RIYADH: The Gulf’s largest music festival returns to Riyadh next weekend for three nights (Dec. 1-3) packed with huge international stars and local up-and-comers. Last year’s SOUNDSTORM reportedly welcomed 730,000 attendees and, according to organizers MDLBEAST, the festival has almost doubled in size this year, with dozens of artists appearing on seven different stages over the course of the weekend.
The festival is once again dominated by EDM DJ sets, although one of the biggest names on this year’s lineup is US singer Bruno Mars, whose fusion of funk, pop, R&B, and soul will be a departure from SOUNDSTORM’s trademark vibe. There are other non-DJ-driven performances lined up too, from acts including veterans of the Arab indie scene Autostrad, and the German-Syrian electronic music duo Shkoon, whose fusion of Arabic-styled instrumentation and Western electro (or ‘Oriental Slow-House’) has established them as one of the most thrilling acts on the Arab electronica scene. As organizers MDLBEAST’s COO Talal Albahiti explained in a recent press release, the promotion of Arab artists remains an important part of the company’s strategy for its events.
“As well as bringing superstar global headliners to the Kingdom, it is also essential to us that we center our efforts on showcasing unseen talent from across the region,” he said.
Those superstar global headliners include quite a few acts returning from last year — usually a sign that a show has gone well (and/or that the fee is extremely generous) — such as Steve Aoki, David Guetta and Tiesto.
With a few acts still to be confirmed at the time of writing, here are our picks for some of the must-see sets at this year’s SOUNDSTORM.
As mentioned, the French DJ-producer David Guetta will once again be performing at SOUNDSTORM (and at just about every other dance festival that ever happens anywhere), and will doubtless once again prove just why he’s a must-have for almost all EDM promoters around the globe, with his undeniable knack of giving the crowds exactly what they’re there for — Guetta’s unmatched ability to create commercial dance-pop that gets people moving.
While Guetta’s appearance as a headliner is a given, the same certainly can’t be said for Bruno Mars (pictured). But one thing Mars does have in common with his fellow headliners is his danceability. He’s also a consummate old-school showman, whose magnetic live performances have been compared (favorably) with Michael Jackson, James Brown and Elvis Presley for their irresistible charisma. US rapper Post Malone will also be a welcome addition for those who like a little variety at their festivals — his mixture of hip-hop, R&B, and trap will neatly bridge the gap between Mars’ more-commonplace pop and the festival’s mainly electronic vibe.
Elsewhere on the bill, we’re looking forward to seeing another DJ returning for a second year, Tiesto (Tijs Michiel Verwest) — often cited as the “Godfather of EDM” for his mastery of house music — and his compatriot Hardwell; DJ Snake, the French-Algerian producer behind Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album, his huge hit with Lil Jon “Turn Down for What,” and 2019’s viral smash, the reggaeton/EDM crossover “Fuego”; Palestinian-American DJ Khaled, on the bill as DJ Khaled & Friends — a moniker that has, in the past, seen him perform with luminaries including Lil Wayne, Mary J. Blige and Drake, so be prepared for some exciting surprises on the night; the Latin-American infused sounds of Swiss-Chilean DJ Luciano; the bass-heavy grooves of Marshmello; the hugely popular French house DJ Cedric Gervais, who won a Grammy for his 2013 remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”; and Salvatore Ganacci, the Bosnian-Swiss DJ whose live shows are some of the most thrilling around — as shown by the online popularity of his sets at Tomorrowland in 2018 and 2019. Also returning from last year are US superstar Steve Aoki and another acclaimed Dutch DJ — Afrojack.
As we said before last year’s event, the festival’s programmers deserve plaudits for showing some love to dance-music pioneers, as well as today’s chart-topping big names. UK DJ-producer Carl Cox — renowned for popularizing three-deck mixing in his homeland’s rave scene — was one of the world’s first celebrity DJs, and is returning to SOUNDSTORM for the second year running. Also making his second appearance is Sven Vath (pictured), a hugely important figure in Germany’s influential underground electronic music community, who garnered international recognition as one of the figureheads of Ibiza’s rise to the top of the global party scene. They are joined by Italian dance-music legend Benny Benassi, whose 2002 hit “Satisfaction” played a major part in EDM’s crossover into the mainstream.
Once again, SOUNDSTORM will give local and regional artists a rare opportunity to perform in front of a sizeable crowd. For Saudi DJs and musicians in particular, these are shows to savor, in a country where it was impossible for them to perform in public just a few years ago. Those who played in 2019 and 2021 certainly raised their profiles, and many will be returning this year. Saudis performing include Cosmicat (Nouf Sufyani), Dish Dash, Baloo, Hats & Klaps, Birdperson, Omar Basaad, and Saudi house music champion Tarek Antabi. The aforementioned Shkoon (pictured) and Autostrad will be repping Arab alternative acts, while there’ll be a no-doubt emotional trip home for LA-based Saudi singer-songwriter Tamtam. Lovers of deep cuts should also check out the set from Shadi Megallaa, founder of Dubai’s The Flip Side, one of the region’s only independent record stores.