There’s something special about a victory on home turf. Whether it’s scoring the winning goal in your local stadium or dashing over the finishing line in a hometown marathon, there’s something about the occasion that makes the taste of victory that little bit sweeter.
So Dubai-based DJ Ilona Maras must be pretty pleased with herself right now, after topping the UAE dance music charts with her first ever release – a mix for globally renowned clubbing brand Pacha. The Dubai-based DJ supplied one half of the locally released Pacha Dubai VIP double album. Released in the first week of 2013, it flew to the top of Virgin Megastore’s dance chart on January 20 – beating the likes of David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia – and was still soaring high as we went to press. Not bad for a 28-year-old Russian-Montenegrin DJ who only started playing solo three years ago.
Pacha is a massive brand. How did you get hooked up with the label?
I was asked locally by Viva Entertainment – who puts out all Pacha’s releases here in the UAE – because they wanted to put together a local release. They thought my style matched their style, so they asked me to do it – and I think they’re pretty happy with what I did.
How would you describe the sound of your mix?
It’s a mix of vocal house, deep house, tech-house… it’s not all that commercial. It’s something you can dance to, feel and sing to, but you have to be passionate about music to enjoy it. It’s all about movement –
the CD is basically for moving and driving, rather than chilling out.
Let’s rewind. You grew up in Montenegro – how did you get into music?
I always had this enthusiasm and passion for sounds. I was always involved in music, dancing and mixing, but I started DJing on my own only three years ago. Music followed me all my life, when I was living in Greece, then I moved to the Middle East and heard a wide range of different sounds. That’s what I want: to bring together cultures, to be different and still be myself, not copying anyone.
What brought you to Dubai?
I first came to Dubai five years ago, and stayed for three years. I was DJing at iKandy [Ultralounge] in the Shangri-La and Ray’s Bar in Abu Dhabi. Then I went to Switzerland and had an opportunity to work in big clubs there, where I saw lots of international names who I learned a great deal from, then I came back to Dubai.
Which DJs did you see in Switzerland, and what did they teach you?
I saw Ferry Corsten, who played Dubai recently; Luciano, who is very famous in Switzerland; Yves Larock… there was something about these people, they made me want it more. I learned how to combine different styles so people don’t get bored listening to a four-hour set or a one-hour mix.
Where do you want to go next, musically?
I’d like to stay within house music, but I definitely want to do something different, blending the Middle East with the Balkans, something that reflects my background, a recognisable style for me.
What do you think of the local scene in general?
There are quite good DJs here. I have international standards and the competition is out there. There are a lot of weaker DJs too, and [clubs] give a lot of opportunities to new people. That’s good, but good DJs are the ones that remain. All the rest, with no passion, no feeling, they disappear.
Pacha Dubai VIP is available at Virgin Megastore. Ilona Maras plays every Thursday to Saturday at Café del Mar, Meydan Beach Club (055 220 7506).