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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Hollaphonic on Dubai show: ‘hopefully it will inspire more local talent to make their own music’

Hype and hope – there may never have been more of either invested in a UAE release, than Hollaphonic's debut album.
Greg Stainer, left, and Olly Wood of Hollaphonic are launching their debut album this weekend. Lee Hoagland / The National
Greg Stainer, left, and Olly Wood of Hollaphonic are launching their debut album this weekend. Lee Hoagland / The National

Hype and hope – there may never have been more of either invested in a UAE release than there has been in Hollaphonic’s debut album.

The hype because Personal Space, which has been nearly three years in the making, comes off the back of the regional radio smashes I Don’t Want it to End, Fabric and Runaway, and massive gigs including the Dubai World Cup (the duo’s first gig, in March 2013), Creamfields Abu Dhabi (December 2013), and an unprecedented main-stage slot at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November (their most recent UAE gig).

The proof of said hype? Album pre-orders that topped the regional iTunes chart ahead of the March 2 release.

But there’s also hope – because Hollaphonic show that, in the face of long-standing local scepticism, a UAE act truly can achieve big things.

In this case, those include headlining Zero Gravity on Thursday, April 9, a belated album-launch gig at a venue normally headlined at weekends by huge international acts such as Groove Armada, Goldfish, DJ Fresh, 2manydjs, Norman Jay and Chicane – and the forthcoming European release of recent single Dangerous, which features the British reality TV star Vince Kidd.

Ahead of Thursday’s gig, we quizzed the dance duo’s Olly Wood and Greg Stainer about the new album and the regional music scene.

Your debut single, 2013’s I Don’t Want it to End, was the first song you wrote together. How did you get from there to here?

Stainer: Our first few sessions were all about looking at what was in the pop charts – that was our goal from the start. But when we started to get live gigs we realised that most of the stuff we made, we didn’t want to play, because the audience were over-21-year-olds who wanted a completely different sound. So then we got back into the studio and said “we’ve actually got to make some songs that we want to play at our live gigs, rather than songs for radio and MTV”.

What’s the game plan now?

Wood: Now we’re focusing on Dangerous, which has come out here and done really well. We’re getting a radio-plugger to push it in the UK. And our remix of Wish You Were Here by Philip George – the original is one of the biggest tracks in the world right now – we’ve got Paul Oakenfold, Thomas Gold and DJs around the world playing our version, so the name c is getting out there, and this was always the mission.

Tell us about tonight’s gig.

Wood: It’s a big and scary undertaking.

Stainer: We almost feel we’ve got the entire music industry watching. We’re doing something for the first time, headlining the new venue that only relies on internationals. You constantly see everyone in the industry saying “Dubai doesn’t support local acts.” We’ve always said: “No, not necessarily.” We feel that if we can pull this off, and it’s a big, successful event, then it could potentially open the doors for other people. If we can bring in a few thousand people as a local act, hopefully it will inspire more local talent to make their own music.

So why you? Why have you become the region’s first electronic act to achieve this kind of exposure?

Stainer: The main thing is that we’ve got our act together – it’s not just about getting in the studio and making a killer track. There are tonnes of people who have a great track. It’s how we’ve presented ourselves, how we’ve interacted with everyone, from the media to management and the record label. It’s a matter of having a solid plan from the beginning and sticking with it.

Wood: We’ve spent a huge amount of our own money, which every band does.

Stainer: Between us, there’s no big ego – we both know what needs to be done.

Wood: Until we’re onstage.

Stainer: And then I’m happy for his ego to take over.

Tonight’s gig is supported by Adidas. How important have brand partnerships been for the band?

Wood: The big thing is that it’s not selling out. There’s a big preconception when you start working with brands – it’s how you do it that matters. None of them change our music or personality. We learnt a very hard lesson early on, with HTC in the music video [to I Don’t Want it to End], which effectively looked like an advert.

Stainer: From the money side, it’s great to get videos paid for and that kind of thing – but for us it’s also about the association. Adidas is associated with Pharrell, David Beckham, Rita Ora – and then us. Little old Hollaphonic’s album launch is in the same category as Pharrell’s concert at the F1. I did say when we watched Pharrell: “How come we haven’t got jeans with an Adidas logo on the back?” and we were told: “That’s because those are Mr Pharrell’s jeans – and you can’t have them." My design for an Adidas T-shirt converted into a mankini hasn’t been approved yet ...

Hollaphonic perform at Zero Gravity, SkyDive Dubai, on Thursday, April 9. Free for men before 10pm and women before midnight, Dh100 after

rgarratt@thenational.ae