RIYADH: The largest music festival in the region opened its doors to festivalgoers on Thursday, as the prelude to SOUNDSTORM — the XP Music Conference — ended the first act of “the loudest week in Riyadh.”
Music fans from around the world flocked to the second edition of MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM in the Saudi capital for four days of electrifying musical performances in the desert by more than 200 local, regional, and international artists.
Over 180,000 people attended the first day of the festival.
Ramadan Al-Haratani, the chief executive officer of MDLBEAST, said the event was expected to welcome more than 500,000 people over the four days — surpassing Tomorrowland and Coachella — making it the largest music festival in the world.
Doors opened at 3:30 p.m. welcoming visitors with a performance from Saudi-Palestinian DJ, Daddy Bisht, on the BIG BEAST stage — one of eight main stages at the festival.
Ahmed Nagi, 17, attending the event with friends, told Arab News: “It’s a really cool vibe, and the organization is better than I expected. From the audience to the artists, everything is more than I ever imagined.
“I saw DJ Snake, one of my favorite artists, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other performers,” he said.
SOUNDSTORM has not only brought together some of the biggest names in music under one hub, but it continues to foster and support local and regional artists to showcase their talents on the center stages, chief creative officer Ahmad Alammary, also known as Saudi DJ Baloo, told Arab News.
He said: “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.
“Everyone has a journey with music. It’s like food. There’s no five-year-old that wants to eat sushi, right? Eventually, your palate starts to grow. And that’s why we have such a diverse group of artists in our lineup this year.”
Doors closed at 3 a.m. after fans experienced an incredible set featuring Elissa, Majid Al-Mohandis, Nora En Pure, R3HAB, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso, Tieso, and others.
“Parking was a bit far, but seeing our favorite artists here really made up for it,” said 19-year-old Fahda Al-Qahtani from Riyadh.
Many of the festivalgoers attended the first day of SOUNDSTORM in large groups with their friends, decked out in the brightest face paints and colorful costumes.
The venue features many restaurants such as Al-Baik and Shawarma, an assortment of carnival favorites including arcade basketball and pyramid smash, and local clothing stores including MDLBEAST’s own BANI BEAST, the Kingdom’s first homegrown festival-wear brand.
Inspired by the farwa, a garment worn by locals during cold periods in Riyadh, BANI BEAST’s ethos aims to bridge the gap between traditional tribal wear — bani meaning tribe of — and something as wearable as an overcoat on New York streets.
“We learned so much from our previous experience and all of those lessons went into the design thinking for the next edition. The first edition was something that we developed in three months and built in six weeks,” Alammary added.
For the second edition, MDLBEAST organizers spent five months constructing everything after nearly two years of planning during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — which despite the many negatives gave the festival time and space to prepare.
“The BIG BEAST is the largest main stage and I think it’s even more beautiful than last time because we had more time to design it. The ground also has one extra stage than last year, and we have an additional eighth stage, which will be a surprise for the fans,” Alammary said.
One of the main stages called DANCE BEAST, a new edition this year, acts as a big club space for people to let loose to the sounds of the storm under a large tent. People took the opportunity to visit the tent during performances and danced and mingled as the night progressed.
The underground stages, encompassed by shipping containers, are also back this year with more creativity to their designs.
“One of them is built like an amphitheater, another is dominated by mirrors, and the zombie stage has LED lighting throughout. All this stuff is great, but the talent that’s coming into play is a very passionate talent,” Alammary added.
Another significant angle to this year’s festival is the Respect and Reset section with the title “Respect your right, let’s reset how it’s protected.” It aims to educate the public on respecting diverse backgrounds and creating a united front to fight harassment.
Alammary pointed out that the initiative was also designed to close what he described as the “stranger” gap between people in Saudi society, as well as bridge different cultures.
The beefed-up security at the festival was evident, with more than 8,000 security professionals and response teams on the ground — approximately one member of security staff for every 30 attendees — to help prevent unsocial behavior and create a safe space for festivalgoers.
People attending SOUNDSTORM have been advised by organizers to familiarize themselves in advance with security and safety points to be used in case of any emergency, and are encouraged to become active bystanders in reporting any incidents of wrongdoing via the official MDLBEAST app.