If he was going to release a summer banger, Alan Walker knew he needed to feel the heat.
The English-Norwegian DJ, 23, flew into the UAE earlier this year to shoot the video for new single Sweet Dreams, a collaboration with Kazakh producer Imanbek.
Amassing more than seven million YouTube views since its June 11 upload, the resulting clip is a high-octane affair shot in several desert locations in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.
Directed by frequent collaborator Mads Neset and produced by Abu Dhabi and Dubai's AKA Media, the video is a cross between The Fast and the Furious and Mad Max.
It begins with crowds gathering in Dubai’s Bab Al Shams – which has been reimagined as an autodrome – to witness an illicit race featuring souped-up vintage cars.
Hidden amid the crowd is a masked Walker.
Dressed in a camouflage hoodie and cargo pants, he carries an initialised gadget, the impact of which is only revealed in the final scene.
A shoot featuring local crew and talent
Speaking to The National, Walker recalls the sweltering shoot as satisfying.
“I can easily describe the experience as hot and warm,” he says with chuckle.
“But it was really fun and a great time. Going to the desert and just experiencing all of it, seeing the camels and just wandering around, was really amazing.”
Yasser Obeid, the video’s executive producer and AKA Media's chief executive. says executing the production, which included shooting in Dubai’s Al Qudra as well as popular Ras Al Khaimah hiking village Shawka, was challenging.
“The video took us two weeks to plan and was filmed over three intense days,” he says.
“From scouting locations to ensuring the crew and cast’s health and safety, and getting hold of some world-class equipment to enable the technical shoots, the team worked tirelessly on the project.”
The production also featured UAE talent, including Montenegrin model Milena Vujovic as Walker’s love interest, and Serbian actor Vladica Andelkovic as the drag race's guest of honour.
On playing in the Gulf
The regional touch is befitting for Walker, as the star has played memorable gigs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE pre- and post-pandemic.
In November 2019, he was one of the headliners of the Diriyah Music Festival in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh.
“It was just tremendous because I never really thought I would be invited to play there. These shows are generally the best kind to play because you don’t know what to expect and it turned out to be an insane experience,” he says.
“The crowds were absolutely incredible, they were screaming and having a good time. I remember running off stage at the end of the shows and thinking ‘could I do another hour'?
“I still see tweets about the gig and these are the kind of shows I missed a lot before the pandemic.”
With the UAE leading the live music sector's recovery from Covid-19, Walker arrived in Dubai in January to play at the Coca-Cola Arena.
With stringent health and safety measures in place, the show was held without a dance floor, with masked crowds instead sat metres apart.
"I didn't realise the audience weren't allowed to stand. So when I was on stage and said ‘one, two, everybody jump,’ and no one did, I was like 'this is a tough crowd'," Walker recalls.
"But then I realised what was going on and it made sense. It just felt really good to play for an audience again. I think we all missed that experience."
A new spin on an old classic
Nostalgia is also the driving force behind Walker’s new track.
Sweet Dreams is powered by the unmistakable hook of Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop) by late US singer and jazz pianist Scatman John.
Walker’s take is the latest effort by modern DJs seeking inspiration from the maligned '90s Euro-pop genre.
The list includes David Guetta's 2013 single Playhard, which sampled Dutch group Alice Deejay's 1999 hit Better Off Alone, and last year's successful remix of ATC's 2000 track Around the World (La La La La La) by Moroccan producer R3hab.
"This is now the trend: to take old hits and revive them again," Walker says.
"[During that time] the most important thing in the song was the melody. And I appreciate that because at the end of the day, this what most people will remember.
“If you can implant a melody on someone's mind, then I believe you have done what a song should.”
Finding career balance
When it comes to the role of a popular EDM star, Walker says the brief has not changed.
The pandemic, he states, has only strengthened his resolve to build his career responsibly.
“For many artists, they got the break they never knew they needed,” he says.
"I have been thinking about that a lot as mental health has become such an important topic within the music industry. So, yes, I will definitely be traveling again but doing 75 to 100 shows a year, tops."
And the UAE and Saudi Arabia will certainly fit into those plans.
“The market is growing so much and the industry has seen more bookings coming from there,” Walker says.
“It just proves that music is a universal language and that everybody serves to have the opportunity to witness a concert at some point.”