x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

DJ Jason remembers 20 years of hands on decks

The man currently mixing the music at the Al Ain Rotana's Moodz club looks back on a career that has included playing for 5,000 American troops aboard an aircraft carrier.

DJ Jason Johnstone plays music at the Al Ain Rotana’s Moodz club.
DJ Jason Johnstone plays music at the Al Ain Rotana’s Moodz club.

AL AIN // After mixing the end of Bob Sinclar's World Hold On to the end of David Guetta's One Love, DJ Jason looks up from the sound board, eyeing the crowd of 70 or so dancing before him at the Al Ain Rotana's Moodz club.

He is waiting for their reaction.

No one leaves the dance floor. Instead, it becomes even more crowded as dancers squeeze into the frenzied crowd.

DJ Jason smiles, lifts his hands in the air and jumps along to the beat. He knows it was a good mix.

And why wouldn't it be? He has been a DJ for more than two decades, including 13 years in the UAE.

DJ Jason – Jason Anthony Johnstone, 37, a Scot – first laid hands on turntables when he was 16. His friend's father had bought a mobile disco and they drove it about, holding parties and getting paid £10 (Dh57) a gig.

"That was good money back then for a 16-year-old," he says.

At 17, he joined the army, following in his father's footsteps. Even today, he says, his father wishes he would get a "real job". But he describes playing music as not only a real job, but a passion.

As an adult, this love for music has sustained him for years, allowed him to travel around the GCC and North Africa and led to him learning Arabic.

"Salam alaikum, ana batkalam al Arabiya", he says in Egyptian Arabic, often catching Arabic speakers off guard.

"My first international DJ gig was in 1994 at Alexandria's Ramada Hotel in Egypt," Jason says. "It was a bit of a culture shock, vastly different from where I used to spin in Dundee. I stayed in Alex for a year, learned Arabic, then moved to the Mena House Oberoi's The Saddle Club in Cairo where I DJ'd for a year. Then back to the Ramada in Alexandria for another year."

After three years in Egypt, he had become acclimatised to the warm weather and the culture, not to mention the language.

"In 1996, Dubai was the place for DJs to be – it was the hottest thing happening in the Middle East. Through the Ramada in Alexandria, I was able to get a gig at the Dubai Ramada," Jason says. "I moved here on May 28, 1997."

Since 1997, he has played at the Dubai Ramada, the Intercontinental Dubai, Emirates Towers, the Forte Grand, Dubai Marina's The Alamo, the Movenpick Hotel and the Golden Tulip. He also has played at several Abu Dhabi venues, including Colosseum and PJ O'Reilly's, and at the Miramonte Hotel in Fujairah.

But he says one of his most memorable gigs was playing for 5,000 American troops aboard the aircraft carrier the USS John C Stennis.

"A navy officer saw me playing along with a band at Jimmy Dix at the Movenpick and asked us to entertain the troops aboard the aircraft carrier," Jason recalls. "They flew all the equipment and the band and I out to sea and we played in the hangar in front of 5,000. That was unforgettable."

Now Jason spins regularly at the Al Ain Rotana's nightclub Moodz. Although being a DJ in Al Ain may seem less glamorous than playing at Dubai's Emirates Towers, for example, Jason says he is happy there.

"One of the Rotana's management saw me playing at the Hilton in Ras Al Khaimah and brought me here to the Rotana," he says. "I was put up in a villa and made to feel very welcome. I am very comfortable and the hotel staff and management treat me as a member of the family.

"I have found people in Al Ain to be very positive, and they know their tunes. It's great."

He says his approach to entertaining mostly involves being accommodating and friendly. At Moodz, the DJ booth is set just off the dance floor.

"DJs should be approachable. I mean, we are not celebrities," he says.

He has no plans to do anything but entertain.

"Being a DJ is in my blood and I will continue to do this for as long as possible," he says. "When I see people's faces light up from a good tune, I almost want to do this job for free."