Hollaphonic, the duo made up of Greg Stainer and Olly Wood, talk about getting Seal on the dancefloor, and convincing industry execs that electronic music is where it’s at
Vision: How do you describe what you do to people who don't know you?
Hollaphonic: We just tell people "we make noises" and run away as quickly as possible. This way we avoid any deeper questioning which always ends in awkward, lengthy gesticulation about Hollaphonic which still sounds somewhat contrived to us. We ultimately are musicians, performers and artists (in no particular order) and we have fun doing what we do, which people seem to like. Happiness is infectious I guess!
When you came to Dubai, did you have a vision of where music was going to take you?
We both had our own musical paths that we had trodden, funnily enough both of us probably crossed paths unwittingly during the days of UK Garage as this was where we both jointly started our 'deeper' involvement in music, outside of listening to it like anyone else. That is when we went different paths; Greg stayed with music and learnt his trade DJing and producing, and I drifted through various creative worlds, and working at EMI Records in the UK which taught me the business side of things.
How hard is it to stay focused on what you do, and do you help each other do that?
We've very quickly become best mates, and within that comes a complete understanding of how each other tick; luckily we learnt about each other very quickly as neither of us ever held back when criticizing, questioning and sometimes reprimanding the other! In saying that, it’s a pretty unique situation to be able to work with someone so quickly and enjoy what you're doing. We've both been brought up well, so we already had similar 'life values' - outside of that, we were both ambitious and hard working, so we simply agreed we would do whatever is in our power to make Hollaphonic the biggest success story possible, and we have remained committed to this from that point onwards.
When have you been star struck, and who's given you good advice on the way up?
Our first gig together was in front of 45,000 at the Dubai World Cup... that was really the only moment I got a little bit star struck; it was more a 'that’s awesome' feeling. I remember it vividly, both of us having never played together before looking to the side of the stage when we played I Don't Want It To End and having Seal dancing away and singing along; he went on to come and say hello after the gig and say how impressed he was and how much he liked our music. That remains unbeaten to date.
Advice wise, we've been lucky to have a great friend as our manager (Dan Greenpeace) who also acts as a mentor through his industry knowledge and vast musical history. He also has an impressive roster of friends in high places at A&R throughout the world. We've been lucky to sit down directly with major labels across the globe, and hear their opinions. I remember a tough meeting early on, with David Waxman at Ultra Music in New York, he had simply "heard this stuff before" but then when we played things we thought were too niche, he loved them and we started to take the influences from those tracks and build them into all our music.
Is making it in Dubai easier than in Europe as there's a lack of competition as everything is still growing?
This comes up an awful lot, as the industry is so small. I suppose it depends on what you define as 'making it' - we still haven't made it, ask us in five years and we will probably still answer the same way. What we have done is started the first step on something that has potential, we've tried to remain humble and focussed throughout this evolution; but don't get us wrong, we pinch ourselves everyday about the gigs we've landed, the people we've met and the life we are so happy to be living right now, but that can fizzle out in seconds.
What's the five-year plan for Hollaphonic?
The 'dream' is when we go overseas we want to take everyone from the region with us, the music here is awesome and it would be fantastic for Hollaphonic to facilitate the growth of regional music in the international scene, so maybe our own label through Universal? There are many very well established artists here that don't need our help anywhere near them, don't get me wrong, but we have a very young fan base that send us lots and lots of music. If we could cultivate that embryonic scene in tandem with our own growth that would be awesome; everyone just wants a break, then they can do the rest.
Outside of this, we want to play to millions, have a private jet, mansions on every continent, Grammy awards, Platinum records and a pug called Leonard Nimoy.
What have been the highs and lows of your journey so far?
We haven't had any lows, we've had exhausted periods when we've both juggled our day jobs and the nightlife of Hollaphonic and come out exhausted, but luckily we have amazing support units at home that are there to chill you out and make it all better. We've just had a string of highs - by the end of 2015 we will have played to approx 150,000 people since we started Hollaphonic in early 2013, too many gigs and adventures to mention, but we met some good people along the way and have created music and worked with some phenomenal artists. There will always be low points, but we are that annoying we remain positive and try to turn every setback into a hit song – a proverbial middle finger to negativity.
Which other Middle East acts would you tip for success?
Adam Baluch is an exciting artist, he's pushing his way into the scene through sheer talent and a solid management team behind him; once he starts developing and pushing his own music he will be unstoppable. He's hopefully in the process of repositioning as a solo artist, and losing the arguable baggage of doing cover versions (because he's awesome at those, which makes it hard for him to evolve and escape that positioning within his current fanbase).
Juliana Down are already a huge success and they are just getting better and creating a new persona as they journey through their careers. Equally, Kevin Murphy from our single 'Fabric' is just a phenomenal talent, his vocals are so special and we'll be helping him form a solo path as soon as we get the chance to breathe!
We ultimately are musicians, performers and artists (in no particular order) and we have fun doing what we do, which people seem to like.
Honestly, this town is full of music and ambition, it’s really exciting what’s here when you scratch the surface. But what it hasn't quite mastered yet is the willingness to put strength in numbers, a lot of regional 'cliques' are very exclusive and some find them intimidating and unwelcoming. I'd say success will happen for huge numbers if they start to collaborate and connect with each other to create a scene, rather than a social awareness of each other, but a subconscious unwillingness to truly link on a creative level... perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown, or self preservation?. When I met with Greg he was already a production genius, something I didn't have; I had lyrics for days, song ideas and melodies in a huge pile of books.
I could have been embarrassed and shy, but I admitted what I didn't know, he did the same and today you can find us producing together and writing songs together like we've never done anything else. It just takes an initial leap, then the rest works itself out.