How Juliana Down took over the UAE

We sit down for a chat with one of the emirates' best-known bands

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The super-cool Dubai-based band Juliana Down have recently been nominated for a Europe Music Award. The duo have already wowed the crowds with their opening for Guns N’ Roses, their Rugby Sevens anthem, ‘Your Time Is Now’ and their hit single ‘Empires’, but this is the highlight of the band’s career to date. To celebrate they have spent a month working in collaboration with Aloft Hotel, wrapping up their time in Abu Dhabi with the Aloft Music Festival on October 4. We sat and chatted with the guys, Sari and Dia about the EMAs, success and Abu Dhabi.

They met in school, and they laughingly explain that, music seemed to give them a cool factor with girls. That might have been the reason they initially pursued music, but very quickly it all changed. ‘We used to get kicked out of class and then end up in the music room, so we just picked up instruments and started to play with them, and then realised the girls were impressed, so we kept doing it…’ laughs Dia. ‘And then it became about changing the world, and about the music.’

They were signed by Sony and are now recording their second album, set for release in 2014. They have been nominated for one of the music industry’s coolest awards, the EMAs, for Best Middle East Act. ‘For me, it didn’t really set in until we went onto the website and saw our name next to artists like Jay Z and Justin Timberlake – all the other Js,’ says Dia.

Ever hard on themselves and modest, Sari says they aren’t getting too carried away. ‘It’s good to be nominated, you know, but for us to be even more excited we need more, because it doesn’t mean anything until you have won it.’ He continues, ‘Hopefully it sets the bar a bit higher for the music scene here.’

‘If we pick up the award it will be really cool’ says Dia. ‘It’s one of those things where a lot of people in the music business recognise what you’re doing when you get nominated for this kind of award. I think it’s like a milestone – it’s a very important place to be. Hopefully we win it.’

It’s surprising that these charming and charismatic guys are as down to earth as they seem on stage. They explain, ‘With artists, it’s not them – it’s other people stroking their egos. Sometimes, like with us, with the EMAs, playing on the same bill as Guns N’ Roses can get you carried away. I think having friends around you that keep your grounded is important.’

Developing in the UAE has been a challenge for the band, as many others have found. They have been on the music scene for more than ten years and have recently come into their own. ‘Having the music week in Dubai is inspiring,’ Dia says. ‘Over here, it’s such a consumer market that they don’t care what happens locally. But this is changing quickly.’

The band is based in Dubai but has been performing for Abu Dhabi crowds in conjunction with Aloft Hotel at the signature Liquid Rain Party, and at the Aloft Music Festival. It’s a largely different scene, they say. ‘Abu Dhabi is shy, compared to Dubai. You know, the music scene is far bigger in Dubai. I mean it’s cool – but it’s changing. We hope that someday we see the scene open up a bit more. And people have more activities to do. I think there’s a lack of activities around the city,’ Sari says. ‘And gigs like these that are taking place at Aloft right now, they rarely happen – other than the Formula One so we are glad they are doing this one.’

Working hard and never giving up were the keys to their success. They say to aspiring musicians in the UAE, ‘If you really want it bad, just keep working at it. Never give up. You’ll get knocked back, but don’t give up.’

And if they weren’t musicians? Both of them agree – they say in unison ‘sell insurance’ with a laugh.
Get behind the band and vote for them at www.me.mtvema.com/artists/juliana-down/ or hear their music at www.julianadown.net.

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