My new life’s goal: stomp out sexual harassment on the dancefloor

This is the second post in a two-part series where I write about club culture and the vicious problem of sexual harassment on dancefloors. You can read the first part here.

 

In 5 years of clubbing, my focus was strictly on dancing.

 

 

31st December 2015

I remember the first time I felt the booming kick-drums of a dark, Berghain-esque techno track thumping in my chest, here in Dubai.

 

Deian Markov had just dropped Ben Klock’s classic ‘Subzero’, at the region’s best (and my favourite local) electronic music festival – Groove on the Grass – to devastating effect. I began to stomp with joy, like a man possessed.

 

3rd August 2018

I can never forget Aretha Franklin’s passionate voice washing over and purifying me at Dekmantel Festival, where Ricardo Villalobos was in fine form. I was one reveller amongst many in an exotic crowd at the Amsterdamse Bos.

 

I raised my hands to the heavens and began to clap in ecstasy. Looking around, I noticed many were doing the same.

 

 

18th October 2018

I was pounding my fists wildly to the squelchy, bass-heavy, TR-909 influenced acid in Analog Room. In the thick of this madness, A Guy Called Gerald and I exchanged a look. He flashed a toothy smile; of course, he was toying with me!

 

I paused to catch my breath and sip my water, shaking my head in delight.

 

 

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19th October 2018, 3:38 AM. I considered Gerald Simpson a legend, but he was a no-nonsense Mancunian just doing his job.

 

The only thing that mattered in all those moments was the music. I’d close my eyes and lose myself to a repetitive beat, feeling as free as a songbird. Having worked up a sweat on the dancefloor, I’d go home safe and sound. Anticipating the next glorious night.

 

As a man, I can have these cathartic experiences week in and week out. Without worrying about who’d grope me. Or wondering if my drink would get spiked. Not thinking about dressing up, or down. After all, there would be no thirsty pair of eyes wandering to my cleavage.

 

One fateful night, my world was turned upside down. It’s when my utterly naive perspective of nightclubs changed. What follows is the blow-by-blow account of when my eyes were opened to the horrors that women have to face on dancefloors.

 

 

Bucharest, Romania.
The night began how it always does. By breaking bread.

 

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21st August 2018, 9:16 PM. About to dig into some classic spaghetti bolognese cooked up by two cool dudes I met on my first night at The Midland Hostel. The birthday week I spent here will be one for the books.

 

My comrades for the night were taking far too long to leave the hostel – they wanted to get sufficiently drunk to save money at the club. Understandable. But as a rule of thumb, I always aim to reach the club early – I don’t drink, so it works nicely for me. This is because I want to catch the warm-up DJ in action.

 

After what seemed like ages, we headed out.

 

The night was still young. And we were looking to have fun. After all, we were celebrating my 25th year of life.

 

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22nd August 2018, 12:55 AM. Admiring the city by night while my friends stopped to rest.

We arrived at Control Club, an establishment that promised quality house and techno. At the door, I bumped into a jovial Lebanese group. Turns out they were from Dubai too and taking advantage of the Eid break.

 

Great minds think alike, eh?

 

The hours passed by quick. Before we knew it, it was 3 AM. My friends were tired (alcohol no doubt playing a role) and decided to call it a night.

 

As for me? I wasn’t going anywhere! It was my quarter-century, and I was celebrating it the only way I knew best; by dancing the night away.

 

The club was divided into two rooms, with a bar in each. There was a third bar in the lounge outside, which doubled as a smoking area.

 

I was in the main room, where a local DJ was providing the beats to my birthday.

 

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22nd August 2018, 3:24 AM. First time I saw someone DJ topless. A casual night in Bucharest, or so I thought…

I was looking for someone to talk to when I saw her. She seemed to be enjoying the music far too much, which was lovely. But what intrigued me was that she didn’t look Romanian.

 

“You’re not from here, are you?” I asked, with a massive smile and twinkle in my eye.

“I’m Scottish!” she beamed, as only someone from that magnificent country could.

“Who are you with?” I enquired, surprised to see a girl out on her own.

In response, she pulled a bespectacled, gangly dude towards her. I had earlier noticed him disinterestedly looking around the club.

 

My first thought was that he resembled Harry Potter.

 

So for the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Harry. His girlfriend: Kate.

 

“Nice to meet you, Harry and Kate. My name’s Karan. I’m from Dubai, and I’m so happy to be celebrating my 25th birthday in Bucharest!” I yelled, both to make myself heard over the music and out of sheer joy at finding some Scots.

“What are you doing all the way out here?” asked Kate, who seemed to be just as happy to meet me.

“What are you doing all the way out here?!” I playfully retorted.

 

With names exchanged, nothing more had to be said. I instantly felt a stronger connection to Kate, who was more exuberant than Harry. Her energy levels matched mine, and I loved it.

 

We danced away until, as these things usually go, the DJ played a track all three of us instantly recognised.

 

 

“Mate, this is my track! I fucking love this song!” I exclaimed to Kate.

 

Without thinking, I hoisted myself up on the table in front of the DJ. I told him it was my birthday and thanked him for playing this. He shook my hand and wished me happiness.

 

I began to dance freely. Out of the corner of my closed eyes, I noticed Kate recording me, and couldn’t care less. The entire room seemed to be buoyed by my excitement, and the energy levels noticeably increased.

 

Another guy wanted to share this marvellous moment. So he got up and stood beside me. I turned to him, half expecting a dance-off. Turns out, he was one of those types.

 

The kind that come to clubs to show they’re having a good time rather than actually having a good time.

 

He had his phone’s selfie camera open. Nevermind that it couldn’t capture his face in the club’s lighting. He needed a Snapchat/Instagram video to show his ‘friends’ and justify coming to the club.

 

“Oh, you poor, poor man. Why don’t you just enjoy the moment?” I asked myself rhetorically.

 

After shooting his 10-second video, he immediately stepped down. Or was that because he spotted the bouncer?

 

It may have been a bit of both. The burly Eastern European told me to get down. I tried telling him it was my birthday. He couldn’t understand me, so I got down as fast as my legs would allow.

 

I couldn’t afford to get thrown out of the club, not tonight of all nights!

 

I got down and hugged Kate and Harry, feeling on top of the world.

 

“Is this what the vibe at Sub Club is like?” I asked excitedly, as adrenaline flowed through my body.

 

“You know Subby?!” Kate responded, eyes popping.

 

Sub Club is a crown jewel in Glasgow’s nightlife, an institution with a 30-year history.

 

“Of course I do! I’ve always wanted to dance there!” I shouted delightfully.

 

Amidst all this excitement, Harry offered to buy a round of drinks.

 

I politely declined, asking for a water instead.

 

So he went to the bar, while we stayed behind on the dance floor.

 

This is when Kate was sexually harassed for the first time. It would happen later again tonight.

 

Before we go further, I’d like you to watch this short clip to get a feel of the club.

 

Please watch it. It will help immerse you in this story.

 

Kate was dancing a few feet away from me. Taking a moment to rest, I looked around, sipping my water.

 

Which is when I saw him staring in my direction.

 

He was standing alone in the corner of the dancefloor.

 

What struck me first was his unsteady posture. Then, his blank eyes. I could tell his head wasn’t in the right place.

 

I continued to observe. He didn’t seem to notice me.

 

I looked back at Kate. I turned to him.

 

He was raping her with a ravenous gaze.

 

“You can look as long as you don’t touch.” I thought, feeling protective towards Kate. 

 

He kept staring. Until something in his foggy mind clicked.

 

With a few long strides, he covered the distance between them.

 

I knew what was about to happen. So I hurriedly rushed forward.

 

Alas. I was too late.

 

He raised a greedy hand and felt Kate’s behind.

 

Alarmed, she turned. She saw me in the middle and pieced together what had just happened.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I confronted him, angrily.

 

“I…I thought she was my friend.” came his meek reply.

 

“Bullshit! I saw the way you were looking at her! Who does that to a friend anyway?” I was livid.

 

“Karan, let it go.” Kate’s gentle Glaswegian lilt interrupted us.

 

“What do you mean?! You know what he did to you.” my anger giving way to confusion.

 

“It’s okay. It’s happened before. I don’t want Harry to know.” she said, defeatedly.

 

With that, Kate dragged me away before it was about to become physical.

 

“How is – how was that okay?!” I demanded to know, mere feet away from the perpetrator.

 

“You’ve seen Harry, he’s not one to fight. I’d rather just avoid him knowing, you know what I mean?” explained Kate.

 

“I’m not one to pick fights either, Kate. But I will fight for what’s right. And that wasn’t cool.”

 

“I know. But please just don’t tell him. I don’t want to ruin our holiday.” she finished.

 

Harry returned with two drinks, and we pretended as if nothing had happened.

 

I’d never experienced this over the past 5 years of clubbing. Probably because I was too focused on dancing.

 

It dawned on me that I was massively unaware of the numerous issues women have to endure each time they go out.

 

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22nd August 2018, 4:22 AM. I sampled the music in the smaller room but it wasn’t for me.

 

I turned to my friends, who were arguing. Harry wasn’t feeling the music, so he decided to step out for a smoke. He handed his drink to Kate and left the dancefloor.

 

Soon after, the music began to pick up again. So did the mood.

 

I looked at Kate, merrily swaying to the music with her eyes closed, holding two Jack and Cokes.

In that transcendent moment, I knew she was the happiest person in the room. She was incredibly sweet and reminded me of my friends from the UK.

We had only known each other for a few hours, yet bonded in a way only two strangers on the dancefloor could.

Clubs accelerate the process of getting to know people.

So I wondered…why Kate?

What had she done to be sexually harassed by that lecherous man?

Just because she seemed to be alone? What role did alcohol play in affecting that vicious man’s thought process?

Do men always prey on the friendliest women?

 

Just as I was processing all this, Kate was sexually harassed again. Twice, in the span of thirty minutes.

 

A clumsy man dressed in black suddenly sidled up to and started grinding against her.

 

She couldn’t do much to fend him off but move away, as her hands were occupied with two drinks.

 

He continued to awkwardly inch close.

 

I moved forward and pushed him away, poking him in his temple.

 

Righting himself, he looked me in my eyes.

 

“Are you crazy? What the fuck is wrong with you!” I bellowed.

 

I stood toe-to-toe with him. I could smell his breath, and it reeked of liquor.

 

The vulture tried to respond, but all it could manage was some intoxicated gibberish.

 

“What made you think you could do that to me?” asked Kate, too kindly for my liking.

 

This glassy-eyed creep could barely stand.

 

I knew we wouldn’t get anything out of him. We decided to leave and look for Harry in the lounge.

 

“Argh! What the fuck is wrong with men! Why are we like this?!” I shouted at the sky.

 

“Tonight’s been alright. I’ve seen worse.” said Kate, matter-of-factly.

 

“Are you okay?” I enquired, putting my arm around her shoulder.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. I won’t let a few arseholes ruin my night. I’m Scottish, innit.” smiled Kate.

 

I gave her a tight squeeze, appreciating her effort to lighten the mood.

 

She wouldn’t say it. But her voice wasn’t deceiving me. Her night had been ruined.

 

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22nd August 2018, 5:15 AM. We eventually found Harry sitting by himself, having a smoke next to some lonely plants.

 

We left the club soon after to make the long but lovely walk back to our respective homes.

 

The time had finally come to part.

 

Even though I hadn’t connected with Harry as I had with Kate, his company was welcome.

 

I bade goodbye, wishing him the best.

 

I turned to Kate. We embraced, unsure as to when we’d see each other again.

 

“Katey. Mate. I’m gonna miss you so much!”

 

“I’ll miss you too. Come visit us in Glasgow! I’ll take you to Subby. It’s always a cracking night out!” she said, with a hearty grin.

 

“One day. Until then, take care of yourself. Try and stay out of trouble, can ya?” I teased her.

 

“Thank you so much for everything, tonight. I appreciate it.” she said, lowering her voice an octave.

 

And with that, we headed our separate ways.

 

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22nd August 2018, 7:23 AM. After raving in the dark all night, what could we do but squint by day?

 

I turned one final time to look back at them.

 

Kate looked back too. And gave me a flying kiss.

 

I cheerfully waved back with a peace sign. Then faced the road ahead of me, bathed in sunlight.

 

Bucharest’s streets were abuzz with activity. The capital’s workforce had stirred a while ago.

 

I walked and walked. Putting one foot in front of the other. I knew the way. But just as night had turned to day, the scenes were still raw in my mind.

 

I searched within myself for meaning. I knew that tonight would permanently stick with me, just as that first guy’s hand did to Kate.

 

Or how that second guy wouldn’t leave her alone.

 

Sexual harassment scared me. As a man, it will probably never physically scar me. But trust me when I say: it stung to watch my friend suffer from the uncontrolled sexual urges of my fellow men.

 

As I write this, DVS1’s piercing ‘Black Russian‘ plays on repeat.

 

I can see a million faceless women in my mind’s eye. And with each sharp clap in that track, I can feel another million wanton male hands laying claim to what is not theirs.

 

And I am filled with a white-hot rage.

 

What if tonight, instead of Kate, it was my sister?

 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to curb sexual harassment. If it doesn’t take place as blatantly as it did in this story, you can bet women are still being groped as they navigate through a rowdy dancefloor or milling crowd.

 

That said, here’s what you (as a man) can do to combat sexual harassment on the dancefloor.

 

First off, if you get a little too horny for your own good – for God’s sake, go easy on the drink, man.

 

  1. Keep checking with your female friends to see if they’re fine. It doesn’t hurt to ask because sometimes, women can keep mum about it.
  2. The above doesn’t just apply to your friends. When taking a break from dancing, look around and see how the women around you are doing.
  3. If you spot something ugly, step in. It doesn’t matter how much bigger the other guy is. Man up. You’d be surprised how many bigger guys I’ve taken on, armed with nothing but a level-head and street smarts. Sometimes, all it takes is a well-placed quip to diffuse a tense situation.
  4. Can’t do anything? Immediately raise the alarm. If security does not listen, speak to the promoter. If that falls on deaf ears too, speak to the DJ. Stop the party if you must. But don’t let that man get away. Because then he’ll do it again. And again. Giving him an arrogant air of invincibility.

 

 

Last but not least. Don’t be a creep.

 

Although if that’s just who you are, reading this probably won’t change your behaviour.

 

But you’d better believe that as long as the sun shines, I’ll do everything in my power to fight sexual harassment.

 

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22nd August 2018, 8:32 AM. The first rays of sun after the rave are the hottest. But they’re also the ones that build the most character.

Finding My Sense of Self On The Dancefloor

I want to make clubs safe spaces for women. We can work towards making this happen by starting conversations, which is why I wrote this blog. Please read, and let me know your thoughts. Share, if you feel like. With love, Karan.

Life. Camera. Karan.

Boiler Room. Berlin.

Those three words are probably my favourite phrase in club culture.

For the uninitiated, Boiler Room is a party that started in 2010 which broadcasts underground, mostly electronic musicians to the world.

It began when English DJ, radio host and presenter Thristian Richards got home from a night out.

He wasn’t ready to hit the sack just yet.

Here’s what happened. He had some rum, weed, and a pair of decks.

So he called his friend Blaise over, invited a few of their close friends and threw a party in an abandoned warehouse in London – in the boiler room.

Except.

They live-streamed it using Ustream, a company now owned by IBM.

Boiler Room came into existence as an intimate gathering of music and fun.

But it’s exploded over the past 8 years, capturing the imaginations and envy of millions of people around the world.

Why envy?

Because…

View original post 1,299 more words

Finding My Sense of Self On The Dancefloor

Boiler Room. Berlin.

Those three words are probably my favourite phrase in club culture.

For the uninitiated, Boiler Room is a party that started in 2010 which broadcasts underground, mostly electronic musicians to the world.

It began when English DJ, radio host and presenter Thristian Richards got home from a night out.

He wasn’t ready to hit the sack just yet.

Here’s what happened. He had some rum, weed, and a pair of decks.

So he called his friend Blaise over, invited a few of their close friends and threw a party in an abandoned warehouse in London – in the boiler room.

Except.

They live-streamed it using Ustream, a company now owned by IBM.

Boiler Room came into existence as an intimate gathering of music and fun.

But it’s exploded over the past 8 years, capturing the imaginations and envy of millions of people around the world.

Why envy?

Because everybody wants their 15-minutes of fame. Remember Andy Warhol’s declaration?

“In the future, everyone will be worldfamous for 15 minutes.”

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27th January 2017. My first Boiler Room. Their first Middle Eastern showcase. I partied with my best friend in a parking lot, grooving to Analog Room homeboy Nasrawi’s funky tunes, Nosaj Thing and Ryan Hemsworth.

He said that 51 years ago, in 1968. We’re almost in 2019.

The future is now. And it scares me.

We’re facing a host of major problems. I’ll name four: political unrest, poverty, lack of education and war.

Others, such as climate change, deforestation and pollution threaten our survival as a species on planet Earth as we know it.

Then, there’s one nagging problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Misogyny.

It’s everywhere. Sometimes, hiding in plain sight. It’s also a topic I can write about in detail in another blog.

For now, back to the Boiler Room. Where I saw something that shook me to my core.

Boiler Room is the epitome of cool. You could be dancing next to superstar DJ Carl Cox in a private villa in Ibiza, or sweating it out in an airplane-hangar in a forest outside Amsterdam.

Incidentally, I make an appearance in that second Boiler Room. If you love techno as much as me, then I highly recommend you watch the entire set.

Or, if you’d like to see an overexcited dude that refuses to grow up, wearing a pineapple-covered shirt and unabashedly supporting his favourite DJ, click here.

I insist you watch that 45-second clip, it’s the last minute of the same set.

Did you spot me? I’m in the bottom-left, shaking my head in disbelief. Wondering how I found myself there, raving to Charles Duff’s alias Matrixxman’s signature spellbinding acid.

Towards the end, Boiler Room host Michail Stangl aka Opium Hum proclaims that in 2025, this will be the set that inspires young producers to pick up electronic music production.

That’s precisely when I can’t contain my excitement any longer and cheer in delight.

When I look at myself, sweaty and smiling broadly on the dance floor, I see a person who’s found their place in the world.

Strange statement, you would think. But then, my first true nightclub experience was in Lancaster, a place that was instrumental in shaping me into the person I’ve become today.

Since then I’ve been on dancefloors in Dubai, New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, New York, London, Manchester, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Berlin, Yerevan, Plovdiv, Bucharest and more.

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4th August 2018. Day 2 of Dekmantel Festival. RBMA graduate Palms Trax (Jay Donaldson) delivered a feel-good set that capped off a wonderful day of music and new friends. How I wish I could go back to the time spent dancing on tables…

Dancefloors are strangely beautiful places.

They’re strange because you may see a person every weekend on the same spot for months, yet never speak.

If you do, it’s the customary “Hey! How’s it going?” before you can’t hear each other, and settle for speaking at the end of the night. Which usually doesn’t happen.

On the other hand, they’re beautiful because you might experience a life-changing revelation, meet your significant other or become life-long friends with someone that affects your worldview for the better.

Then again, if you’re a woman, there are some dancefloors you wish you’d never stepped foot on.

To show you what I mean, I’d like you to watch another Boiler Room clip. This one’s from Berlin, a city I will endeavour to move to.

Now while this does not contain explicit graphic content – it was painful for me to watch.

This is the clip in question.

Did you watch it? Please do. What I’m about to say won’t make sense if you don’t watch what happened.

Now. You would have noticed the girl in purple to the right of your screen, losing herself to the music.

And who should be behind her? A guy. Slyly placing an unwelcome hand on her hip.

She tells him to back off. He laughs mischievously, almost arrogantly. If you continue to watch for the next two minutes, you’ll notice he makes another unsolicited move, invading her personal space and trying to lay claim to her body.

As the beat slows down and shifts to a repetitive, somewhat sinister vocal sample, you can see the carnal thirst in his eyes. He leers at her like a piece of meat, breathing uncomfortably on the nape of her neck.

I can only imagine what’s going on in this predator’s head. And I fear what might have happened if they were on a deserted street at night, minus the safety that numbers can offer.

And this is only what was caught on camera.

Who knows what else occurred that night? Were there any other women tormented by a man that couldn’t keep his hands to himself?

I haven’t directed you to minute ’55 when the perpetrator first appears on the scene.

The girl in the purple dress engages him – as I would expect her to – she seems nice, dancing happily and having the time of her life.

But as you’ll continue to watch, the next few minutes paint a vile but true picture of club culture. An ugly picture that we often relegate to the shadows.

Sexual harassment and misogyny is pervasive and scary. It breeds in the dark, preying on all women; regardless of race, skin tone, body type and sexual orientation.

It can come from 6-foot tall gym rats or your average Joe.

And if we don’t solve this global problem, one night at a time, it will continue to scar women – some, who I know have been scarred for life.

I’ve spent countless nights on dancefloors. Not one of them has been uneventful.

Whether listening to a set that left me speechless, getting carried away with vices and partying for days on end – I wouldn’t change a thing.

That’s because, and I say this again: they’ve made me who I am.

Here are a few aspects of my life that have improved because of going to clubs:

  1. Time management whether at a festival or club, tough choices have to be made. Do you spend an hour dancing to DVS1’s dark, twisted techno or Dixon’s uplifting deep house?
  2. Leadership abilities – I’ve handled a ragtag bunch of characters on many a night out. This stuff is not a drill. As with any job, experience is the best teacher.
  3. Discipline – I don’t drink in clubs anymore. When I used to, I had to decide: do I drink one more G&T now and risk a hangover tomorrow? Similarly, I’ve now learnt when to cut my losses on a bad night and leave, rather than stay and hope it improves.
  4. Enjoying the moment – in a world full of notifications, being mindful of the present moment has often served me to great effect.
  5. Social skills – honing the art of conversation; reading body language; being kind and empathetic, and understanding personal space are just four things that come to mind.

However, I was taught the most important lesson this past summer in Bucharest.

This night took place on my 25th birthday, irrevocably affecting and consequently changing me. It gave me a mission. One I want to dedicate my life towards.

You can read about it in my next post, which will be a gonzo style account involving a Scottish couple and how we danced until the sun rose. Keep your eyes peeled.

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3rd August 2018. Day 1 of Dekmantel Festival. Life-lessons from the best: Matrixxman (Charles Duff) has been a massive inspiration. Hardworking, funny, humble and bold, every creative should take a leaf out of this brilliant dude’s book.

Counting the days until Dekmantel Festival

“I’m afraid it’s not looking good, Aziz.” said the good doctor, with a troubled look on his face.

“Wha-what do you mean, doc?” came the nervous reply.

“You haven’t got long.”

An awkward pause followed. The tension was palpable.

“How long do I have?” whimpered Aziz.

“10.” he said, with an air of finality.

“Ten? Ten what?! Years? Months? Weeks?” pleaded Aziz.

“10.”

“9…8…7…6…5…”

Have you heard this joke? I can’t seem to recall when or where I first did.

 

We know what’s coming for Aziz. And yet, as we hear the doctor counting down the seconds, we sense a nervous excitement in the air.

Hang on. That’s just me finding excitement in Aziz’s plight. Not you.

I tend to get overly excited about things.

For the past 7 months, I’ve been doing a daily countdown of my own. And there’s nothing macabre about what I’m looking forward to.

 

I’m ecstatic to say that in 2 weeks, I will be attending Dekmantel, my first international music festival!

 

I fell in love with music festivals last year, when I attended my first major one called Magnetic Fields. I will write about that experience another time. For now, read on to find out why I’m buzzing about Dekmantel!

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Meet Casper Tielrooij and Thomas Martojo.

Let me take you back to the basics and give you a background of the Dekmantel brand. Casper and Thomas were childhood friends who grew up in The Hague, The Netherlands’ third largest city. They had a burning passion for electronic music and took the train to Amsterdam every other weekend to explore the capital’s booming techno scene.

 

Over time, they started hosting parties, inviting close friends to spin tunes. What started out as intimate gigs in small clubs under the ‘Dekmantel’ name, became bigger as word began to spread.

 

Realising it wouldn’t be sustainable to stick to their preferred nightclubs, Thomas and Casper met the demands of an expanding crowd by moving to larger venues.

 

Soon after that, they launched their eponymous record label, which turned out to be a winning move. Unsurprisingly, the Dudes from Den Haag had developed a keen ear and distinctive taste for dance music.

 

Following this, the next natural step in Dekmantel’s steady success story was to create their own festival – which they launched in the summer of 2013.

 

The first edition of Dekmantel Festival was held in the lush and scenic Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest).

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The Selectors Stage. I’m particularly excited to watch Lena Willikens perform. Her sets are equally trippy as they are dancey. Shot by Duncan Jacob.

Ever since then, this annual event – a spectacular showcase of the who’s who of electronic music – has called this magical setting its home. Incidentally, the Amsterdamse Bos is three times the size of New York’s Central Park and the largest city park in Europe.

 

Complementing this picturesque location is Thomas and Casper’s belief in giving rising stars the chance to shine alongside well-established names. To put things in perspective, typical festival promoter logic is to book the biggest names to sell tickets.

 

But these guys? They would never do that. It goes against their ethos: which is to share good music, period.

They’ve gone against the grain, repeatedly exceeded expectations, and mastered the delicate balancing act of growing without losing their sense of identity.

 

Another fact I’m pleased to share is that Dekmantel Festival is capped at 10,000 attendees. Which might seem daunting, but this number represents a medium-sized festival. Enforcing this rule year in, year out ensures that the vibe is intimate yet incredible.

 

Controlled chaos, if you will.

 

As friends who went from ravers, to promoters, to record label owners, to festival founders, to selectors (they DJ as Dekmantel Soundsystem), the duo understand the elemental aspects of club and dance culture.

Pitchfork have dubbed it “the festival that might ruin other festivals”. Better still, others have declared it “your favorite DJ’s favorite music festival”.

 

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I AM IN FOR A TREAT.

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Techno titan Jeff Mills conducting the Main Stage with élan. Shot by Bart Heemskerk.

This year’s edition will be held from 1 – 5 August. The first two days offer a curious medley of live electronic and jazz acts, with the remaining three (3 – 5 August) presenting an enviable lineup of dance music’s finest DJs. I’m attending the latter half of the programme.

 

It’s funny to think that at one point, I felt much like poor Aziz; anxious and stressed. And that’s because I didn’t know if I would be going.

To cut a long story short, I faced several hiccups when applying for my Schengen visa. When I finally received it,

I was ready to rediscover one of my favorite words in the English language: adventure.

ON A RELATED NOTE, I MADE AN INSTAGRAM STORY THE OTHER DAY, WHERE I TALKED ABOUT HOW EXCITED I AM FOR DEKMANTEL FESTIVAL TO KICK OFF. IF YOU TUNED IN, YOU’LL KNOW THAT ‘EXCITED’ IS UNDERSTATING IT.

 

I rarely use the ‘Stories’ feature. Mostly because I feel like I don’t have anything valuable to add to the colossal social media space.

 

Which is absurd, if you think about it. ‘Valuable’, especially when viewed through a social media lens, is relative.

 

Different strokes for different folks, eh?

 

Here’s an example. Check out this photo.

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Dekmantel’s Main Stage. I recently discovered my new favorite DJ and producer, Shanti Celeste. Stoked to know she’s one of the first to open the proceedings. Shot by Duncan Jacob.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

ALL I SEE IS SHEER UNADULTERATED BLISS. HERE’S WHY.

 

  1. Music. There’s an incredibly passionate artist on stage, and they’re pleased to provide the soundtrack to a beautiful, sunny day in Amsterdam. You can dance like no-one’s watching because everyone’s there for the same reason as you – to appreciate music.
  2. People. Oh God, this wonderful crowd. Teeming with energy. Hailing from all across the world. You meet a stranger on day 1 of the festival. By day 3, you’re swapping cool stories over a Lucky Strike. At the bar is a cute girl who wants to give you a hug. No, wait, she just wants your water. She gives you a hug anyway. Wide smiles plastered across lovely, happy faces, everywhere you look. The energy is infectious. And man, do I love it!
  3. Hedonism. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Amsterdam has a thriving night-time culture. Without giving too much away, let’s leave it at this: I’ve always been a mischievous child, and love having a fucking good time.

 

That’s just three reasons how I can justify traveling to another country to attend a music festival. I could go on.

 

You may not see the sense in my behavior. My parents certainly don’t!

 

Or maybe you think I’ve lost my marbles. Most already do…so no surprises there.

The calm before the storm

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5:54 AM. 21 August 2017. Predawn photo outside my Airbnb in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. Celebrating my 24th year of being alive alongside my best friend, Anmol.

 

“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.”

Warhol said it right.

 

I hope I’ve made my case for how excited I am for Dekmantel Festival.

 

If you’d like to board my hype train, follow my Instagram, where you can see my daily countdown in action. I also post the occasional Story, which is always a bonus; my mum says I’m devilishly handsome. Oh, mums! Aren’t they the best? What would we do without them.

 

More to the point, I wonder if in 3 weeks I’ll be questioning if there’s life after Dekmantel.

 

Only time will tell. Until then.

 

Here’s to good times, good music, good places, and good people.
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Looking forward to an Amsterdam good time. Shot by Duncan Jacob. Cover photo by Bart Heemskerk.

Love, love, love.

I love

…the hedonism, vibe, and escapism that only a music festival can offer;

I love

the taste of a juicy, mouth-wateringly grilled burger with just the right amount of cheese;

I love

writing something that puts a smile on someone’s face, or better still, makes one think;

I love

the sense of achievement that comes after a physically and mentally gruelling trek;

I love

getting lost in a video game;

I love

people watching;

I love

an adrenaline rush;

I love

reading an unputdownable book;

I love

a glass of cold water after a long day;

I love

a good night’s sleep;

I love

an underdog story;

I love

Monopoly;

I love

to sit on the window seat of an airplane and watch as things get smaller;

I love

dunking chocolate chip cookies in warm milk;

I love

long hugs;

I love

dance music and club culture;

I love

fast cars and empty roads with no radars;

I love

plugging in my earphones and running until I experience a high;

I love

a simple life;

I love

making new friends;

I love

greeting cards;

I love

the English language;

I love

flirting;

I love

avocado on my Subway sandwich;

I love

admiring art in museums;

I love

road trips filled with laughs, good music and camaraderie;

I love

crow’s feet;

I love

novelty;

I love

vibrant colours that pop, crackle and snap;

I love

observing the night sky and watching the stars shine brightly;

I love

watching the sunrise after raving all night long;

I love

my family;

I love

Urban Dictionary;

I love

finding a coin on the street and claiming it as my own;

I love

cleanliness;

I love

a beautiful mess;

I love

a reunion with good friends;

I love

chocolate milk;

I love

planning my next getaway;

I love

making out with a cute girl;

I love

cracking all kinds of jokes, from side-splitting to downright rude;

I love

a sense of calm;

I love

yelling ‘boo’ at people as they turn a corner and cracking up at their shocked face;

I love

to spell a tricky word right the first time;

I love

dogs so very much and would love my own one day;

I love

being a clown and pulling silly faces;

I love

exchanging banter in a rowdy bar;

I love

watching my friends express themselves creatively;

I love

psychology and anthropology;

I love

when my car shimmers gloriously after a good wash;

I love

adventure;

I love

staying in hostels when I travel to new lands;

I love

discovering an unheard-of house or techno track that I can’t help but nod along to;

I love

finding an amusing Tinder profile and debating whether to use my rare ‘Super Like’;

I love

attractive design;

I love

having a fucking great time;

I love

being the center of attention;

I love

time spent by myself;

I love

tears of joy;

I love

bacon;

I love

dozing in a snug sleeping bag;

I love

Polaroid photographs;

I love

places that teem with energy;

I love

spontaneity;

I love

goosebumps;

I love

being reminded of a memory that I forgot about;

I love

integrity;

I love

the smell of my yellow Lacoste perfume which takes me back to Hawaii;

I love

Pokemon;

I love

feminism;

I love

smiles that extend all the way to the eyes;

I love

the flow state I get into as I think of what to write next;

I love

rhymes, idioms, metaphors, alliterations, punctuation, and grammar;

I love

the first shave with a new Gillette blade;

I love

that my mother painstakingly prepares a fruit salad for me every day;

I love

the contagiousness of positivity;

I love

staying up all night to get lucky;

I love

wearing funky tees and jeans;

I love

dressing up in a smart shirt;

I love

the English, South African, and French accents;

I love

long Skype calls with my mates;

I love

a spot of Karak chai;

I love

going into the deepest recesses of my mind;

I love

the immense potential that I still haven’t harnessed;

I love

being alive;

 

but what I love most, is to love.

The doe in Malvern

Daybreak.

I stirred. And shifted to my side to check my phone, which revealed that it was 7:58 AM. Lying on the mattress, I looked around, examining the unfamiliar surroundings. A Tom Brady poster was plastered on the wall, over a bed where one of my younger cousins slumbered peacefully. Next to his bed was a shelf, adorned with ‘high-achiever’ certificates.

A somewhat tidy study table was placed adjacent to that. To my left, my other cousin, the tallest of the bunch, snored away.

I looked back up and smiled widely at the ceiling. Contentment is a lovely feeling.

“Carpe diem”, I thought, as I lifted myself off the mattress and reached for my jacket. Thinking better of it, I left it where it was, deciding instead to brave the elements. I tiptoed out of the room, careful not to wake my cousins.

Continue reading

I’m Living Life Like Walter Mitty

In a manner of speaking.

Walter Mitty is a soft-spoken, awkward and timid man with a habit of daydreaming, and I…am not.

Walter Mitty also isn’t real. He’s a fictional character from the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. Ben Stiller ably leads the charge as actor and director in this adaptation of James Thurber’s eponymous short story.

You know what’s magical about stories? They inspire change. A well-told story can rouse a crowd, stir emotions, and create legends.

You already know what Walter Mitty is like. Here’s his story:

Mr. Mitty works as a negative asset manager at Life magazine. This means that he sifts through hundreds of negatives every day, in a dark, dank room. He’s good at his job; and does it without complaint. Walter has a secret crush on his colleague Cheryl Melhoff (played by Kristen Wiig) and frequently daydreams of fantastic scenarios where he saves her from trouble. Besides this, he works with celebrated photojournalist Sean O’Connell (brilliantly brought to life by Sean Penn).

One day, some big, bad corporate types decide that Life magazine will continue life online. It’s on this fateful day Walter receives two things from Sean:

  1. Negatives of his latest work, some of his finest yet. Sean describes number 25 as “The Quintessence of Life”
  2. A gift of a wallet, with Life’s motto inscribed inside with this note
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I still write handwritten notes.

Sean feels that negative #25 should be used as Life’s final cover photo. And as it turns out, #25 is missing.

Thus begins Sean’s journey to find it. Along the way, he finds someone else too…

I’m not going to get into a detailed review and spoil this beautiful movie for those who haven’t watched it yet. And boy, it is beautiful.

The casting is perfect, with everyone putting in a fine performance. I was pleasantly surprised to see Adam Scott play the office bully. I have fond memories of him as goody two shoes Ben Wyatt in the superb Parks and Recreation.

The writing is charming albeit predictable. Ultimately, stunning cinematography, a gorgeous soundtrack (this song narrowly lost out on an Oscar nod because of a mere technicality), a smattering of pop-culture references throughout and a feel-good story make The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a feel-great movie.

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Red pill/blue pill anyone?

Do yourself a solid and watch this gem. You deserve it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve read this far – you deserve to know how much you mean to me.

Yes! You. You might not have expected this, but I’ve written something about you. 

Samantha. Happiest of birthdays to you! I love you. I’m so happy you’re my friend, and I can’t believe we’ve known each other for so long. Your vibrant energy on that phone call earlier today was infectious; I was beaming from ear-to-ear for the longest time after. This may sound strange, but it’s sometimes hard for me to believe you’re married. When did that happen? A year ago? Get outta here! And here’s one thing you should know: you’ve always been there for me. You’ve always had my back. So you’d best believe I’ll always be there for you. No matter what. I wish you all the love, luck, and happiness for the years ahead.

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I remember breaking my ‘no selfie’ rule for this photo.

 

Avi. Dude! This is the second time you’ve made an appearance on one of my blogs. Off late, I’ve been thinking about that short film you told me about ages ago. A man walks into a bathroom, begins to shave his face and continues shaving until he begins to bleed. And then he keeps shaving. I think it was a Tarantino film – but it may have been Scorsese – my memory fails me. I’ve repeatedly told you how much you’ve inspired me. Sometimes, it amazes me to think how fast we’ve grown up into the men(?) we are today. I can’t thank you enough for all the kindness you’ve shown me as my oldest friend, and hope to one day collaborate with you and create a badass film. One day.

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I might not say this as much as I used to, but I miss you, man!

 

Anmol. So. Many. Adventures. To think we’ve become (best?) friends through music is, for me, marvelous. I’ve said what I had to in that card. For everything else, wait for my Sri Lanka blog. It will be worth it. Here’s to more adventures. And a possible music venture, too.

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Team Milo.

 

Kim. Gezellig. That’s what I feel when I’m in your company. I’ve always felt that my uncontrolled happiness, my bucketloads of positivity needs a like-minded person to share that feeling with. And that person is you. I miss you, and I miss your vibe so much! Your sense of happiness, excitement, and fun is contagious. Your decision to take a sabbatical from your job struck me as brave. And guess what? Watching you document your escapades, and sharing them through video has inspired me to get a GoPro of my own. I’m overjoyed to say that I’ve experienced two of the most humbling experiences of my life so far with you. I won’t mention what they are. It’s taking me ages to finish my Sri Lanka blog (I know, I know!) but I hope that once it’s done, you’ll have a memento to treasure forever. I hope to see you in The Hague next year, where we’ll create new memories and go on plenty more unforgettable adventures.

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Happy eyes and massive smiles on my 24th. Ik mis je Kimmy!

 

Paul. You know what the hardest part was about writing your section? Choosing the happiest photo to go with it; we’ve clicked so many! Paul, I fucking miss you, man. I still remember you saying how you were in Adelaide on a Thursday, never in your wildest dreams expecting to end up in -2° temperatures on a Friday, in Dubai! And never did I expect to do all the things we did in just three 3 days. Your presence emanates sheer positivity, and each time I look back at how we ended up becoming friends – I’m left shaking my head and chuckling to myself. I’m so glad to have you in my life. And can’t wait to experience a bush doof or two Down Under. I have so much more to say. Our blog is coming your way, I promise.

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We like big balls and we cannot lie.

 

Carolina. This ancient photo is proof enough that you and I need to meet! If there were a human personification of sunshine, it would be you, Carola. You always manage to put a smile on my face by simply being you, and I love you for that. Do you want to know why I haven’t replied to your voice notes? It’s because I’ve been working on this for the past three nights! Here’s another fun fact – this entire blog post was inspired by your voice! I’m not kidding! Hearing your voice put an instant spring in my step and made me realize that I had to express my love for all the near and dear ones in my life. I may have veered off on a tangent in between, but I hope you could make sense of what I tried to express. You bring me nothing but joy, and I wish you stay happy always. I’m beyond proud of you for securing the job you’ve wanted and living independently. I can’t wait until Luxembourg/Bulgaria. It’s going to be a blast.

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To more photos, and more beer pong!

Aleksander. Love. Happiness. Peace. Freedom. Energy. Laughter. Adventure. A lovely range of emotions that I feel when I’m with you. You are my brother from another mother, dude. It’s funny, for all the love I have for you – I can’t seem to remember how we met. But we clicked instantly. That, I remember. And how we can always pick up from where we last left off, even if that happened to be a year ago. Our reunion draws closer with each passing day. I’m counting on you to put your ever-improving skills to use, and capture some awesome photos of us!

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To think that this photo is over 3 years old, wow. I wish you had stayed for the Extrav!

 

Namrata. I’d have to scour Facebook to find a photo of the two of us, yet it wouldn’t be a fair representation since I don’t want to look back at my lanky, awkward 13-year-old self! So, I’ll have to let my words do the talking. I’m proud of you. I’m happy for you. And I’m cheering for you. It’s funny that I should feel this way even if we haven’t met in over a decade. But your story, your character, and most especially your writing, manages to motivate me from roughly 2,200 kilometers away. I hope to one day follow in your footsteps and start writing independently, though I know your passion lies elsewhere. I’d like to thank you for being a constant source of inspiration, and hope to see you at Magnetic Fields!


 

Sharan. Why, hello! You may be a small town girl, but you’ve had a massive impact on how I think and feel each time I read your blogs. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: your writing is like a midsummer’s breeze; simple and clean, leaving me refreshed, happier and at ease. Thank you so much for starting your blog. I hope to read more from you soon. It’s been quite some time since my inbox has received a mail from you, and it’s hungry for more!


 

Oscar. When I launched my blog, I remember checking my notifications and noticed that you had ‘liked’ my post. Curious, I checked your blog out. And it was love at first sight. No jokes. I’ll be brutally honest here and say that I binged on your pithy, powerful and perennially good writing. Do you recall a few days ago, when I said I’d post on my blog? It’s been a long time coming, but this post has been largely inspired by two of my best friends – and you. It may sound strange to hear me say that you’re in the same company as my friends, but I feel connected to you through your writing. I remember you saying that writing is cathartic to you. I definitely feel the same way. Thank you for putting your work into the world. And I hope that Sanctuary Now becomes a bestseller. My best wishes are with you.


 

Endings are tough.

And bringing an end to this blog is no different. This is because (as is usually the case) I’m itching to tell you so many incredible stories.

Initially, I set out to write something else entirely. The tone of that blog was quite ghastly until my friends served as my muse. That in turn helped me write this: a letter expressing my gratitude to all the lovely people in my life at the moment.

You guys have inspired me, brought happiness into my life, and have lent your ear when I’ve needed it. Thank you.

Much like Mr. Mitty, I’ve been living life to the full over the past 4 months. But I’ll touch on this in another post.

For now, I hope to find myself through blogging. Writing for an audience is scarier than writing in my journal.

With that said, I want you to rip me to shreds. Bombard me with criticism. Tell me how this made you feel. I’m my harshest critic, but I want different perspectives too. On a related note, subscribing to my blog would mean the world to me.

Finishing this post has been my greatest achievement this week by a country mile. Even Walter Mitty would be proud.

Allow me to explain.

Where do I even begin?

After a nightmarish two months, where I fell into a bleak rut, I decided to let it all out in three posts which you can find here, here and here.

I wrote for nearly 12 hours straight. More than 4400 words later, a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Losing this figurative weight also meant a great deal to me in a literal sense; my shoulders have been troubling me for the past five months.

I shared my blog on Facebook, the largest social media network in the world. Exhausted, I passed out on my bed at 7AM.


5 hours later.

Surprisingly I woke up quite refreshed. If it is one thing I cannot function properly without, it is my eight-hour man nap. ‘Beauty sleep’ is too mainstream. The other is food. If I don’t eat on time, I become unreasonable and irascible. Not unlike an angry green monster that once smashed a puny God’s sorry ass. Remember that scene? He completely stole the show!

In one picture.

Lack of food and/or sleep transforms me into The Hulk.

My day passed uneventfully. A few people got in touch with me over WhatsApp saying they had read my blog. Some messages were especially supportive. Belatedly, I realized I had not proofread before posting! Horrified, I logged in and read all three posts, searching for any potential mistakes. Working on just five hours of sleep was not doing me any favors.

It became apparent pretty soon that I had made some glaring errors: there was unnecessary punctuation, I had repeated a few sentences and some passages seemed to lack a decent flow. Admittedly, I had brought this upon myself. Most of these errors were present in Part 3 of Today I Write. This wasn’t surprising considering that I had been working throughout the night. Whilst writing Part 3, my energy levels were waning. Besides this, I was eager to fill up the white space on my laptop with thoughts (and not just words, mind you.) I just wanted to release all of the negativity that was festering within me for the past two months.

I was upset. You see, when it comes to writing, I hold myself to a high standard. I’m not the best writer. What I lack in style, I make up for in soul. I shoot from the heart and infuse as much character as I can into my words.

Having said that, it was not easy to write my first three posts. I want to make this very clear to anyone reading this. The past two months have been one big downward spiral.

To get out of this slump, I took two days off from everything and contemplated. I thought about what I wanted to say. I thought about how I wanted to say it. And I thought about where I should share it.

The answers were obvious, but I was soon struck with a paralyzing discovery. Writer’s block is a real thing.

Question: What was holding me back?

Answer: Fear.

Putting your thoughts out into the world requires courage and conviction.

When I started writing Part 1, I had just begun to find my feet, so to speak. I tried my best not to make the journey (from September 2014 to May 2015) seem like a tragedy. If anything, I wanted it to be a delicately woven narrative that would simultaneously give me closure, free myself from the web of doubts that I had cast over myself, and explain to people why I needed some space. By the time I finished writing Part 3, I had certainly received this aforementioned closure.

Writing is seriously therapeutic.

Every writer has got their own ritual. For me it goes something like this:

  1. Starting is the hardest part. I procrastinate for about 10-15 minutes, scribble some sentences on a notepad until I settle on an angle.
  2. Once I begin to write, I try to weave in (pop-culture) references. This usually applies when I write creatively.
  3. I always aim to finish my article in one go. I hate being interrupted in the middle or having to abandon my effort and later resume from where I left off.
  4. After finishing the first draft, I read it out aloud to see if it makes sense.
  5. Then I save my work and do not look at it until the next day.
  6. Following a night’s sleep, I proofread and then post.

With all three parts of Today I Write, I skipped all steps except for number three! Without a doubt, it was an emotionally charged outburst that I badly needed to release.

I could write about the mundane things that happen to me every day. For instance, I had my third physio session for my shoulders yesterday. It was nothing great. If anything, the pain has worsened and now spread towards my back!

But, yesterday was different.

I had just stepped into the ward.

“Good morning, Nada! How are you doing?” I greeted her cheerfully.

“I’m well, how are you?” she replied.

“I’m good. Actually no, wait, I’m doing great!” I said enthusiastically.

“I’m pleased to hear that. Has the pain in your shoulders improved?” she asked.

“Not really, it has actually worsened. But it’s fine, I feel more positive about everything now.” I smiled.

“That’s the right attitude, Karan. Let’s begin…”

What was so special about this exchange?

Firstly, I looked forward to this session with renewed hope. Secondly, this was the most I had conversed with Nada. Being naturally people-oriented, I usually get chatty with anyone within the first ten minutes of meeting them. In my previous state of mind, however, I was very reserved. Considering that she would be my caretaker for the next two months or so, the least I could do was warm towards her.

So that day I did. I asked her about her life. I asked her how long she had been living in Dubai. I asked her about her ambitions. I learned who she was as a person. At the end of the session, we had developed a connection, however small.

Life is all about connections, isn’t it?

Whilst at Harvard, there was this American social psychologist by the name of Stanley Milgram, who conducted certain ‘small world’ experiments in the 1960’s. These experiments would later form the basis of this really cool theory called the six degrees of separation, although Milgram did not refer to it by this. You could theoretically, by means of six introductions or less, be connected to anyone in the world. How cool is that!

Facebook was founded in 2004 and originally known as The Facebook. (Cheers, Sean Parker!) It is a part of the very fabric of our lives and has blurred the lines between real and digital. It has encouraged us to share. It has made the world a more connected and intimate place. Unsurprisingly, it has also challenged the ‘small world’ theory. An article published by the social media giant noted that the number had shrunk from 6 to 4.74.

Why am I telling you this?

When I shared my blog on Facebook the other day, I was once again reminded of how small the world was. In spite of the fact that there remain a lot of global issues, dirty politics and unnecessary violence that should not exist, I was also reminded of another moving concept.

The world is a beautiful place.

For the past three days, I cannot express how blessed I have felt. The amount of support I have received for writing about an issue that was plaguing me is quite frankly indescribable. For that, I want to thank you all!!! I realize that this is not enough and so I want to dedicate my next post to all those lovely people who reached out to me with messages of encouragement, support and advice. Stay tuned for that!

Now to round off, I realized I have veered off on several tangents. Selfish as it may seem, I wrote those first posts for myself. The inspiration to start Life. Camera. Karan. came at a point when I was quite unhappy. I possessed the sight, but I still needed some clear vision about where to go. Life. Camera. Karan. can be that guiding map.

My blog’s name is a play on the “Lights, camera, action!” cue. With respect to that, I can be the hero in my own movie. I know I may have to slay dragons and conquer demons, but in the end I want to save the world and ride off into the setting sun (with my princess sitting beside me!)

If I can write positive stories that inspireeducate, motivate and spread some smiles along the way, I would be extremely happy! That’s my aim.

As mentioned earlier, I have written in the past but it was only for myself. I’m still finding my ‘voice’ when it comes to writing, believe me. My blog is still in its infancy. What it is and what it can become, I do not know as yet. But I’m excited for what lies ahead.

The following quote by American author E. L. Doctorow perfectly sums up my feelings. “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

Over the next several months, I will write about life.

Eventually, I will branch out and cover things I am knowledgeable about or can form an educated opinion towards. This could potentially include topics like advertising, music, sport, pop culture and more.

Until then, stick around for my next post. I cannot wait to display my gratitude towards some very beautiful people! 

Today I write (Part 3)

The conclusion. What could have gone so drastically wrong in just two months? If you’re missing the context, here are parts one and two.

April 2015.

After an exhilarating workout, I was sitting relaxed at home. I was back to my best in the gym! The only thing on my agenda was to write up a few final posts for Unicorn Foals, the intern blog that I was inspired to set up after Simon Attwater, the new Creative Director at DigitasLBi planted the seed in my head.

With respect to Saatchi & Saatchi, I was still awaiting their response. It had only been a week and so I didn’t contact them, thinking that I would appear too desperate. In a manner of speaking, I actually was just a little desperate. I only had five months left on my UAE residence visa. This meant that if I could not find employment in this time, I would be forced to leave the country.

After the TBWA catastrophe, I felt that things with Saatchi would automatically fall into place. Since I showed up a few hours too late for my TBWA interview, I had ensured to arrive at every interview with each Saatchi employee with at least ten minutes to spare.

A couple of weeks passed…

I began to grow uneasy. I wrote an email to the Client Services Director, expressing my enthusiasm and asked her when I could start. Let’s call her “S.”

No response.

I wrote another email with a more urgent tone.

There we go! Apparently there was some “delay in pitching for new business.” With all the extra work, S asked me if I was interested in an internship since they could use all the help they could get.

I replied in the affirmative. Meanwhile, my shoulder began to ache again. The pain seemed more ominous this time…

May 2015.

I was still agonisingly waiting for a response from Saatchi.

Frustrated, I decided to go for the jugular. I didn’t understand why they would keep me waiting!!! I called up their office and tried to speak to S. I couldn’t get a hold of her. Sometimes she wasn’t on her desk, sometimes she was in a meeting…

As my frustrations grew, my ability to even simply move my shoulder diminished. I felt tired and weak most of the time.

I wanted to get to the root of my shoulder issues. This pain had started all the way back in December; it was chronic now. Apart from chasing Saatchi side by side, here was another long and arduous process with the hospital that I had to undergo: it took nearly three weeks for them to approve an MRI scan for my right shoulder, where I faced the most pain.

The subsequent results showed that I was at an early stage of shoulder impingement. The doctor forbade me from any lifting. Physiotherapy was a best case solution. He said that if I did not respond well to the treatment, surgery would be the only way to go.

After receiving that news, physically I was exhausted. Mentally, I was discouraged.

Meanwhile, the day finally came when I got to speak to S. The conversation was long but her tone was brusque. Saatchi could offer me an internship, but in all likelihood there would not be a job at the end of it. The message was clear – if I wanted to live in Dubai, I would have to seek my first job elsewhere. I was crestfallen.

A sense of déjà vu seemed to envelope me.

It was barely three months ago where I was in a similar position: my career and health goals were going nowhere.

And so, over these past few weeks I have found myself clutching at straws and seem to be trapped in a seemingly infinite circle of hopelessness once again.

The shaggy beard is back.

Dreadful thoughts seem to be the order of the day. 

Not only do I feel useless, but I do not want to meet my friends or speak to anyone. I don’t want to be “that guy” with a sob story.

I cannot stop myself from eating absolute junk, which has consequently seen me pile on the pounds. Again.

May 24th – Present Day.

I thought it would be like any other average day. I had my second physio session this morning. There isn’t any significant improvement to any of my shoulders. I still cannot move them freely. This afternoon, my mum had prepared lunch for me and left for some work. Still, I couldn’t stop myself from going out to a McDonald’s and picking up a McFlurry and their newest version of an apple pie (I still don’t know why I buy them.) I also picked up some fries whilst I was at it. After coming home, I ate everything, including the home-cooked food.

But you know what? I don’t feel quite so worthless anymore. It feels weird even typing this out, but I feel strangely content now.

I started typing my first post around 5PM. Roughly twelve hours later (it is 4:23AM up until this word) I feel liberated!

I met my friends just a couple of days ago but once again did not feel really happy as I laughed, was not mentally invested in any conversation and would have rather stayed back at home.

Was I suffering from a mild case of, dare I say it, depression?

I’d like to think so.

Looking back at this past month and a half, I definitely did not see any reason to wake up. I would think absurd thoughts – some of which I don’t even have the courage to mention right now. I would look at myself in the mirror and see a face that I did not like to see.

Maybe I was too hard on myself. It’s only a job! And considering that I’m turning 22 in three months, I’ve definitely got time on my side. If and When my shoulders are fully healed, I will smash through all my gym goals. I know I will!

I did not mean for this post to be one indulging in self-pity. Neither did I want this to be one big desperate plea for help.

But 12 hours and 4400 words later, I feel much better. Maybe not to the point of how I am usually upbeat, but I definitely feel much better.

What’s funny is that Saatchi still haven’t actually reverted to me with a final answer! The last time me and S corresponded, she said she would write me an email if there was a place on the team.

I’m done waiting. Maybe that’s what it was THAT’S IT! Closure! This is what I’m feeling right now. I think I just had to let go of everything that I had been through.

Now, what’s next for me?

I had already mentally prepared myself for this. The thing is, I had put all my eggs in the Saatchi basket. No regrets whatsoever. If Saatchi did not work out, I had decided that I would join my father in furthering his own business. It is not advertising, nor is it anything related. It is a completely different industry vertical.

However, I’m still going to be dogged in my dreams of making it big in the ad world.

And I guess that’s it!!! This post was only for me and I’m extremely proud that I have managed to adequately convey what was on my mind.

As for the picture, I’m wearing my gym tee. Here’s to being able to wear that in the gym soon!

But first things first, I need a shave. My facial hair condition is questionable.

Today I write (Part 2)

The first part of this story also happens to be my first ever blog post. You can find it here.

Where was I? Oh yes. Even though I have everything I could possibly ask for, how have I fallen into the very depths of despair in the past two months?

As mentioned in Part 1, I will now write about the episodes between last year when I got my passport to the real world (aka my degree) and to the present day and how my plans did not materialize.

For the sake of brevity, I will not go into detail when describing each of my past experiences. I will dedicate a separate blog post for each some other day.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that I was about to put my all into only two aspects of my life: my career (breaking into advertising) and my health (reaching personal gym goals).

September 2014.

There was some delay in obtaining my degree. Quite simply, I fucked up. This meant I wasn’t in an ideal position to apply for full-time jobs. In the meantime, I decided to work in GITEX. GITEX Shopper Dubai is the region’s biggest consumer electronics event. It is a massive opportunity for world class brands to launch new products, and retailers to stamp their authority on the local competition. Consumers, on the other hand, can lap up unbeatable deals and walk away with freebies by the galore.

For 8 days, I found myself selling Toshiba products, primarily hard-drives and USB’s. I worked hard and got a taste of what it was like to work in direct sales. In fact, I worked so hard that I was offered two full-time jobs! The first was a company called Majestic Car Care and I would be required to sell paints, tints and coatings for luxury cars in the UAE. The other was a Dubai-based consultancy called Channels Business Solutions (CBS) and I would be a Business Analyst.

Since I already knew that advertising was my end game, I instead took up an internship at CBS and put off Majestic for later.

 October 2014 – December 2014

Channels Business Solutions was my first white-collar job. I will admit, I was slightly nervous as to how I should behave. But I picked up on the office dynamics soon and learned what was and what wasn’t appropriate to say. Moreover, I was working with people roughly my age which made me even more comfortable. The office was located close to my house and I was paid AED 2500 per month which is roughly USD 680. Not bad, right?

My parents decided that I required my own car and so decided to finance a pre-owned, spanking Lexus IS 300! I agreed to pay them a fixed amount out of my stipend every month.

This was around the same time I had begun to hit the gym seriously. For me, the gym was a place where I loved to be. I loved performing some good old fashioned lifts. I loved the endorphin rush that came with it.

To put it plainly, I preferred going to the gym at the end of a tough week instead of getting wasted in a bar. Apart from that, I was starting to look really good and I felt great. Life was good.

But this was not where I wanted to be. Not professionally, at least. All it took was two weeks into the job for me to realize that I still wanted to work in advertising.

And so, I attended a speed interview style career fair where I targeted one company: DigitasLBi, a digital agency part of the mammoth Publicis Groupe. A few interviews later, I was offered a 3-month internship with them. I bid goodbye to CBS and they wished me luck on my journey.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a break from weight lifting. I had done some minor damage to my shoulders and this was seriously affecting my performance. With the gym out of the picture, I was banking on DigitasLBi to work out…

January 2015 – February 2015

A new year, a new start!

At DigitasLBi (a mouthful if there ever was one!) my official title was “Digital Marketing” intern. What I actually did was run paid search campaigns for Etihad Airways – a major global player in the airline industry, the UAE’s flag-carrier and the second largest airline after Emirates.

I worked alongside some highly knowledgeable people and had the priceless opportunity to network with colleagues in my industry. Moreover, I found out that agencies are awesome places to work in!!!

DigitasLBi had something called “The Cave” which was basically a play area with a foosball table and a Xbox! Apart from that, there was free breakfast every Thursday! There were so many other fun things that I will write about in another post.

The company was fantastic. On the contrary, I hated my job! It required a lot of Excel analysis and formulaic calculations, none of which I was extremely fond of. Going to work itself wasn’t bad, but the moment I sat down at my desk I couldn’t wait for the day to end.

Amidst all of this, I kept applying to other agencies and persistently followed up on a particularly famous name – Manhattan based TBWA, part of the Omnicom Group. I had tried every trick in the book, but no-one responded to me.

Coincidentally, I had written an essay about them to obtain my degree. You can imagine my delight when a representative from TBWA Middle East finally got in touch with me!

When I learned more about the job on offer, I couldn’t contain my excitement! A “Digital Copywriter” is what they wanted. This was exactly what I was looking for! It was my dream job and I thought I was about to make my mark in the ad world.

22nd January; 4PM – TBWA Interview

Ah. I wish I could write that I completely managed to blow away the interviewer with my charm and wit. Alas, there was no interview for me. Even writing about this actually hurts and brings back miserable memories. In a nutshell, there was a foolish misunderstanding on my part and I arrived extremely late, missing my interview slot.

Saying I was devastated is putting it lightly. Around the same time, I decided to visit a doctor since my shoulder still had a niggling problem. He did two things:

  1. Did not diagnose the injury correctly.
  2. Advised me to take an extended break from weightlifting.

Suddenly, I was at a loss. I despised my job at DigitasLBi and was out of my favorite place in the world – the gym.

From inside, the TBWA loss kept eating away at me. It was my own fault. I couldn’t let it go.

My one true weakness is simple but deadly: I tend to overthink. A lot.

Before I could do anything about it, the first signs of my (potential) depression started to show up:

  1. Since I was sidelined from the gym, I completely let myself go. I ordered fast-food whenever possible. I would buy huge packets of chips and binge on them whilst bingeing on TV shows on my MacBook.
  2. I lost touch with friends, both old and new. I did not even feel like talking to anyone. I didn’t see the point in telling people my tales of woe.
  3. Since I had isolated myself, I let my appearance go to the dogs. I stopped shaving and didn’t care about getting a decent haircut.
  4. In my head, I kept blaming myself for what happened. Whether it was TBWA or the shoulder injury, I was convinced that everything was my fault. I wished I could go back in time and change things.

As a result of my negative state of mind, I began performing very poorly at work. My colleagues noticed my unkempt appearance and could tell something was afoot. What could I tell them?

That I was stuck in a job that I disliked; unable to pursue the one thing that really made me happy and was a prisoner of my own gloom-ridden thoughts?

March 2015

Where had the time gone? It was already my last month in DigitasLBi. I honestly couldn’t wait for everything to end. This included the demons in my head, reminding me of my inadequacies.

Little did I know that things were to take a slight improvement.

DigitasLBi was under a period of restructure. This meant that a new Creative Director was coming in all the way from the London office.

The new Creative Director’s name was Simon Attwater. And this man was partly the reason why I got back to writing.

He pushed me to start an intern blog called Unicorn Foals.

This was a very welcome distraction. Not only was I in charge of it, but I was given the liberty to post whatever I felt like and I absolutely loved it!

All said and done, it was something that kept my mind creatively engaged and therefore I did not dwell on my misery. Having said that, at times even my darker side showed up in a couple of posts.

My manager noticed that I had a slight skip in my step whenever I mentioned the blog. Seeing that I had a passion for writing copy and flexing my creative chops, (after a quick discussion) he gave me the wonderful opportunity to support the Social team in my last month!

Slowly, I began to feel more positive. I was enjoying my new job as a Social Media intern. Around the office, my eyes were always peeled, searching for inspiration so I could get cracking with my next post for Unicorn Foals. On the personal front, I was back in the gym! Whilst I couldn’t lift as heavy as I used to, my shoulder did not seem to be troubling me anymore.

Everything seemed to be getting back to normal again. Better than normal, I should say. I had been chatting with this amazing girl for the past few months. She was funny, intelligent and pretty cool. Even though she was all the way in London, strange as it may seem, I felt like we had begun to connect. Which was funny, since I never believed texting to be a great medium to actually get acquainted with a person.

This relationship was slowly blossoming. Elsewhere, I was about to part ties with DigitasLBi. My three months were coming to a close and I definitely did not want to work in the paid search department. Unfortunately, they could not keep me as a permanent hire on the social team either since they required a native Arabic speaker. Then again, I had decided that social media was not where I wanted to go after all.

I must mention here that I had finally reached (something similar to) closure from the TBWA fiasco. The wound had healed, but the scar had not entirely faded.

As the search for my first break continued, I was approached with three job offers:

  1. Majestic Car Care (remember them?) had reappeared out of the blue and restated their desire to hire me as a Sales Executive.
  2. Danube Group, a successful Saudi-based business conglomerate approached me for a Social Media position.
  3. Al Ghurair Retail, another major local player offered me a Marketing Coordinator role.

I turned all three down. Maybe another guy in my position would have gladly jumped at the opportunity.

My mind was always fixed and my heart still set on finding that big, elusive break as a copywriter in an advertising agency.

Then, as if to validate my choices, something unexpectedly wonderful happened.

Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East got in touch with me!

This was almost romantic. Saatchi & Saatchi London is actually where it all began. (I will address how my year old love affair with advertising started in another post.) Things moved fast. I met a couple of Account Directors, one Group Account Director and finally their Client Services Director. They seemed to like me.

Their CS Director gave me some great advice. Since she saw I was creative with words and had a strong opinion about the brands around me, she suggested that I consider Account Planning.

I took that advice in stride but was eagerly anticipating their final response.

My DigitasLBi adventure had finally come to an end and I thought I was about to reap the rewards of my perseverance. With that chapter closed, I was ready to grab whatever Saatchi was about to offer me!

What could possibly happen next?