Crowds celebrate music at the multi-genre Soundstorm festival

More than 600,000 revelers came to Riyadh last weekend for Soundstorm, the largest music festival in the Arab world.

Hosted by arts organization MDL Beast, Soundstorm has grown since its debut in 2019, contributing $118.5 million to the Saudi economy and creating 16,000 jobs. Each year the festival welcomes performers and audiences from around the world, this year’s headliners included Bruno Mars, David Guetta and Peggy Gou.

For many Saudis and people in the wider region, it’s the event of the year. Omar, 25, described it as an “oasis of freedom” and spoke excitedly about seeing DJ Khaled on Friday night; one of several artists returning to the festival, greeted by a crowd that knows how to have a good time.

Like Burning Man in Nevada, Soundstorm reinvents the landscape in which it is rooted, bringing the desert to life. The energy in Riyadh this weekend was electric: boys and girls often danced separately while middle-aged men danced around in full thobe, shemagh and egal to pulsating dance music.

On the first night of Soundstorm 2022, drones put on a show in the sky

(Soundstorm/MDL Beast)

Drones put on incredible light shows in the sky while legendary DJs Carl Cox and Ricardo Villalobos delivered powerful sets. In promotion of his new album Twelve Carat Toothache, American superstar Post Malone led the first night of celebrations with an audience-friendly setlist including “Better Now”, “Circles” and “Goodbyes”. Afrojack closed the main stage on the final night.

The music shifted from mainstream hip-hop to regional acid house, while the crowd also fell to the beats of Saudi DJ Cosmicat. “The number of opportunities we have in Saudi right now through MDL Beast and Soundstorm is amazing,” says Cosmicat. As a producer in a male-dominated industry, her presence in a country striving to implement social reforms is doubly important. “It was very different a few years ago,” she admits.

Yasser, a 28-year-old record producer, was quick to comment on the festival’s liberal nature. “You see gay men coming with their friends,” he says. “People from all over the region know that this is a safe place,” he says. As I strolled through the vast grounds, I saw so much with my own eyes.

Bruno Mars wowed the audience with his Saturday slot on the “Big Beast” stage

(Soundstorm/MDL Beast)

The festival offers escapism. The otherworldly sound system and sheer size of the stages – some among the largest in the world – give it gravity, a strong sense of connection to something bigger and more far-reaching; namely that Soundstorm speaks to the broader cultural shift taking place in Saudi Arabia.

It is part of Saudi Vision 2030, the plan to transform the Saudi economy and society to open the country to more visitors.

Representing the more youthful and contemporary mindset of Vision 2030, MDL Beast has also created an independent label for artists around the world. MDL Beast Records has signed DJ Viva, Salvatore Ganacci and Steve Angello, whose remix of the club classic “Show Me Love” has been played more than 100 million times on Spotify.

As Soundstorm transforms into the Middle East’s very own Glastonbury, Saudi Arabia hopes to become a leading entertainment company among the Gulf States.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/music-magazine/live-music/live-reviews/soundstorm-festival-music-riyadh-mdl-beast-b2239814.html Crowds celebrate music at the multi-genre Soundstorm festival

JOE HERNANDEZ

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