Make no mistake: this weekend Dubai will become a nexus for practically every great DJ living in the Middle East. Whether they’re in the crowd or at the decks, the semi-finals and grand final of the Palme Middle East DJ Competition will attract the region’s top talent and promoters. And that means that whoever takes the top prize will not only walk away with kudos and some brand new kit, but also top industry contacts.
But that’s not the only big change that the competition is making; for organiser Alex Heuff, it’s as much about the global picture as it is the local one. ‘We want to help the industry in Dubai,’ he explains, ‘but we also want to help Dubai itself. People know that it is a great tourist destination, but we want to turn it into another Miami or Ibiza, and the only way to do that is to hold these kinds of competitions and therefore grow the city’s prestige in the industry and put it on the map internationally.’
And that means picking the best talent not only from Dubai, but also the whole Middle East. No matter where you were born or grew up, if you’re a resident here and you’ve got talent then you’re in with a shot. For Alex and his staff, it’s been a simultaneously arduous and entertaining journey, with some 150 sample CDs being submitted by both professionals and amateurs.
These submissions were then whittled down to around 30 top-quality contenders, then whittled again through three weekly heats at The Lodge, leaving just 16 left standing for the semis. For the competition’s five judges, it’s going to be a tough task to choose the absolute winner, but Greg Dufton, promoter at The Lodge, says he’s up to it.
‘I’ve spent eight or nine years booking everything from hip hop to house nights,’ he explains, ‘so I’ve seen a wide cross section of music and talent and I know what to look for. I can tell within five or 10 minutes whether they’re up to scratch. For example, little things like the DJ touching the mixing desk for no reason can give away a lack of confidence or experience. When I’m watching them, I think, “Could I put him on a 10pm-midnight spot at Chi and walk away thinking he’s going to do a good job?”’
But it’s not just the judges that need to be impressed – a big part of the competition is keeping the crowd moving. And that’s not easy, given that it’s composed not only of Dubai’s ethnically-diverse clubbing crowd, but also each DJ’s own entourage. ‘There’s a real international vibe,’ says Alex. ‘The Sri Lankan DJs bring the most intense crowds and it was like a football match when the Syrian DJ was on. There was all this chanting, everyone was singing “Ole, ole, ole, ole!” and I was like, “what?” But it’s loads of fun.’
Another challenge is that there’s no limitation on musical genres, which means that there can be a little bit of musical whiplash for the audience. ‘The Arabic guys are more commercially-minded,’ reckons Greg, ‘they throw in a few Arabic tracks, but they usually play the big commercial house floor-fillers. The English guys have been playing drum ’n’ bass, garage and funk. And the Filipino DJs have all been into scratching R&B. So it’s a real mix, but it’s been a blast.’
The semi-finals of the Palme Middle East DJ Competition will take place on April 27 and 28 at the Palme Middle East DJ exhibition at Dubai International Exhibition Centre. The grand final takes place on Tuesday April 29, also at the exhibition. See www.palmedjcomp.com for more info.