In most other cities, a club reaching its third year wouldn’t be too big a story – but when the city is one as ludicrously transient and notoriously fickle as Dubai, it’s a genuine landmark event. And when the club is Chi, easily the city’s most popular mainstream venue… well, you can’t blame them for breaking out the party hats. Especially since things weren’t always this rosy. ‘The Lodge [the building that houses Chi] has been around for 20 to 25 years,’ explains event and marketing manager Greg Dufton. ‘You wouldn’t believe what it was like before – an absolute mess. The current owners bought it about three and a half years ago and spent six months and Dhs10-15 million refurbishing it.’
And after pulling in inconsistent numbers of people in its first year, Chi eventually managed to find its crowd by going its own way. ‘Dubai was split between exclusive, big-spending clubs and real dives. We wanted something in the middle – a good, solid nightclub that anyone can walk into. Getting that mainstream crowd.’
And in the past three years that mainstream crowd has come to visit both big-name DJs like Tiësto and lesser-known – but no less talented – jockeys. So what’ve Greg’s favourite nights been so far? ‘Deadmau5 and the Time Out Comes Home night were both great, and Goldfish’s live act was just brilliant. And our birthday last year with Jonathan Ulysses was perfect – it was one of those times when everything – atmosphere, crowd and music – came together.’
But for many in the Time Out office, Chi’s best night for some time was José González’s folk music gig in October – partly because he’s a good musician, but mostly because it proved that there’s a market here for alternative musicians. So will Greg capitalise on this in the future? ‘Chi is perfect for those small-to-medium sized gigs – ones that won’t attract 6,000 people and fill out Media City. But it’s still an experimental scene out here because it’s so expensive to bring out bands.
‘With a DJ, you’re looking at one flight and a standard set-up, which is pretty cheap. But a band means five or six flights, five or six hotel rooms, a production rig that costs Dhs40,000 to meet the technical riders… We want to put on experimental musicians but we have to find the backing – you need sponsorship because it’s so expensive. So we’re in the process of looking at it at the moment.’
In the meantime, Greg says that Chi will continue to bring out DJs while doing its best to develop into a wider entertainment hub: comedy night The Laughter Factory will continue to play there and several boxing matches have been arranged for 2009. Not that Chi is a stranger to celebs. ‘We held a party for AC Milan after their Hamburg game, but we had to keep quiet about it because it was confidential. They hired out the VIP room and the guy who was doing it filled it with 100 models. So I was stood there watching the whole AC Milan team, including David Beckham, dancing in front of me. It was weird. Beckham was just bobbing his head, though, not doing any full-on breakdancing.’ Were the rest of the ream trying to pull any flash moves, then? ‘Not really – trying to pull some flash birds would be more appropriate. David Beckham not included in that list, I hasten to add.’
Of course. Back to the birthday, then: what can Time Out’s lovely readers bring Greg for a present? ‘Panadol. And a night off! Bring me a night off. That would be good.’
Chi’s third birthday, feat. Streetlife DJs, is on January 23