Abu Dhabi GP: EDM proves pulse of this year's F1 music scene

From pioneer Carl Cox to young maestro Martin Garrix, dance music DJs will dominate the Abu Dhabi F1 after hours

WANTAGH, NY - JUNE 16:  Martin Garrix performs on stage during the 2017 BLI Summer Jam at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on June 16, 2017 in Wantagh, New York.  (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage/Getty Images)

If 2014 was the year EDM was formally invited to the F1 party in Abu Dhabi – when trance survivor Armin van Buuren became the first DJ to headline the Yasalam After-Race Concerts – then 2017 is the year the genre takes over the host’s iPod and dictates the playlist.

First, we have another monster electronic name coming to du Arena, with Calvin Harris booked to open the race weekend on Thursday night. Then there is the headline-grabbing string of superstar DJs, Martin Garrix, Carl Cox and Tiësto, appearing on consecutive evenings as part of the new Beyond the Track club series, at the neighbouring du Forum.

Chuck in a round of credible house DJs spinning on the after-party circuit – including Claptone, Mark Knight and Hot Since 82, all set for Iris Yas Island – and the coming weekend is comfortably sizing up as the capital’s biggest celebration of dance music since the last edition of Creamfields Abu Dhabi came to Yas Island in 2014.

The fact that the international, banner-name festival will return to du Arena next month – with Deadmau5 and Axwell Ingrosso confirmed for the one-night spectacle on December 8 – is further evidence of a fresh, fuzzy embrace of all things electronic. While many cynical spectators wrote off the EDM craze as a passing fad perpetually fit to fail – Popping the Drop: A Timeline of How EDM's Bubble Burst ran one typical headline by trendsetters Pitchfork last year – in the UAE at least, there's no sign of the appetite abating for all things with a hearty kick-drum, ample side-chain pumps and an inevitable continent-shifting musical drop.

But writing off the entire swathe of electronic music – a genre that, like any other, boasts its own fabled, four-decade origins story – with such clichés betrays its sonic diversity. It ignores the divergent tributaries that have flowed since pioneers like Frankie Knuckles first began experimenting with reel-to-reel tape, drum machines and synthesisers in early 1980s Chicago.

Whether by luck or design, the quartet of heavy-hitters appearing in Abu Dhabi over consecutive nights each highlight four distinct strains of electronic sound – both catering to a broad base of those in the know, and offering a handy primer to the uninitiated.

Easiest on the ear is weekend-opener Calvin Harris, the Scottish heart-throb who generated a thousand headlines with his high-profile relationship – and break-up from – Taylor Swift. But as well as providing easy fodder for gossip magazines, Harris has authored some globe-conquering floor-fillers.

Since abandoning his early retro/disco-influenced stance, Harris has come to characterise the shinier side of the EDM boom, following the post-David Guetta mould of high-profile duets with star vocalists.

Among the most successful have been breakout smash We Found Love, as a featured artist for Rihanna, Sweet Nothing with Florence Welch, Blame with John Newman, How Deep is Your Love with Disciples and most recently, Feels, featuring the all-star troupe of Pharrell, Big Sean and Katy Perry.

Harris has been well-rewarded for his efforts – for the past five years the 33-year-old has topped Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid DJs, milking Vegas residencies to bring in as much as US$66 million (Dh242 million) a year; the 12-month period from June 2016 garnered a comparatively tame $48.5 million (Dh178 million) – perhaps the EDM bubble really is, if not bursting, deflating ever-so-slowly). He appeared on the same du Arena stage four years earlier, headlining Creamfields Abu Dhabi 2013.

Expect harder sounds on Sunday evening when UAE-regular Tiësto closes the weekend, next door at du Forum. Voted by readers of career-making DJ Mag as the "best DJ of the last 20 years" in 2013, the Dutch maestro has been established as something of an elder statesman following the EDM boom – reflected in earnings outstripped only by Harris, pocketing $39 million (Dh143 million) in the year up to June.

Rising from the late-1990s trance scene, Tiësto's progressive, euphoric stylings have shifted ever-closer to the mainstream, best encapsulated in his classic reworking of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, and officially institutionalised with a 2014 Grammy for his remix of John Legend's All of Me. A three-time winner of DJ Mag's influential Top 100 DJs poll, it was Tiësto who presented man-of-the-moment Martin Garrix with the same influential trophy last year, a title Garrix reclaimed this year.

The Dutch DJ has enjoyed a phenomenal ascent since bursting onto the scene in 2013 with Animals, while still a teenager. Now aged just 21, the big-room king – who saw in 2016 in the UAE with a huge gig at Dubai's Meydan – is arguably the hottest ticket in the game right now.

Garrix's dramatic rise is pointedly contrasted with the longevity of co-star Carl Cox in the recent dance music documentary What We Started. We're lucky to welcome Cox to the capital on Saturday, following widespread speculation that the 55-year-old veteran would be retiring following his 17th consecutive seasonal residency at Space Ibiza this summer. Renowned as a pioneer of techno, expect an eclectic playlist likely to flow from his 1990s heyday as one of the world's first "superstar DJs" to the present day. While renowned for epic sets of up to 10 hours, on the night Cox will share the decks with recently-announced addition, the UK's Nic Fanciulli.

Calvin Harris appears at du Arena, Yas Island, as part of the Yasalam After-Race Concerts, on Thursday. The concert is open to race-day ticket holders only, see www.yasmarinacircuit.com for packages.

Martin Garrix, Carl Cox and Tiësto perform on consecutive evenings at Beyond the Track, hosted at du Forum, Yas Island, Friday to Sunday. Tickets from Dh395, from www.tixbox.com and 056 675 6834


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