It has been a year this month since Sandance called it a night.
In the meantime, the team behind the popular dance event at Atlantis The Palm, returned with DXBeach, the new and more boutique festival hosted at SkyDive Dubai’s Zero Gravity venue.
Launched in April, DXBeach announced itself with the hefty clout of a DJ set from Mark Ronson, who at the time was in the peak of his Uptown Funk fame (weirdly, Ronson was also in the UAE over the weekend with a performance in the capital's inaugural Green Grooves on Thursday).
But it was clear from the chatty, scattered – but busy – audience that Friday’s follow-up bill lacked the same sense of surprise or expectation.
You could blame the unimaginative booking. Headliners Clean Bandit played Sandance 12 months ago, while Jess Glynne – who sings the band’s two biggest hits – appeared at the DXBeach’s April event.
So when the set opened with Real Love, there were probably plenty of people in the audience who, like me, were hearing the song on a beach in Dubai for the third time in a year.
It was the same story when the musicians re-emerged for an encore no one really asked for, to play Rather Be. A great tune, but something was missing. This appeared to be Budget Bandit.
The group – formed by classically trained Cambridge students – have one distinct unique selling point: combining live violin and cello parts with electronic beats to create a novel baroque-house hybrid.
But this time there were no strings in sight.
The three female vocalists did a good job of hyping the crowd, but they are paid employees. It wasn’t clear how many actual members of the quartet were onstage. This was more a live PA than the advertised concert experience.
Earlier in the evening, actor Idris Elba played a decent, 90-minute DJ set. In town to shoot upcoming blockbuster Star Trek Beyond (spoiler: he plays a villain), the Luther star seemed far more confident and competent behind the decks than his own hurried, haphazard Sandance slot in 2013.
Instead of last time’s genre-mashing grab-bag of crowd-pleasers, Elba made use of the longer stage time to build a thematically smart selection of credible and danceable house and electro.
From the large attendance, this event was a clear success.
But it’s notable the hangout “village” area of the venue often felt busier than the dance floor; many punters seemed happier to chat than watch the music.
The festival is set to return on November 30, but we might need some more novel names next time, if DXBeach is to truly win a space in our hearts.