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Dom Jones: Composing For Dubai's New Year Spectacular

Wall Of Sound
By Mike Senior

Dom Jones: Composing For Dubai's New Year Spectacular

Dubai welcomed in 2019 with one of the biggest spectacles ever staged. Dom Jones created the epic soundtrack.

Many composers harbour an ambition to write music for the big screen, but only a lucky few ever experience the thrill of scoring for full-size cinema visuals, let alone for one of those gargantuan IMAX beasts. But that's still small fry for award-winning composer Dom Jones (, who recently scored for a screen more than three-quarters of a kilometre high.

The screen in question is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest bulding, where Dom's music played to accompany the United Arab Emirates' spectacular New Year show, a multimedia extravaganza to greet 2019. Incorporating the building's stunning full-height LED facade, hundreds of automated lasers and spotlights, synchronised fountains, and almost 10,000 fireworks, the show was broadcast to billions of viewers across the world and earned itself two Guiness World Records into the bargain.

To land that kind of commission, it helps to have other large‑scale global events on your CV, and Dom's certainly chalked up plenty of those, providing music for the G20, the World Economic Forum, the Dubai World Cup and World Skills. But, as always, word of mouth also plays a large role. "In 2009 I did a project that had strong links with Qatar and the Middle East," Dom explains. "It was a large event, attended by the Queen. That was a big break for me at the time, and has since led to lots of other work in the Middle East."

From Arnold To Zimmer

"For this project," says Dom, "I collaborated with the film director Nic Cornwall of Little Big Fish Films (, and Conrado Galves, Creative Director of the animation company Fgreat (, both of whom do such inspiring work. We started off with a joint Skype conversation with two or three people in the UAE. I'd already watched every single Burj Khalifa event since 2010, so I had an idea of how it should be, and I explained my concept for the music to them. I don't like going into too much detail during those early conversations, but to give them an idea of what I thought the music should sound like, I dropped a few names — people like Hans Zimmer. Everyone uses Hans Zimmer. He's ubiquitous! But, love him or hate him, people know the name and know that it's going to mean big taiko drums and epic horn lines. Someone also mentioned the theme tune to Sherlock by David Arnold, who did [James] Bond.

Dom Jones is the multi-instrumentalist and composer behind the music for the Burj Khalifa New Year celebrations.Dom Jones is the multi-instrumentalist and composer behind the music for the Burj Khalifa New Year celebrations."Because I knew there wasn't going to be much time to change things, I was determined to ask as many questions as I could up front, and I followed that up with a document listing specific musical references for each of the sections. I don't normally have to be as firm as this, but it turned out brilliantly, because they annotated my document, so I felt really confident then. I rarely get that level of comment."

Those preliminaries out of the way, Nic set to work refining the event's 'narrative' and selling the client on that, while Dom began preliminary work on the music at his home studio. "I spent a good few days working up ideas in Cubase. You know, which ostinato lines I was going to use, which drums I was going to use. Because I could see that this was a prestigious event, I spent every available moment trying to get whatever I could into it. So I probably over-egged the time I initially spent, but at that point you're still thinking 'I don't want to lose the gig, I don't want to lose the gig, I don't want to lose the gig...' Over that first period of three to five days, any time I came up with an idea, whether inside or outside the studio, I recorded it. Some of that, in one sense, was completely wasted, because it wasn't used for the end product, but it was just to make sure the client was happy."

The musical timeline had quickly developed into a three-part format: an introduction starting on New Year's Eve at 11:57, commemorating Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (the first President of the UAE); the 10-second countdown to midnight, followed by a three-minute fireworks display; and a final orchestral finale with elaborate light show and sponsor messages. "Because the three sections of the music were very different, the music developed quite organically. I was sending my early ideas to Nic, so we could weed out any that he wasn't sure about before approaching the client with them. At the same time Nick was refining the narrative — in fact, even right up until the last few days of the project, there were still question marks over whether certain sections would make it into the final cut, and of course if the animation changed I'd have to change the music too.

"The first section I put together as a full draft was the central fireworks piece, because the firework people [French pyrotechnics specialists Groupe F] needed that section done first. But the fountains people [WET Design] needed the opener as well,...

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Published March 2019