The resident DJ of Dubai’s Cafe Del Mar, Ilona Maras’ foray into DJ-ing started in 2010 and it’s been a steady rise to the top. She recently compiled her first two-disc album for Pacha Recordings, “Pacha Dubai VIP”, which became Virgin Megastore’s number one best-selling CD in the house music genre. She has also had the opportunity to play in some of the most popular nightclubs and events in the world including Rare-The Place, iKandy (Dubai); Ray’s Bar, Monte Carlo Beach Club, Vertical Bar (Abu Dhabi); Icon Club, Indochine Club, Terrasse, Rive Gauche, Queens Club, Evita Club and the Zurich Street Parade 2011 & 2012 (Switzerland).
Q: You are known for your combinations of house, electronic, dance, pop and lounge sets. What made you come out with a house album?
A: House will always be my first passion. Whenever I dabble with other genres of music, I try to keep it within the range of house always. I always try and keep things interesting so I mix things up. I want people to listen to something and remember it — give them a memorable musical experience. Even on my album, even though it is predominantly house, if you listen carefully you will hear elements of other genres too.
Q: What inspires you?
A: I like being inventive, I do not want people to get used to my playing style. People recognise a DJ because of their distinct playing style. I do have a style, but I try to include elements of the music popular in the country I am playing in mixed with my usual house beats. For example, I like incorporating some Indian beats in my set. I come from a mixed Montenegrin and Russian background and I have lived in Greece, Switzerland and now Dubai and this exposure has definitely influenced my music as well.
Q: What’s it like being the resident DJ at Cafe Del Mar Dubai and performing at some of the most famous nightclubs in the world?
A: It can be quite challenging — I play to an audience whose expectations are quite high. However, it gives me confidence to know that only good DJs play at these venues, they are filtered through. The challenge itself is motivation to keep getting better.
Q: How does a woman break out in a male dominated field?
A: I was always interested in music and most of my childhood memories revolve around music, I remember being a little girl who was always dancing. At parties, I would try to get behind the DJ booth and mess around a bit and one birthday, I was gifted DJing equipment. One night, I spontaneously asked the manager of a club I worked at to let me play, and he let me, and I haven’t look back since then. In this industry, you are recognised for your sounds and when news travelled I kept getting all these opportunities. Music is a disease once you get into it you will never get out.
* For more on Ilona’s music, go to soundcloud.com/imaras1