Dance music festivals don't only have to compete with each other to land the big headliners, they're also in a constant contest to foster a community vibe that is increasingly lost in today's hyper-commercialised electronic dance music scene. Tomorrowland, one of the biggest festivals for the genre in the world, is being held this Saturday in the rural Belgian town of Boom, but it's actually inviting much of the globe to be part of the party.
When the big bash takes to the European stage, seven cities around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Barcelona, Taipei and Mexico City, will host satellite parties in real time called Unite with Tomorrowland, featuring their own set of DJ performances in addition to live simulcasts from Belgium of the sets by super-star DJs Armin van Buuren and Afrojack, as well as Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike.
While it’s easy to dismiss the concept as a high-tech cash grab from the organisers, it was the sheer demand to attend the original event in Boom – with all 360,000 tickets for its twin weekend parties sold out within hours – that convinced them to take the event to the world.
Abu Dhabi will be connected
The UAE version, which debuted last year in Dubai, was an equal success, with the Dubai Festival City Arena packed with fans.
This year, Unite with Tomorrowland moves to Abu Dhabi’s du Forum and Nicolas Vandenabeele, who works with organiser Envie Events, promises another engrossing and seamless experience.
"Lots of technology is in place to ensure a flawless live satellite connection with Tomorrowland," he says. "As seven countries are connected all at the same time on the same day, we have a team of technicians who will take care of establishing a stable connection, syncing cameras at all venues, as well as all show effects on stage. It all happens at the same time, which truly creates a magical atmosphere." The DJs performing in Belgium will be aware of their global audience, Vandenabeele says, with the Abu Dhabi crowd to be acknowledged and addressed by the likes of Van Buuren and Afrojack.
The UAE is part of a growing dance movement
But that doesn't mean the UAE DJs performing at du Forum are mere warm-ups. Last year saw a headline set by French artist Martin Solveig.
For the Abu Dhabi party this year, nine acts are set to take the stage, led by one of the dance scene's most consistent artists, Ummet Ozcan. Ever since emerging from the EDM hotbed of Amsterdam in 2006, the Dutch-Turkish DJ's blend of melodic and progressive trance has turned heads. In addition to his acclaimed remixes of works by the likes of superstars Tiesto (Wasted) and Axwell & Ingrosso's More Than You Know, the 35-year-old scored hits of his own with The Hum and Wake Up the Sun.
Speaking to The National from Shanghai where he is in the midst of an Asian tour, Ozcan says he is not surprised the UAE has joined the likes of Beirut and Barcelona in hosting Unite with Tomorrowland.
“The scene is getting bigger and better in that part of the world,” he says. “There is a lot of movement happening in Asia, and I can see this when I tour in places like China and the UAE. More events are happening each year – and Unite with Tomorrowland in Abu Dhabi is an example of that.”
Ozcan on convincing his critics
Saturday's festival appearance will be another achievement for Ozcan, who will perform in the closing weekend of the original Belgian event on Sunday. He recalls first getting into music by digging into his brother's dance music records.
"When he was at work, I would go into the room and listen to all of his CDs, and would really get inspired by the music," he recalls. "I eventually got a keyboard and I would play along to these songs or try to recreate the melodies. That time alone with these songs was really educational for me."
The bigger challenge, Ozcan says, was convincing his parents, who immigrated from Turkey, that being a full-time DJ was a viable career. "They were not happy at first," he says dryly. "I remember my parents would say, 'my son, go get a real job and be a doctor or get into construction'. That just gave me more motivation. I had to prove myself and I told them 'dad, mum, this will work and one day I will show you.'"
With Ozcan now a regular name performing at the world's biggest dance festivals, he fulfilled his promise by taking his mum to a gig in Turkey. "That was a special feeling. She went back to Turkey, saw my concert and understood that this was my dream. Now, whenever I play in Turkey, I have to take her with me."
Ozcan’s advice for aspiring DJs
Yet, despite the odd family holiday, he says the DJing life can be a relentless experience, with plenty of shows to complete in addition the pressure of releasing new music to remain relevant. It was partly for that reason he decided to launch his own label Oz Records this year, which also provided him an opportunity to call his own tune, so to speak."It gave me more freedom to release my music in my own way and in my own time. It is also an opportunity to help other young producers to showcase their music."
With the crowd at Abu Dhabi's Unite with Tomorrowland set to feature a healthy selection of aspiring DJs from the region, Ozcan's advice to them is to back up their passion with a work ethic. "You eventually need to find your own sound," he says. "And that takes time and lots of hard work. You want to get to a stage in your career that when you release a song, people will know that it is you without looking at the credits. That's one of the most important keys to success."
Also coming to Abu Dhabi for Unite with Tomorrowland
Lucas and Steve
Ever since coming togetherhooking up in 2010, the Dutch dance music duo have continued to impress. Their triumphant t sound has not only gathered pace on the Beatport dance music charts, but it has also seen them played with and get recognition from the genre's big names, including Tiesto, Martin Garrix and the late Avicii. They will come to Abu Dhabi on the back of their recent single You Don't Have to Like It, which is shaping up to be quite a summer club favourite.
The 23-year-old talent cut his teeth in Australia's dance scene before touring abroad and performing at festivals across Europe and South America. In addition to his energetic live shows, Santoro's studio work has been acclaimed, with his notable remixes of Adele's Set Fire to the Rain and Someone Like You. His latest track, Halo, continues him on his quest to deliver passionate and melodic progressive house, and we imagine it should go down a treat in the UAE capitalAbu Dhabi.
Where before he was a novelty on the EDM circuit as Saudi Arabia's only touring dance music DJ, Basasad is now known for his superior DJ skills, which he has honed in his home city of Jeddah since the age of 16. Last year, the 28-year-old, above, released his impressive six-song EP Dichotomy. The release also comes on the back of Basaad's remix of American-Moroccan rapper French Montana's latest hit, Unforgettable, which caught the attention of United States magazine Billboard inlast year as one of the best summer remixes of 2017.
Unite with Tomorrowland is on from 2pm to 2am on Saturday at du Forum. Tickets cost from Dh495 from www.abudhabi.platinumlist.net