RIYADH: An electronic music festival considered one of the biggest in the world and a sign of the rapidly expanding entertainment landscape in Saudi Arabia, has drawn hundreds of thousands to a remote desert area outside from Riyadh for the past three days.
The raves of the third edition of Soundstorm took to the stages, dressed in an eclectic mix of local Bedouin clothing, Saudi national clothing and streetwear in the form of colorful hoodies and jackets with the addition of glitter makeup.
MDL Beast, the Saudi entertainment company that launched the festival in 2019, is one of the most prominent examples of the rapid social changes that have swept the Kingdom since the launch of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan in 2016.
Last year, more than 730,000 people attended the four-day festival, and this year organizers expect the number to rise for the three-day festival, which ended on December 3.
Soundstorm shows the power of music to bring people together for shared moments of joy.
“It’s all about love,” American record producer and rapper DJ Khaled shouted from the Big Beast stage on Friday during his first performance in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
With MDL Beast bringing rap and hip-hop into this year’s lineup, rap legends Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future, Rick Ross and TI joined DJ Khaled on stage in “DJ Khaled & Friends.”
The inclusion of hip-hop stars also underscores Soundstorm’s growing variety of musical genres, mixing top Saudi and Arab artists with international artists – a sign of a growing desire by global artists to perform in the Kingdom.
“The feedback from international talent has been amazing, and we’re seeing more and more foreign artists looking to come to our festival to perform, which aligns with our mission to give fans the best possible experience,” said Talal Al.-Bahiti, chief operating officer of MDL Beast and head of talent bookings and events, in a statement.
Headlining global superstars playing for the first time included Bruno Mars, Marshmello and Post Malone. Returning DJs, such as Carl Cox, DJ Snake and David Guetta, lit up the stage, while a strong contingent of Saudi DJs, such as Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin joined their Dish Dash peers, Vinylmode and regional star DJ Aseel, making this year’s lineup the most diverse yet.
“We have such strong Saudi DJs now,” Danah, 27, a Saudi DJ playing in Soundstorm at VIB, told Arab News.
The previously underground Saudi music scene has become “a beautiful culture of shared encouragement”, she said.
“A DJ offered me her equipment; we all shared and encouraged each other,” she said. “It was such a beautiful dynamic where women were empowering women to play music, men were empowering women to play music, and it wasn’t just to fill the void in the market. We continue to spread that love today.
“The event represents our big unveiling,” said Ahmad Alammary, creative director at MDL Beast and a DJ who goes by the name of Baloo.
“If Soundstorm had a middle name, that would be an upgrade,” he added. “We like to improve the way we design the event. Since last year, we have learned more about people’s behavior, their preferences. And there are a lot of growth needs that come with this rapid change and this mode of life.
This year’s festival experience was enhanced for Premium and VIB – Very Important Beast or VIP – who moved from stage to stage to exclusive viewing areas via a connected network of elevated walkways resembling several large loops.
Soundstorm’s upgraded structure also included open seating in the form of park-like areas lined with food and drink stations, and on-site parking for all general admission ticket holders.
The festival, which follows the three-day XP Music Conference in the JAX district of Diriyah, signals the rapid expansion of the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia.
“As we approach our third edition of Soundstorm, we now do so knowing the substantial impact the festival has on inspiring, merging and growing the music scene and industry in the Kingdom and the wider region,” MDL Beast CEO Ramadan Al-Haratani told Arab News.
After Soundstorm’s debut in 2019, “the economic and social impact was nothing we expected,” he said.
Soundstorm promotes the growth of soft power in Saudi Arabia after years of closure. The festival offers young Saudis a newfound pride in their country through creative expression and enjoyment of music on a personal and collective level, he said.
“It gave a platform to so much talent in the region and made Saudis aware of these unexpected talents.”
According to MDL Beast, 83% of young Saudis believe Soundstorm increases opportunities for local musicians and creatives in the country, with 86% of young Saudis saying their pride in creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia has increased thanks to the first festival.
MDL Beast said there was a 36.5% increase in demand for global artists for 12 months after the first Soundstorm in 2019, according to IMS Business Report 2021.
According to Al-Haratani, the festival demonstrates how “ambitious expansion of the music ecosystem can be fundamental to the social transformation of the Kingdom, including connecting Saudi fans with the global artists they love, creating new venues and record labels and the continued growth of our burgeoning music ecosystem.
Among the challenges MDL Beast has faced is how to handle unprecedented crowds of men and women dancing the night away in a country where this was unheard of a few years ago.
After several harassment complaints during the first and second editions, MDL Beast launched the “Respect and Reset” anti-harassment campaign and said they would take action against anyone who was abusive or offensive.
Signs with “Respect and Reset” and “Visit our R&R areas for help with harassment” were displayed at all sites. A white tent designated to help those who had been harassed was set up next to a medical tent.
Al-Haratani said security has been increased this year to more than 3,800 people on site, with about one guard for every 35 guests. Additionally, the festival was monitored by more than 300 CCTV cameras. Free water was available all night at all sites.
Baloo said the festival setup included “safe dance zones”.
“If someone doesn’t feel safe or unsafe or just wants to dance alone or as a couple, we’ve created areas on the big stages where women and couples can go and dance comfortably,” he said. at Arab News. “Everyone is welcome.”
“Over the past three years, things have gone from zero to 100 here,” Lana Alsherif, 23, social media coordinator for XP Music Futures, told Arab News.
“It’s so beautiful to see this for the music industry. Everything is happening now. There are a lot of opportunities and everyone wants to find talent. We want to connect with everyone here in Arabia, nurture local talent and bring in international artists. We want to become a new benchmark for the music industry.
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