Thomas Ovesen (right) kicked off his new role as CEO of 117 Live by bringing Shaggy to the Dubai International Film Festival’s closing party this month. Image Credit:

Are you ready for four times as many concerts in Dubai? That’s what UAE music fans are in for as soon as March, thanks to 117 Live, the latest events company to enter the market.

“We’re Al Ahli Group’s live entertainment division, but we had a fancy branding agency suggest that we should take the letters’ position in the alphabet, so instead of AAG, it became 117,” said 117 Live CEO Thomas Ovesen. “That’s as far as the creativity goes on that one. We’re going to put all our efforts into live events instead.”

Ovesen was previously the head of Done Events, bringing an impressive roster of Top 40 acts to Dubai, including One Direction, Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars. He worked on major music festivals, including the soul-based Blended (Joss Stone, Aloe Blacc) and the pop-filled RedFestDXB (Bastille, The Script, Iggy Azalea).

He kicked off his new role by bringing Shaggy to the Dubai International Film Festival’s closing party this month, and plans to continue exactly where he left off.

“It’s not like we’re starting from scratch,” he said. “The core team that I have with me at 117 Live is the team I’ve been working with for the past five and a half years. In many ways, there’s no difference from what I’ve been doing here in the market since ’99. I’ll still be wanting to put on the most current and topical artists touring the world.”

The most noticeable change will be the addition of a 25,000-capacity amphitheatre in Dubai, which will open in 2017. Starting March of next year, however, a temporary 20,000 capacity venue will be set up on the grass adjacent to the planned amphitheatre.

Where, you ask? It’s on Al Ain Road by Dubai Outlet Mall, where Al Ahli Holding Group, “a multi-diversified international conglomerate dealing in entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, retail, construction and real estate” also announced a Fox Studio theme park.

According to Ovesen, 117 will begin announcing shows in January and concerts will start in March.

“With the permanent venue that opens in 2017, we’ll need to increase the volume of concerts to somewhere around 20-30 live concerts a year, which is significantly more than I have ever produced before,” he said. Prior to 117, Ovesen put on up to 10-12 events annually, but that was only during a good year.

“While it will still be the same chart-toppers, the best rock acts, the best new artists that I’ll want to put on, I’ll also need to do more of them. That’s the added benefit for the concert-goers in the country.”

When Bieber and One Direction came to town, Ovesen had to take the Sevens Stadium, the home of rugby in Dubai, and transform it into a live concert venue. It yo-yoed between fitting 15,000-30,000 people. The benefit of launching a purpose-built amphitheatre (a venue specifically catered to live events) is that it will always be ready to hold large productions. (In Abu Dhabi, du Arena is one such concert venue that fits up to 40,000 people, where Rihanna, the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi have performed.)

“It used to take a lot of time to build a One Direction venue. To put a two-day festival on, sometimes you needed ten days to prepare,” said Ovesen.

He predicts that they’ll be able to do quadruple what they used to soon, as they will need “much, much less time [preparing] to put on an event, so we can roll out more events more frequently.”

Does that mean people can expect a Zayn Malik show soon? The pop star left One Direction in March, right before the band came to Dubai.

“Is that what’s missing?” Ovesen laughed. “Well, obviously, we haven’t managed to bring him yet, so there’s a leftover from the One Direction show, you’re absolutely right. Let’s see what Zayn does with the new album and where we’re at when that hits the streets.”

In the meantime, Ovesen is working on RedFestDXB, which will take place at the 15,000-capacity Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Tickets, currently on sale, start at Dh400. On February 11, Steve Aoki, Rita Ora, The Vamps and Dawin are on the bill, and on February 12, MistaJam, Adam Lambert, Eva Simons, Fifth Harmony, Trey Songz and RedFoo will perform.

“We’re working with the Done Events team on both booking the talent and executing the festival,” said Ovesen. “It’s very much business as usual on that front.”