more. We’re at the beginning of Red Light, then we’ll do another one, then that might be it.
Also on the bill
The first black British DJ to be awarded an MBE by the British monarchy, this musical encyclopedia, broadcast panellist and regular Dubai visitor is known affectionately as ‘the DJ’s DJ’. During the past three decades
Jay has gone from playing block parties and pirate radio to headlining sets for the likes of Robert De Niro, Dolce & Gabbana, Prince and Mick Jagger. Expect classic funk and modern house grooves at his early-evening set.
He started out fronting a teenage rock band, yet Adam Walder has come a long way from his roots in the UK’s West Midlands. As Funkagenda, he’s been making music for nearly a decade, winning the Ibiza DJ Awards’ best track (for ‘Man with the Red Face’) and best newcomer accolades in 2008, while his remix work includes tracks by Basement Jaxx and Fatboy Slim. Known for innovation and originality, he plays dancefloor favourites that move as well as motivate.
A sunset-timed set from the Aussie legend is already tipped as the Sandance highlight those of a mellower disposition. Inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Murray has scored three consecutive number one LPs in his homeland. We’re expecting a chilled-out acoustic performance with a beachside Jack Johnson vibe.
Sneaky Sound System
The Aussie dance duo have the honour of being one of the repeat visitors to Sandance after proving a hit at the second shindig this March. We don’t envy their slot – bridging the rock-dance gap between headliners The Script and Groove Armada – but something tells us their dancefloor-filling approach was chosen for a reason.
Sandance: essential info
Taking place on Friday November 18 from 2pm-2am, this will be the fourth Sandance to take place at Nasimi Beach, hot on the heels of last month’s Richard Ashcroft-headlined 10,000-strong predecessor.
The first Sandance, held last October, attracted 6,500 people, with Armand Van Helden and Zero 7 topping the bill; a second event this March was headlined by the Brand New Heavies and Roger Sanchez. Organisers are hoping for around double the debut’s audience one year on.
Yet the event’s swelling numbers come with a downside – hops ran out early at last month’s gig and a shortage of taxis scuppered many exit journeys. But organisers have pledged to up the drinks supplies, and will be laying on buses to help revellers get home.
Regular tickets Dhs200 in advance, Dhs250 on the door; VIP tickets Dhs350. Available at www.timeouttickets.com.