RIYADH: The inaugural MDL Beast music festival, the biggest event of its kind in the Middle East, has proved to be a massive hit with fans of electronic dance music in Saudi Arabia.
Many of them responded enthusiastically to a request on social media by General Entertainment Authority Chairman Turki Al Sheikh to wear bandanas to the three-day festival.
On Thursday, the opening day, tens of thousands flocked to the massive outdoor venue in Banban, Riyadh, which has five stages, an arts zone, a culinary section and a retail area. And on Friday, the crowd was even bigger. Arab News talked to some of them to find out what they think of the event.
“What a difference five years makes,” said Asma Al-Dulaigan, who works as a flight attendant. “When I was growing up, we had to adhere to strict rules and music was forbidden.
“Only three years ago music wasn’t allowed to be played in restaurants or public places. Now we are hosting the biggest festival in the Middle East.”
There was incredible diversity on display among the concertgoers. Some men wore traditional Saudi attire, while others opted for jeans or sweatpants. As for the women, some wore abayas and niqabs, some chose more colorful versions of the traditional dress, and others opted for a more casual look and were bundled up in sweaters.
The reign of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has brought many changes that Saudis never dreamed of: Women can drive, strict male guardianship rules have been relaxed, women have been empowered in the workplace and tourist visas are being issued to attract international visitors.
The music festival offered a chance to see how people are coping with these changes in practice — or, perhaps more accurately, how they are embracing them.
“Take a look around; does anyone look scarred by the past?” asked Mariam Abdullah. “We’re too busy moving toward the future.
“When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said we will go back to what we were 40 years ago, he kept his promise,” she added, referring to the more liberal attitudes that prevailed in the Kingdom prior to the 1980s. “Saudi Arabia is changing for the better for us, and if some people cannot believe it, then that’s their problem.”
“It’s like Coachella,” said Abdullah Al-Qidran, an Aramco employee who had a red Banda wrapped around his forehead, as he compared MDL Beast to the famous music and arts festival in California.
“In the opening act today, (Saudi DJs) Dish Dash performed, and I was just talking to my friends asking them if they thought Dish Dash ever imagined they’d be here as Saudi performers at the biggest Middle East techno concert. It’s unbelievable.”
Of course, EDM is not to everyone’s taste and some people decided to give the event a miss. But even then, they said they were pleased with what the event represents in terms of a more open and diverse future.
“It’s not my scene,” university lecturer Sarah Adnan said of the festival. “But I’m glad that we’ve opened up, and happy that we now have choices.”