As fans jet into Riyadh for the MDL Beast Soundstorm festival featuring big names like Post Malone, Bruno Mars and DJ Khaled, Al Arabiya English takes the pulse of the city.
“I didn’t expect to be in Saudi Arabia,” said Derek, who asked to be identified by his first name, let alone attend a concert in the Kingdom.
Derek, previously a resident of Brooklyn, New York, has only been in Saudi Arabia for two months on a business trip. In that time, the 30-year-old terms his experience with the Saudi art scene as “always big,” always bright,” and “always an experience.”
“It is really good to hear that it [Soundstorm] happened last year, and that they had enough success to justify bringing it back for another year.”
“It is such a big investment,” Derek told Al Arabiya English, crediting the allocation of large funds that reflects in a stellar audio-visual experience for the event’s attendees.
While the festival shares many similarities with international events, one differentiating factor involves the provision of alcoholic beverages. Saudi Arabia enforces a total ban on alcohol consumption aligned with its Muslim roots.
Derek, who regularly visits concerts in the US, said that while the no-alcohol rule is not a deal breaker and helps with crowd management, many international visitors usually expect intoxicating drinks at such events.
When asked about his view on Saudi Arabia as someone with exposure to Western media, he said: “the growth and change in Saudi Arabia over the last number of years has been extraordinary.”
“A lot of people are putting their hearts, minds, and wallets into changing this place to become more global and to become more open and inviting to people who do not necessarily share the same perspectives and world view.”
“I think there are a ton of great and fun things to do here already,” he said, commending the noticeable progress.
Elena, a resident of the UAE for 20 years and on visit to Saudi Arabia for the first time on business said the city is “modernizing” rapidly in a chat with Al Arabiya English.
Her motivation to attend the concert were two-fold – unbelievably affordable tickets and to settle a curious mind on what Saudi Arabia has to offer in the music scene.
Elena, who also asked to be identified by her first name, does some work for Rap DXB, a community in Dubai that seeks to expand hip-hop locally and throw light on underground artists. Intrigued by the talent in Dubai, Elena decided to attend the flagship music festival in neighboring Riyadh.
Elena too did not expect to attend a concert in Saudi Arabia, previously known for its conservative rules. But lately, Saudi Arabia’s leaders have relaxed many social restrictions after a long period of enforcing limits on social activities, including movie theaters and group music lessons.
Impact in numbers
According to a survey conducted by MDL Beast, 82 percent of Saudi youth said they feel inspired by the entertainment music company to pursue a career in the creative industry.
The average DJ who performed at Soundstorm experienced a 492.4 percent increase in demand in the Kingdom during December 2019, relative to similar DJs that did not perform, according to the same study.
For the first edition of the event in 2019, organizers reported over 450,000 attendees over the three-day long festival. In 2021, that number jumped to 750,000 over four days.
And while this led to three-hour-long tailbacks into the city that is still talked about today, the spirit of the festival remains.
This year, 200 artists will perform at seven stages spread across a Tomorrowland-like landscape taking over 5,533,985 square meters in the desert.
Concert goers will have access to over 100 food and beverage vendors as the rave surges through three days in Riyadh.