What It Takes To Be A DJ In Dubai

19 July 2020
People, DJ, S.O.N.Y.A, Middle East, DUBAI, Bars, Clubs, Lifestyle
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Meet SONYA, one of the Middle East’s top-10 DJs and resident at some of the biggest clubs in Dubai and Las Vegas

SONYA is the Polish-born Dubai resident who people, including Bruno Mars, call to open their shows for them. Since moving to Dubai in 2016 she has built a reputation that sees her hold residences here and Las Vegas while playing gigs for huge brands like Fendi and Nike. SONYA explains what it takes to get behind the decks.

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GQ: Tell us about your background (where you grew up, early influences)?

SONYA: I grew up in Poland and spent most of my life there. As a kid, I was very adventurous and all about sports. Being fearless, I started horseback riding when I was 4 years old. Later on, I represented my school in basketball tournaments. I started dance classes around the age of 13 and I became interested in entertainment and self-expression.

During my student years, I worked as a choreographer and a journalist for a national newspaper.

Did you always want to be a DJ? (If not, when did you realize you did?)

I finished my dance career when I was 23, and a couple of years later, having music as the driving force behind all my decisions, DJing emerged as an organic next step. I decided to move to the USA where I took DJ Classes and graduated from Scratch DJ Academy in Los Angeles.

How has life as a DJ changed both during the coronavirus lockdown, and now that it’s starting to lift?

The coronavirus lockdown has a tremendous negative impact on the live events industry and DJs are one of the most widely affected groups. As beautiful as it is to see DJs performing a Live IG sessions and virtual gigs for music lovers, the truth is that most DJs are currently unemployed and left with no income. It pushes our industry to rethink music business, our payment policy and our yearly budget to have our personal financial affairs in order because it’s up to us as to whether or not we will weather this storm. As a self-employed full-time DJ, you have to be extremely self-reliant.

I had all my major gigs and large open-air festivals canceled but I’m focusing now with my team on a new music platform and I’m really excited for this new journey.

When did you come to Dubai? (And what brought you here?)

I came to Dubai in 2016. Initially, I envisioned living half the year in Dubai and half the year in Los Angeles, but my career really kicked off when I moved to Dubai. People have a love-hate relationship with Dubai, but for me, this city has been very fruitful. I was incredibly lucky to meet amazing people, talented artists, mentors, and friends who became family.

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Tell us about your first big gig? (How did you feel?)

The big breakthrough moment in my career was definitely opening for Bruno Mars at DU Arena in Abu Dhabi. I just can’t describe the energy. It’s an unreal feeling to DJ and interact with such a huge crowd. I still can’t believe that I DJed for 13000 people.

It was an honor to be chosen to open and close the show for such an incredible artist. I made sure to put on a show, especially as it was New Year’s Eve.

What’s the most surprising/unexpected place that you’ve played?

It would have to be my summer residency with FRSH and Cove Beach in Las Vegas. It’s the first venue from Dubai to be exported to the USA and I’m very proud to be part of this team. I also spent two months in Caesars Palace and DJed 4 times a week. Las Vegas is an epicenter of nightlife and entertainment, a hub for the best DJs in the world.

You do a lot of gigs for the fashion industry. How is your music linked to your style?

Music and fashion go hand-in-hand so I approach every gig as an opportunity to play with my look. I love to mix streetwear with high fashion to keep it unique and unpredictable. I have 90s R&B flowing through my veins and it shows in my style and my DJ sets. I’m known for my hairstyles and that’s thanks to my multi-talented hairstylist Simona Bitar (@theoriginalsimona), she keeps everyone guessing. Recently, I’ve also been spicing up my outfits thanks to my stylist Amber (@amberorah).

How does it feel to be ranked as one of the top 10 DJs in the Middle East, and one of the top 100 female DJs in the world?

It sounds good for sure, but I don’t get things twisted; there is usually a lot of politics behind all these rankings. To me, the most important is to have people who are coming after my sets to tell me that I absolutely smashed it and they enjoyed their time. I want to make a name for myself as a skilled DJ, trend-setter, and music curator and continue growing. I’m in the process of building my own multi-faceted empire and I’d love to inspire young, passionate women to live their lives to the fullest.

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What’s the music scene like in the Middle East, and how is it evolving?

I’ve been able to observe the music scene in the Middle East for the past four years now and it has changed so much since I came to Dubai. We have some incredibly talented artists but we definitely need to step the game up when it comes to promoting and showcasing our artists to the world. Instead of importing all the artists from the USA or the UK, we should be promoting our local artists and exporting them wherever possible to be honest. Dubai’s mentality has to change. We need to discover and invest in people who are creating the music scene in the Middle East literally from scratch.

When it comes to the DJ scene, I’m happy that I got a chance (especially doing all the gigs for the fashion industry) to bring a much-needed dose of more experimental sound, more SoundCloud vibes and just more freedom to create a musical journey and display different sides of my musical ability.