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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Juliana Down assure fans the show will go on

Things might have been quiet in the Juliana Down camp of late, but ahead of their biggest gig in 16-months, supporting Thirty Seconds to Mars, frontman Dia Hassan says the UAE rockers are still firing on all cylinders.
Juliana Down's frontman Dia Hassan. Sammy Dallal / The National
Juliana Down's frontman Dia Hassan. Sammy Dallal / The National

Good news for Juliana Down fans – the UAE’s biggest rock band are not planning to call it a day.

Speculation had been brewing, frontman Dia Hassan admits. After all, it has been 16-months since their last big gig, supporting Kings of Leon on Atlantis Beach. And their last album – the major label release of Empires – dropped four years ago, since when the band has slimmed down from a quintet to a duo.

Online, Juliana Down haven’t tweeted in two years, while Hassan has started posting weekly video blogs on YouTube. The final nail in the coffin, many suspected, was surely the recent release of his debut solo single, What is Love?

“Yeah, it’s true,” says the frontman, who was born in Lebanon and raised in Abu Dhabi. “It was weird. I released that track when the band wasn’t really active, so a lot of people thought I was just doing a solo project, and that was it – but that’s not true,” he says. “The band is something I started more than 10 years ago, it’s not something I can quit very easily.”

As if to prove the point, the performance hiatus will be broken on Friday when Juliana Down open for Thirty Seconds to Mars at Dubai Music Week. Rather than a last hurrah, Hassan says the gig marks a rebirth of sorts. He promises the live debut of five news songs, in addition to fresh video and multimedia projections.

The night will also offer some interesting cuisine. Pizza is one of the duo’s regular rider requests, but this time they will be denied that humble pleasure – because Thirty Seconds frontman Jared Leto insists the backstage area at his gigs is entirely vegan (and alcohol free) – “Not very rock n’ roll,” says Hassan, with a laugh.

Originally formed by a teenage Hassan in 1999, Juliana Down grew into one of the UAE’s biggest commercial success – 2011’s Empires was recently revealed by The National to be Virgin Megastore’s top-selling local release of the past five years.

However, after finding fame as a five-piece, the band has been stripped down in recent years to principle songwriting duo Hassan and guitarist Sari Ramadan.

“People left the band and left the country,” says Hassan.

As if to prove there’s no acrimony between the remaining pair, Friday’s set list will feature a new, rockier reworking of Hassan’s What is Love? The original’s electronic, pop-influenced sound marked a huge departure for the traditional rock frontman, inspired in part by his guest vocal on house-pop duo Hollaphonic’s regional smash, Found You.

“Dance music is something I’ve always been interested in,” says Hassan. “I realised I was making all this music that wouldn’t fit with Juliana Down, but I didn’t want it to just sit on my computer.

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love Juliana Down.”

•Juliana Down will support Thirty Seconds to Mars at Dubai World Trade ­Centre on Friday. Tickets from Dh295 at www.ticketmaster.ae.

rgarratt@thenational.ae