Electronic dance festival Creamfields returns to Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The Creamfields DJs warm up their turntables
After a year of rock, hip-hop and pop, it's now time for thumping trance beats to take centre stage with Creamfields' return to Yas Island.
Scheduled on Thursday and Friday at Yas Arena, the Abu Dhabi edition of the global dance festival is running for the third time in the UAE with its biggest line-up yet.
Led by the Dutch trance giant Tiesto and the costumed Canadian house producer Deadmau5, more than 30 artists will grace various stages playing their own blend of dance, electro and house.
Among the global talent on display, the UAE will also be represented by the Dubai DJ Ahmed Benchaibah (stage name: Mister Outlaw), who is set to become the first Emirati and Gulf national to perform at the festival.
This is in no way a token gesture, with Benchaibah having spent years honing his craft inside and outside of the UAE.
The 29-year-old says he's been on the road since he was 18, performing in clubs and private functions in 22 countries ranging from Morocco to Oman.
"I actually played more shows overseas than here," he says. "That does actually make me sad sometimes, but there is just more and better work outside of the country."
Benchaibah - who works for Flash, the events company organising Creamfields - says it's a tough slog to develop as a DJ in the UAE.
He says the cut-throat competition to land residencies has allowed club owners to pay increasingly lower performance fees.
"The problem is, sometimes you get people who want to be a DJ either to look cool or to be liked by girls, so they get 200 songs together and a mixer and think that's it," he says.
"Well, you can do that, but you can't say that you're a DJ. The ones that really do it work and practise a lot. There is a lot of effort needed to do this properly."
Benchaibah says it was through his large music appetite that he first became interested in DJing as a teenager.
At 18, he purchased his first eight-track mixer before buying his first turntables a year later.
While he credits himself as being a "fast learner", he spent his early years practising his mixing and cutting skills up to six hours a day.
Benchaibah then began performing at house parties across the UAE with high-energy sets crossing genres ranging from pop, hip-hop, R&B, dance and Arabic pop.
His popularity among locals and the VIP set allowed him to earn a comfortable living, performing at private parties for a decade.
Last year, Benchaibah decided to hit the public domain and already notched up residencies at Yas Island's Allure by Cipriani and Dubai's Atelier, as well as supporting the likes of Bob Sinclar and Jay Sean.
Benchaibah says the sheer rush of playing his favourite tracks to a huge audience is what he is looking forward to most.
"Sometimes when you are playing clubs you are very limited when it comes to the song list and the styles you can play because people's music culture is dominated by the radio," he says. "With Creamfields, it's mature music lovers. They come to listen to the good music, and for a DJ that is the best audience to play for."
For the leading Dutch DJ Jochen Miller, his initiation to the dance world was a family affair.
At 16, he became the official house DJ for his father's club Top 40 Hits.
While the music was nowhere near stimulating, Miller credits his father's watchful eyes and advice as keys to his growth as a performer.
"My father kept telling me to always keep my eyes on the dance floor and if it's getting empty, then you're not doing your job right," he says. "So the more I kept playing, the more I learnt how to read the crowd and know what they like. That's a very important skill for me to learn early on."
Miller's career grew as he landed residencies at bigger clubs around Holland. He also began making a name for himself for his technical virtuosity, winning the 1999 Dutch Mixing Championships, where he wowed the crowd by spinning on three tables.
Miller is also credited with pioneering the big-room sound, a subgenre of trance music noted for its big melodies and fat bass lines. The masses responded with trance classics Lost Connection, Humanoid and Brace Yourself, while Classified was declared the official anthem of this year's influential Dutch trance festival Energy.
His growing fan base resulted in Miller spending most of his time on the road; this year alone he crisscrossed the globe multiple times playing shows in South America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
It was his June performance in Abu Dhabi where he made his Middle Eastern debut. In it, he played support to his Dutch compatriot Armin van Buuren, who is returning to the UAE for a New Year's Eve show at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Miller explains the tight-knit nature of the dance community is helping elevate the UAE as a touring destination for DJs.
"It was Armin who first told me about Abu Dhabi and said that I would love it," he says. "I had absolutely no expectation, so the whole experience was a wonderful surprise. All the people knew my songs and were singing my melodies. The event was well organised, so I am happy to come back to the city and do it again."
Miller credits the communal atmosphere of dance festivals for allowing DJs to draw a more eclectic crowd than just hard-core ravers.
"You know, dance music is about passion," he says. "To hear the melodies and the beats with good speakers with lots of people - it really is a beautiful feeling."
Creamfields begins Thursday at 8pm and Friday at 6pm at Yas Arena. Tickets start at Dh325. Visit www.thinkflash.ae for more information