RIYADH: Just like that, the second edition of MDLBeast Soundstorm festival came to a close with a bang on Sunday night in Riyadh. The EDM event, which kicked off on Thursday, brought music lovers together for four nights of non-stop entertainment, dancing and electronic tunes.
Bandana-clad festivalgoers flew in from all parts of the world to enjoy a spectacular and diverse lineup of performances. Local talent shared billing with internationally renowned DJs, such as Afrojack, Benny Bennassi and Tiesto; Arab superstars, including Wael Kfoury, Nancy Ajram and Elissa; and regional artists, namely, Dish Dash, Cosmicat and Saud.
Following a pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020, MDL Beast made their eagerness to make up for lost time clear as this year’s event was bigger and better than the inaugural SOUNDSTORM festival in 2019.
Chief creative officer Ahmad Alammary, also known as Saudi DJ Baloo, told Arab News: “We work with a lot of passion, because it’s music, and music really does inspire a lot of love. It’s exciting to work in a creative field, but even more exciting to spread joy. Working creatively to spread joy is the perfect combination of ingredients.”
More than half a million people attended the festival, surpassing Tomorrowland — making it the largest music festival in the world.
“The venue blew my mind on how big and amazing it was,” said Prince Saud Al-Saud, 25, from Jeddah, who attended the event with his sister, Deema. “I also felt like I was out of Saudi Arabia. It really feels like it can rival Tomorrowland,” he added.
“The music was incredible and it was amazing to see so many people having a lot of fun. The only negative was the amount of walking we had to do to reach the venue. In addition, I’d like to point out the behavior of some of the attendees. It was appalling and shameful to see.”
Daoud Tabibzada, 28, who flew in from Dubai to attend, told Arab News: “The festival was nothing like I expected. From the festival setup to the different types of artists that were booked, it really took me by surprise. I loved the production and the performances. The crowd did get rowdy at times, but it was to be expected at a music festival. I was really looking forward to Future’s set, but unfortunately I missed it. However, Martin Garrix really made up for it. All in all, I would love to attend MDL Beast again next year,” he added.
“To be honest, I’ve been to several festivals in my life outside of Saudi Arabia and I could say that this one was within my top three,” said Widad Taleb, a 24 year old from Beirut. “The ambience was cheerful and positive, the food was great and even the staff on the field were extremely helpful.”
In addition to more stages — the first event had six while this year’s boasts eight, including the Guinness World Record-breaking Big Beast stage — the 2021 SOUNDSTORM festival featured more food options and parking spaces, as well as ramped-up security following disturbing sexual harassment claims from female attendees in 2019.
This year, the festival introduced “Respect & Reset,” an anti-harassment initiative aiming to create a safe and respectable environment for all attendees and making reporting instances of abuse and harassment easier for guests.
“They should have discounted the tickets more for women so there would be at least a 40:60 ratio in there. Because of all the harassment rumors, many women were afraid to come, although I did not experience such a thing,” said Taleb.
The festival got off to a shaky start on the first day, with many festivalgoers left stranded in the middle of the Banban desert after shuttle buses that were meant to transport attendees to and from the venue stopped running.
But organizers made sure to fully compensate ticket holders by increasing parking and replacing park-and-ride transportation with on-site parking for all ticket categories for the next three days, ensuring a seamless experience.
And for ticket categories, music lovers had three options to choose from, in addition to exclusive VIP boxes and table services.
The “Storm Chaser” tickets offered general admission to the grounds, while “Storm Blazer” featured additional perks, such as on-site parking and golden circle access at the main stage.
Meanwhile, “VIB” ticket holders were treated to access to an exclusive VIP area that featured lounges, dance floors, diverse food options, live dance performances, shisha and close-up views of the Big Beast, the world’s tallest and largest stage.
Throughout the four days, the Big Beast played host to a spectacular lineup of some of the world’s most celebrated musicians and DJs, including Tiesto, Martin Garrix, Future, David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, Steve Aoki, Jason Derulo and Swedish DJ Alesso, who closed the event with an energizing performance that had festivalgoers dancing until the early hours of Monday morning. The Big Beast not only brought together some of the biggest international names in music on one stage, but also beloved Arab stars such as Amr Diab, Balqees Fathi, Tamer Hosny and Myriam Fares, to name a few.
In addition to Big Beast, the SOUNDSTORM 2021 festival featured a closed tent holding an incredibly packed EDM atmosphere called Dance Beast and the Underground area, which catered to those who prefer music that is a little less mainstream.
For those searching for quick respite from the electronic beats, the MDLTOWN section of the festival site offered a selection of art galleries and clothes shops to browse, including MDLBEAST’s own BANI BEAST, the Kingdom’s first homegrown festival-wear brand.
Cosmetic retailer Sephora also set up shop for attendees looking to get festival makeup done or those who simply needed to touch up their glitter.
“I was not expecting at all what I saw, to be frank. It was as if Riyadh was transformed into a beautiful hot spot, because I felt like a tourist in the country I reside in. I was expecting more of a restricted experience, but my friends and I had the most fun we’ve had in so long. It definitely exceeded my expectations,” Taleb said.
Echoing on her statement, Dubai-based Sonia Al-Sowaiegh, 26, said: “As a Saudi, I’m so proud of how far we’ve come. To have a so many people celebrate music together makes me so happy to see.”
Unimaginable just a few years ago in the Kingdom, the second edition of MDL Beast’s SOUNDSTORM is proof of the success of the rapid cultural reforms ushered in by Vision 2030. Now, Saudi music lovers no longer need to hop on an international flight to experience live performances by their favorite artists.