‘I didn’t like clubs to begin with.’ It’s odd to hear these words from Paul Hamilton, considering that his self-titled night, Paul Hamilton And Friends, has just completed its first successful year at Plan B. So how did he get turned on to the joys of clubbing culture? ‘My younger brother got me going out with him in Malta,’ he explains. ‘One night I was so impressed by a DJ’s performance, I just got the urge to do what he had done to the people on the dance floor.’
From these humble beginnings, Paul’s career blossomed to the point that he was able to open his own nights – though Paul Hamilton And Friends got off to a rocky start. ‘A lot of DJs were scared of Plan B because it had been empty for such a long time. No one really knew why. I was asking people what was wrong with it and no one ever had an answer.’
What to do? Go anyway and invite all your friends on and off Facebook, of course – and trust that your collection of house and ‘no R&B' attitude will win out: ‘To begin with it was just our friends who showed up and it just started to grow from there. We became very successful, and now Plan B has gone on to win awards.’
The result is that the relationship between Paul and Plan B is a good one, although this is not always the case with clubs in Dubai. ‘There’s a problem in that clubs aren’t always run professionally in Dubai. Most clubs [here] are run by hotel managers, and hotel managers are not club managers.’ A somewhat tongue-in-cheek observation, but Paul makes a valid point – a hotel manager is to a club what a chocolate bar is to a gym: out of place and likely to cause serious disruption if left unchecked. How can we expect the clubbing scene in Dubai to progress without the proper direction?
For Paul, Plan B’s direction is to head towards the creation of a ‘European clubbing experience’ – but one that is suitable for Dubai. ‘In this country you can’t play the music you’d play in a club in say, Amsterdam. You have to be respectful, but still entertain and play a variety of music. I want to take Dubai on a clubbing journey that is not centred on alcohol, just the music.’
It seems that Paul has read the Dubai crowd well, as he has developed a sizeable fan base containing a good mix of international and local faces. The mix doesn’t stop at the crowd though – Paul himself is from Malta and also makes a point of bringing in international DJs to play alongside him.
Not that this is unusual for Dubai. After all, this is a city that will present acts that aren’t even on tour, simply because it wants them – and what Dubai wants, it gets. Case in point: we wanted to hear house music outside of the clubs too, and the radio stations obliged – and that fed back into the clubs. ‘A major turning point and influence on the clubbing scene was the radio stations playing dance and house music,’ Paul says. ‘Now people come to venues and want to hear house music.’ So with house music growing in popularity, does Paul feel under pressure to keep producing his own tunes? ‘I feel pressured just to give people more music, but that’s a good thing. I’ll be releasing another track soon and probably more this year to give the people something fresh and new.’
Paul has himself been exploring fresh and new areas since the launch of Paul Hamilton And Friends, first with a second night – 54 Club Classics – at Plan B, and most recently with Miami Calling at The Apartment. He may even be putting on a monthly beach party at some point in the future, though he’s been careful not to spread himself too thin. ‘A lot of venues approach us but we turn down most of them. We want quality venues for quality crowds.’
What about branching off outside of Dubai? After all, Paul did win the Global Heineken Thirst DJ competition, judged by Sander Kleinenberg in 2005. Now that he’s made a name for himself here, does he feel it’s time to move away? ‘During Ramadan I travel to other countries to DJ. This year I’ll be in Malta and The White Rooms in London and I’ve got another gig in Bahrain this year. I love Dubai though; I keep coming back to it because I love it.’
Paul Hamilton plays at Paul Hamilton And Friends, July 10.