Homegrown electronic production duo Hollaphonic are lined up for the final show of Groove On The Grass’ seventh season, and we caught up with Olly, one half of the DJ duo, to talk about his beginnings as an MC, performing opening sets before star DJs like David Guetta and Armin van Buuren, and their new residency at Dubai International Airport (DXB).
Hello Olly! What’s your take on the UAE’s DJ circuit?
Hey, good to finally meet! When we first started doing sets here many years ago, it was ultimately commercial DJs with some underground parties happening occasionally, but the network camaraderie and competition was much less than what we have today. I think we’ve got some great DJs in the country now, covering a wide range of genres, and the DJs who have been here for years are just getting stronger and making a bigger impact. People go to clubs for the residents as well now and that’s the sign of a maturing scene. Yes the big clubs will always need to go commercial and there are DJs that fill that gap when needed. We do this ourselves sometimes but there’s a sense of diversity and we’re starting to feel more able to flex our own sound and try new things musically we wouldn’t have dared to before. You still have the DJs and Promoter Residents that fly in for a quick buck and try to take over the market with low fees, offers to sell tables and so on, but a DJ should be about the music and it’s the reputation of the good DJs which is shining through with more venues and wider choices for the clubbers.
Tell us about your beginnings as an MC at Garage nights in the UK
I used to go under the name Akapella when doing the rounds in Southampton clubs. It was the days of Artful Dodger and Craig David, so the UK Garage scene was bigger on the South Coast. I used to run small raves on a yacht that went out from Southampton’s famous Ocean Village, we had us downstairs and James Zabiela upstairs at one point, it was a great laugh, I think our outfit was called The Madhatterz – we thought it was cool at the time but we all have to make mistakes, hey! I remember the Garage scene was getting a bit rough and risky at the time I moved to London. Clubs were getting a little more dangerous for a while in the UK, so I ducked out after a while but I quickly picked it up in Dubai when two friends Kit Kheedo and Ben McDonald got me involved with their nights.
How different is it playing sets in the UK and in Dubai?
It’s starting to get pretty similar if you go to certain clubs now! No, but seriously, the UK is a great scene obviously. You don’t have your underground clubs here and sweaty little corners of city where a cheeky rave might pop up so it’s different in the sense of the freedom to clubs but it’s a lot safer in every way so I guess it balances out now I’m getting older and appreciate different things.
Talk us through your new residency at Dubai International Airport
It’s really about filling the airport with music that captures the vibe of Dubai and grows the reputation of the scene even further. So we’re doing more than just DJing. In fact, we’ll be playing periodically, booking other DJs to fill the slots throughout the year and giving more people the chance to play in front of such a big and international audience. We’re also booking acoustic singer/songwriters and even the odd bands, so as part of this whole #MusicDXB collaboration between us and DXB Airport, it’s really set to develop into something cool and game-changing.
You’ve performed opening and closing sets before several A-list DJs like Armin van Buuren and David Guetta. What’s the pressure like while performing before such big names?
There’s always pressure when there’s a crowd of any sort, we don’t really worry about who we’re performing with, as long as we understand their music and their style we can open for anyone, our main goal is to smash it for the crowd and make sure they want to know more about us and remember our name. We grab every opportunity and look at it as a chance to grow, using every step as a way to gain fans and grow Hollaphonic – I’m nervous before every gig but I put that energy into the show and it helps me get into the headspace to kill each set.
Lastly, what’s the road ahead for Hollaphonic? Any upcoming projects or collaborations?
We’ve really grown in Asia so we’re out there a lot with a row of No.1 singles in Thailand and some new records releasing in Japan shortly. We’ve got another worldwide single coming with Sony which is more international radio friendly and should do well in the clubs a bit more a change for us as it’s a reggaetón vibe so perfect for the summer as it kicks in around the world. We’ve got releases in the UK and Holland with various labels, for us it’s about getting in the studio, touring and being as creative as possible throughout 2019. We’ve started to get a really dedicated and motivated fanbase around the world, we know what territories work for us so we’re putting energy into those and really hoping this is a big year.