Clubbing in Dubai: 10 Steps to Dancefloor Nirvana
When it comes to clubbing in Dubai, we’re spoiled for choice. The Emirate has it all – swanky superclubs, sun-drenched beach clubs, cool underground shindigs, fabulous festivals, desert raves and rocking boat parties. With legions of big name DJs spinning on any given weekend, the clubbing season in Dubai rivals Ibiza in full swing. But how did we get here? Which clubs and festivals paved the way to this dancefloor nirvana? Here are 10 key players in Dubai’s clubbing history…
(Peppermint photo credit: pingdubai.com)
Peppermint Club, 2004 – 2010
While club spots like iBO, Cyclone and Alpha were already championing the underground, Peppermint Club brought minty freshness and big name DJs to Dubai. Located in The Fairmont, Peppermint’s dancefloor heaved to Sasha, Digweed, David Guetta, Steve Lawler, Hernan Cattaneo and more. Arguably the UAE’s first big club brand, Fridays belonged to Peppermint until rival club Trilogy cranked up its soundsystem. The two venues duked it out until Peppermint Club closed in 2010.
Trilogy, 2004 – 2013
Three-floor mega-club Trilogy, in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, elevated clubbing in Dubai to new heights. With electronic music pumping in the main room, hip-hop in room two, and a fabulous roof terrace offering epic Bur Al Arab views, Trilogy instantly attracted Dubai’s cool clubbing crowd. The promoter behind the club’s Deep Night party had deep pockets, throwing crazy fees around to land the hottest DJ names of the time. As a result, pretty much every big name DJ passed through before the club closed in 2008. Trilogy reopened in 2010, hosting Ill Communications and Wasted parties, before the iconic club finally shut up shop in 2013. Pacha Ibiza Dubai opened in the same venue a year later but the famous cherries turned sour before long.
Chi@The Lodge, 2007 – 2012
The idea of Oud Metha as a clubbing hotspot might seem bonkers today, but Chi@The Lodge pulled punters in from all over. The sprawling 3000-capacity venue boasted three rooms inside. But Chi’s expansive terrace proved the real draw. In its early days, Daxar Music hosted Thursday nights, bringing names like Judge Jules, Marco V, Sander Van Doorn, Dave Seaman and Dirty South to town. Friday night party Home locked in great guests too, like Groove Armada, 2ManyDJs and Basement Jaxx. Chi@The Lodge also showcased local DJs on rotation, including Da Sendri and Smokingroove, who’re still DJing in Dubai today. Tune into Smokingroove every Saturday, at 9pm, on Ibiza Global Radio UAE.
audio tonic, 2007 – 2017
Mike Bufton’s audio tonic is fondly remembered. The day-to-night party rocked Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s circular rooftop bar and club venue 360° for a whole decade. While other club’s battled it out to secure big ticket names, audio tonic pushed the boundaries with fresh house sounds. Promoter Mike targeted cutting-edge talent on the cusp of greatness. Sébastien Léger, Hot Since 82, Bicep and Claptone all made their UAE debut at audio tonic. Mike remembers paying under £1500 for each.
“I have so many great memories I could write a book,” laughs Mike, who DJs as Mister Mister. He recalls one particular night when the heavens opened and lightning forked the sky. “Rather than stopping, we found some plastic sheets and formed a makeshift canopy over the DJ booth. Pete Gooding was playing at the time and he dropped the Steve Angelo mix of Moby’s ‘Raining Again’. That was a moment.”
Mike recalls the closing party in May 2017 clearly. He closed the roof terrace with Junior Jack’s ‘Thrill Me’. “The place went bananas and I cried. The party moved downstairs and I closed out with the Asadinho remix of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Summertime Sadness’. Which made me cry some more. It was really emotional.
“We weren’t afraid to bring new international talent to the city. People dancing to fresh sounds at an amazing open-air venue… it was truly magical. But ultimately, it’s the amazing crew who turned up week in, week out to smile, dance and bring the vibe that made audio tonic legendary.”
Sandance Festival, 2010 – 2014
Not every festival promoter has trouble convincing Jamiroquai frontman Jay Kay to leave the stage. Not every festival was like Sandance. “We’d been told Jay Kay can be temperamental and difficult to deal with,” recalls co-promoter Greg Dufton. “But he came to Sandance and he loved it. He went 20 minutes over his allotted time. We had to beg him to come off stage as the other acts after him were getting pi**** off!”
Greg and co-promoter Tim Derry hit on a winning formula when they conceived Sandance. Atlantis Hotel invited event organisers to come up with ideas for a big stretch of beach within the hotel’s grounds. Others submitted plans for 10pm – 3am affairs featuring one headline DJ. Greg and Tim, however, pitched a much bigger idea. They proposed a 12-hour, 15,000-capacity festival, featuring eight or nine different acts, appealing to a broad cross-section of music fans. “We wanted to play music that was the right fit for specific times of the day, whether a band or a DJ,” says Greg. “That just wasn’t happening in Dubai at the time.”
Atlantis chiefs loved the concept. Sandance burst into life with Chicane (live), Armand Van Helden, Zero 7 and Baby D topping the bill. A number of artists made their regional debut at the hugely popular festival, including Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora, Rudimental and more. “The boundary we were really pushing was our mix of artists,” says Greg. “We had Nile Rodgers and Chic on the same stage as Paul van Dyk. International booking agents couldn’t understand how that could work, but it did as long as the programming was timed right.”
Sadly, Sandance came to an end when the stretch of beach was swept up in Atlantis Hotel’s expansion plans.
Sole DXB, 2011 – present
With hip-hop at its core, Sole DXB is a fashion-come-music festival that draws praise from industry bibles like High Snobiety and Hype Beast. The three-day event, usually held at Dubai Design District in December, is known for its ultra-cool line-ups. The 2019 programme starred Wu-Tang Clan, Wiley, Foreign Beggars, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Subatomic Sound. The 2020 and 2021 editions fell foul to Covid. But Sole DXB will return. The festival team promise: “Sole DXB will be back, and when it is, we will make it count.” Can’t wait!
Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE, 2012 – 2019
Dubai’s original – and many would argue best – beach club, Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE reigned supreme as the king of day-to-night clubbing for years. Blue Marlin’s excellent booking policy – industry staples like Carl Cox, Jamie Jones, Richie Hawtin and Solomun next to Richy Ahmed, Stephan Bodzin, Maya Jane Coles and Miss Kitten – ensured it was packed from midday onwards. It somehow successfully merged two crowds – those there to be seen and those truly ensconced in the club scene. But Blue Marlin’s Ghantoot location, just beyond the Dubai border, proved a taxi ride too far when alternatives like Zero Gravity opened up in Dubai Marina. Its Last Dance party starred Jamie Jones and Bedouin. Rumours suggest Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE may yet resurface in a more central Dubai location.
(Groove on the Grass photo credit: Hussein DL)
Groove On The Grass, 2012 – present
Any promoter proclaiming “your personality is your best accessory” is alright by us. A festival created by clubbers for clubbers, Groove On The Grass has a strong community feel. Since the first Groove, Deian Markov’s event – actually held on the grass at Emirates Golf Club – has evolved into a true world-class boutique festival. The festival’s bold booking policy – Hot Chip DJ sets sit alongside Dave Clarke techno boshes – is key to its success. “Our music philosophy is simple,” says Deian. “We want you to dance, and we mean really dance – with your hands in the air and your hair down.”
Like festivals all around the world, the pandemic forced the festival into a two-year break. Fans were giddy with excitement when the festival morphed into Desert Groove recently. Tickets for February’s three-day festie in Ras Al Khaimah sold out. Welcome back, Groove!
(Analog Room photo credit: Vartan Kelechian)
Analog Room, 2012 – present
The antithesis to Dubai’s champagne and sparklers culture, techno party Analog Room keeps it raw and real. Founded by Mehdi and Salar Ansari and Siamak Amidi, Analog Room is unapologetically purist. The lads abide by one simple rule – the music comes first. With its strict music policy and no-nonsense ethos, Analog Room gets the thumbs up from a number of techno legends. A Guy Called Gerald, Derrick May, Move D, Delano Smith, Ben UFO and Alexkid are all fans after playing at the club. Clubbing in Dubai is a more cultured experience at Analog Room.
It’s fair to call the club night slightly nomadic. Over the years, Analog Room has settled and then moved on from Stereo Arcade, Industrial Avenue, Story Rooftop Lounge and The Q Underground. Basically, when venue management start shifting the goalposts, Analog Room ups and leaves – safe in the knowledge their loyal fans will follow.
A real champion for underground culture in Dubai, Mehdi Ansari is also director of MUTEK AE. In 2017, he brought a regional version of Montreal’s famed audio-visual festival to Dubai for the first time.
Techno fans are eagerly awaiting Analog Room’s return once Covid regulations are fully lifted.
Soho Garden DXB, 2017 – present
Today, Soho Garden DXB carries the torch for clubbing in Dubai. The sprawling Soho DXB complex at Meydan Race Course houses a number of bars, clubs and restaurants. But it’s Soho Garden, Soho Beach and Code that are the main draws. And it’s easy to see why. Recent headliners include Dubfire, Dixon, Stephan Bodzin, Kölsh, Sven Väth, Blond:ish and DJ Tennis. You get the picture.