Dubai Yellow Brick Road:
Grammy-winning DJ Deeply Dishes Dubai

by Tony Phillips

“The whole desert adventure smacked ever so slightly of a children's party,” Carrie Fisher writes of a recent trip to Dubai, “You had your camel ride, your sand-boarding, your belly dancer Barbie.” It sounds, perhaps, like Leia liked it, and we’d have to think that being born — as well as spending some bikini-clad time later chained to an obese, 600-year-old crime lord — on the barren planet Tatooine, H.R.H. Organa Skywalker Solo knows from a good desert oasis.

Being born in the Middle East and having spun records in nightclubs heavy on the sun and sand locales that punctuate places like Palm Springs, Ibiza, Miami, Mykonos, not to mention his share of princesses in metal bikinis in the booth, DJ Sharam knows from a good desert oasis too. And he likes the shining jewel of the United Arab Emirates so much he’s made it the namesake of his first solo mix album for Global Underground called Dubai.

“It’s a new gateway to the East,” Sharam explains. “It connects places like South Africa and Australia to that part of the world. It’s basically like a hub for business people and visitors, but they’re very thoughtful and forward thinking and doing everything that caters to business and tourist from all over the world. That’s very rare for the Middle East. It’s what needs to happen to the whole region. Dubai is like a model country.”

And though Dubai is actually an emirate — one of seven comprising the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that set up shop in 1971 — we’re willing to forgive Sharam his model moment because he works hard so we don’t have to. Still, his Winter Music Conference smash “PATT (Party All The Time)” is never going to be adopted as his theme song. “It’s the music business,” Sharam explains, “not the music have fun. Success doesn’t just happen. One record, maybe, but sustaining it over a period of time, you have to have your shit together.”

Given the grueling schedule that philosophy dictates, we’re not surprised Sharam doesn’t have a preferred way of getting to the UAE. “Emirates Air is great,” he says, pointing out the country’s own national airline, “but I’ve taken United and Lufthanza. All airlines that fly there are pretty much the same, they’re all pretty good.” Still, Sharam can’t help but point out Emirates Air’s first class service with its private cabins and special fiber-optic star ceiling. “They try and recreate nighttime,” Sharam says, “but it doesn’t really work for me because when I get on those long-haul flights I’m so exhausted I pass out right away.”

Once he arrives, Sharam continues to hint his needs aren’t that different from Princess Leia’s in terms of the high-end accommodations to which they’ve become accustomed. He’s stayed at the sail-shaped hotel Burj Al Arab, which is rapidly becoming Dubai’s Eiffel Tower. Even though the Burj had to re-invent the star rating system — they gave themselves seven of ‘em — to classify upper high-end amenities like a submarine to shuttle diners to their underwater restaurant, Sharam much prefers the Burj’s next-door, low-rise neighbor on the Arabian Gulf. “Mina A’Salam is my favorite,” Sharam says. “It’s like a city within a city. They have boats that take you to different parts of the hotel. It opened in phases, but the whole thing is opened now.”

So although he now has his favorite digs, the Grammy-winning DJ better known as one half of Deep Dish says his “gig/eat/sleep” schedule leaves time for little else. “I’m just in and out with maybe a day to rest,” the DJ explains. “It’s work.” So no sand-boarding for Sharam, but neither has he tried the surprising vertical snow skiing at Dubai’s indoor ski mountain at the new Mall of the Emirates. He has been to Wild Waadi, the local water park in Jumeirah, which not only has restrictions posted banning burqa gear on the water slides, but had a few head-to-toe, black-clad violators the day I visited.

Sharam, who has been going back and forth to Dubai for about four years now, likes to go anytime he can, but admits, “Summer is extremely hot there so I stay away from those months.” He’s also never been during the Muslim fasting holiday of Ramadan, but says, “It’s pretty much like all the Muslim countries. Everything shuts down for a month and things are just generally slower. It’s also a lot of fun, though. At night, when the fast lifts, it becomes like a celebration.” He’d also find deep discounts on Mina A’Salam’s $1600/night suites during Ramadan, which follows a lunar calendar, but usually happens in early fall.

Another annual event that draws crowds is Dubai’s month-long shopping festival that happens in the middle of every January. The city, quickly becoming known as a shopper’s paradise — but for odd items like Pratesi sheets at half-off — really gets into the festival spirit by hosting not only sales, but wall-to-wall parties and events. And even Sharam, with his Spartan schedule, admits to doing a little shopping in Dubai. “It’s just like anywhere else,” Sharam explains, “They have malls and everything. The whole globalization thing is, well, global.” And though there’s a souk for everything in Dubai — from gold to perfume — Sharam admits counting the days until the new Virgin Megastore opens, but he’s not surprised by their extensive selection of contemporary Arabic music. “If you go to New York,” Sharam explains, “the jazz section would be huge.”

Of course, one scene Sharam has down cold in Dubai is nightlife. “It’s like the rest of the world,” he explains, “people go out to eat and then they go clubbing.” In Dubai, perhaps, these two activities blend into one another more than in other places with high-end lounges like Buddha Bar and Sho Cho — with its blue neon lit fish tanks and sushi from the local beaches — doubling as restaurants where you can get a decent albeit expensive meal. Nightclubs also bleed into lodgings as plenty of Dubai hotspots reside in the local hotels. The Al-Bustan Hotel hosts Oxygen while Tangerine inhabits the Fairmont Hotel. Trilogy, the super-sized, three-floored warehouse that’s quickly becoming Sharam’s preferred venue, happens to be at the Madinat Jumeirah, also the site of his favorite hotel.

If you can get past the fact that one of the hottest clubs in town, Planetarium, resides in the local mall at the local Planet Hollywood, you’ll be well on your way to understand the unique pastiche that is Dubai. As Sharam says, “Once you’re inside the club you could be anywhere in the world. Clubs are like cars. Anywhere you go in the world, you’re going to see cars. The wheels might look different or the headlights might be a different shape, but the functionality is the same.”

But a recent visit to New York makes us wonder if Sharam motto might be Party Just A Little Bit of the Time? Certainly his DJ booth, wall-to-wall with revelers, seemed to suggest this. “Back in the day in DC,” Sharam admits, “we’d pack the club out to capacity and there was not a lot of room so all of our friends would come into the booth, hanging out, drinking, partying. We just learned to survive like that and we actually play better with a lot of people in the booth.” And sure, someone will always bump into the turntable, but with the new emphasis on CDs, even that problem is course correcting. “But they still spill drinks on CDs,” Sharam laughs.