Welcome to the Emirates Man weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businessmen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.

This week, we speak to Lobito Brigante, Co-owner of Electric Pawn Shop, a hedonist dystopian counter-culture Asian Mediterranean bar and restaurant inspired by the 70s Chinatown of New York. Having started in an entirely different industry, Brigante embarked on a career change to create disruptive entrepreneurial concepts. Now, the award-winning entrepreneur and viny collector is one of the pivotal figures in the underground music and events scene in the region.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I used to love art and language subjects, won some school awards for my art and a national competition for poetry once, also loved theatre studies later on, and had a great time acting and learning how to act. Music classes were pretty terrible so my love for music developed independently!

What eventually brought you to Dubai?

I studied Arabic at university so having lived in some other countries in the region Dubai made sense, I got a job offer to come here and realised a lot of the cultural activities I was used to being involved in were missing so I started to build them on the side. I worked for several years doing a lot of work with the UAE Ministry of Defence and the military as a project manager.

What inspired you to enter the entertainment and cultural space?

Well I’ve always been part of it since I was 15 and if you feel something is missing in Dubai there’s no point complaining about it it’s much better to build it, that’s what makes Dubai a great city, so I created the much imitated Street Nights festival which was the first event to feature food trucks and gather all the regional aerosol artists and street artists. I also brought as much attention as I could to vinyl and turntable culture and authentic DJ skills as at the time it was underrepresented, and turntablism still is currently as well. In 2018, I created the world’s first performing turntable orchestra (aka the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra) which launched at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Talk us through the concept of Electric Pawn Shop.

It’s a counter-cultural space, breaking away from a lot of clichés in the industry and the city. There’s a lot of depth and authenticity to what we do with the food, drinks and music. My business partner Lynn Lin is Asian and I’m Mediterranean so there’s that part, she’s a powerhouse in the F&B scene so I’m lucky in that regard. Musically and culturally New York has been a huge inspiration to me as the birthplace of hip-hop culture (now celebrating 50 years) but also other musical genres and I’ve dj-ed with a lot of legendary DJs from the city so I represent the sound authentically covering classic hip hop, funk, breaks, disco and NYC style house music as well as fusing it with the sound I’ve developed in Dubai the past 15 years and playing Arabic funk and other regionally relevant music. We’ve built an inclusive space that represents Dubai as a growing cultural melting pot – everyone is welcome to come, enjoy and be themselves.

What are the key elements of your role?

Like any business owner, you have to wear multiple hats, my primary role at first was overseeing the project management, construction, permits, licences and coordinating with government departments as well as the hotel and doing a lot of supervision of the main contractor during pre-opening. Now on the day-to-day, you can find me DJing six nights a week while overseeing the operation and behind the scenes assisting with event management, hiring of staff, doing permits, helping my business partner and other things as they come up.

Talk us through your daily routine.

I wake up, eat at some point (depending on schedule), deal with emails and business WhatsApps and any urgent tasks at hand, support my business partner with anything that may come up (private event requests etc), answer social media enquiries and questions, check or apply for permits, some personal care and physical fitness, check on the daily reservations, prepare music (a never-ending task), arrive at work and check on any issues or maintenance (there’s always something happening), DJ for 5-7 hours and do the closing for the night.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?

Whatever you do in life some people will try to hold you back or pull you down and the more success you get the more this increases, focus on the supporters or feedback from people more experienced than you and those who can give insightful and valid criticism for improvement. Having the right business partner is key, we complement each other with skills and knowledge. Hiring the right people is crucial and fixing problems quickly, obviously get extensive experience before scaling up to bigger projects, better to do a small project perfectly than undertake something massive that becomes a disaster. A lot of business skills are transferable across industries and then filling in the gaps by learning from professionals or hiring the right people with technical expertise for areas where that’s required is very important. Always assume there will be delays and things will cost more than you expect so budget accordingly.

What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

Myself always – the inner struggle to push boundaries, understand flaws and weaknesses and be a better version of myself, just like Dubai we are all a work in progress.

What are your future goals and plans for your career?

I definitely have a lot of projects in the pipeline as well as personal growth goals. Our business is growing so we are looking to expand in the near future, on the personal side I’m also going to be releasing a lot of music and have some other cultural events and projects in the pipeline.

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Images: Supplied