The changing face of nightlife in Dubai

Time Out speaks to veteran Dubai DJ Tim Cheddar about the changing face of nightlife in Dubai, including the original clubs, bars and more

We’re spoilt for choice musically here in Dubai, with bands and DJs performing every night of the week. When Time Out Dubai was launched 15 years ago, though, it was a completely different story. Tim Derry, who you might know best as local DJ Tim Cheddar, has been spinning (mostly the same music) in the city since the late 1990s. But like a vintage cheese, the Brit has only grown more popular with age. So what was it like on the city’s nightlife scene all those years ago?

“Dubai had a handful of bars frequented by the same bunch of expats,” Derry says. “So you’d see the same faces standing in the same places every week.” Those same faces extended to the talent, with few regular international gigs to speak of. “It was all about the resident band, and the DJ’s only job was to play between their sets.”

After DJing back home in England – starting out at a roller-skating rink when he was a teenager before moving on to nightclubs – Derry moved out to Dubai where he launched his infamous Cheese nights at Malecon at Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa. He soon switched to Chi@The Lodge (below) when the crowds cottoned on and his following started getting bigger. “Chi was a huge open-air nightclub that regularly attracted 2,000-plus people to hear DJs in four different rooms, as well as regular international names,” he recalls. “You could walk around and take your pick of house, R&B, indie and party tunes.

“In the early 2000s, the most popular club was The Diamond Club, where The Stables is now. My only memory of it was dancing to Freestyler by The Bomfunk MCs, a song that was so popular at the time that the DJ would play it three times a night without fail.” (Despite a city of Freestyler fans, the club closed in 2001.)

At the same time, the biggest local DJs on the scene, says Derry, were Dave Crane and Josh Anderson, who frequented the decks at Bur Dubai’s Rock Bottom and Champions in Deira, and are both still around now.

“Dubai’s only full-time dance DJ was a guy called Charlie C at Planetarium, and Pierre Ravan also deserves credit for the rise of dance music in Dubai. He was never tied to a particular venue, preferring to take his Karavan nights to different places.”

As for concerts, there were even fewer of them – and as a result, “if a concert came along, you just went to it – I think I saw Bryan Adams three times in as many years”.

Judging by the line-up for Dubai in the coming months, from All Saints to Elton John via Boyzlife, the city’s appetite for those old-school acts has far from waned. We may be spoilt when it comes to emerging talent, but sometimes it’s hard to beat a bit of nostalgia.

Tim Derry is behind the decks as Tim Cheddar every Thursday from 10pm to 3am at Societe Dubai. Marina Byblos Hotel, Dubai Marina (050 357 1126).

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