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RIYADH: An electronic music festival billed as one of the world’s biggest, and a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing entertainment scene, has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to a remote desert location outside Riyadh over the past three days.

Rave-goers at the third edition of Soundstorm crowded the stages, wearing a unique combination of local Bedouin clothing, Saudi national dress, and streetwear in the form of colorful hoodies and jackets and glitter designs.

MDL Beast, the Saudi entertainment company that launched the festival in 2019, is one of the most high-profile examples of the rapid social changes that have engulfed the Kingdom since the launch of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 transformation plan in 2016.

Last year, more than 730,000 people attended the four-day festival, and this year the organizers expect an increase in the number of the three-day festival, which ended on the 3rd of December.

Soundstorm demonstrates the power of music to bring people together in moments of shared joy.

“This is about love,” shouted American producer and rapper DJ Khaled from the stage of Big Beast on Friday during his first performance in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

As MDL Beast introduced rap and hip-hop to this year’s lineup, rap legends Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future, Rick Ross and T.I. joined DJ Khaled on stage to “DJ Khaled & Friends.”

The inclusion of hip-hop stars also underlines the growing diversity of Soundstorm’s musical genres, mixing top Saudi and Arab performers with international acts – a sign of the growing desire of international artists to perform in the Kingdom.

“The response from the international talent has been very good, and we see many musicians from abroad wanting to perform at our event, which is in line with our mission to give fans the best experience,” said Talal Al. -Bahiti, chief executive officer of MDL Beast, and head of talent booking and events, in a statement.

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Top international stars performing for the first time included Bruno Mars, Marshmello and Post Malone. Returning DJs, such as Carl Cox, DJ Snake and David Guetta, lit up the stage, while a strong group of female Saudi DJs, such as Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin joined their peers Dish Dash, Vinylmode and regional star. DJ Aseel, making this year’s lineup the most unique to date.

“We have strong female Saudi DJs now,” Danah, 27, a Saudi DJ who plays at Soundstorm at VIB, told Arab News.

The Saudi music scene, previously underground, has become “a great culture of shared inspiration,” he said.

“One DJ was giving me his equipment; we all shared and encouraged each other,” he said. “It was a great thing where women were empowering women to play music, men empowering women to play music, and it wasn’t just filling a gap in the market. We continue to spread this love today.”

“The event represents our grand launch,” said Ahmad Alammary, MDL Beast’s chief artistic officer and DJ who goes by the name Baloo.

“If Soundstorm had a middle name, it would be developed,” he added. “We like to improve the way we design the event. Since last year, we have learned more about people’s behavior, preferences. And there is a huge demand for growth that comes with this rapid change in lifestyle.”

The experience of this year’s festival is enhanced in Premium and VIB — Very Important Beast or VIP – which goes from stage to stage to special viewing points through a connected network of elevated walkways like several large loops.

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The upgraded Soundstorm building also included open seating areas in the form of park-like spaces with food and beverage stations, as well as on-site parking for all admission ticket holders.

The festival, which follows the three-day XP Music Conference at the JAX district in Diriyah, showcases Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing entertainment industry.

“We are entering our third edition of Soundstorm, doing so now knowing the great impact the festival has in helping to promote, unite and grow the music scene and industry in the Kingdom and beyond,” MDL Beast CEO Ramadan Al-Haratani told Arab News.

After the first Soundstorm in 2019, “the economic and social impact was not what we expected,” he said.

Soundstorm promotes soft power growth in Saudi Arabia after years of closure. The festival gives young Saudis a new sense of pride in their country through creative expression and enjoying music on a personal and group level, he said.

“It provided a platform for many talents in the region and allowed the Saudis to recognize these unexpected talents.”

According to MDL Beast, 83 percent of young Saudis believe that Soundstorm increases opportunities for local artists and creators in the country, with 86 percent of young Saudis saying that their pride in art and culture in Saudi Arabia has grown as a result of the first festival.

MDL Beast said there was a 36.5 percent increase in demand for international artists in the 12 months after the first Soundstorm in 2019, according to the IMS Business Report 2021.

According to Al-Haratani, this festival shows that “the expansion of interest in the music system can be the basis of the Kingdom’s social transformation, including connecting Saudi fans with their favorite international musicians, as well as the establishment of new venues and recording labels and continuity.” the growth of our evolving music system.”

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Among the challenges MDL Beast has faced is how to handle unprecedentedly large crowds of men and women dancing the night away in a country where it was unheard of just a few years ago.

After many claims of harassment during the first and second editions, MDL Beast launched an anti-harassment campaign called “Respect and Reset”, and said that it will take action against anyone who abuses or abuses.

Signs that read “Respect and Reset” and “Visit our R&R centers for help with abuse” were posted throughout the area. A white tent was set up to help those who have been abused near the medical tent.

Al-Haratani said security has been increased this year to more than 3,800 personnel on site, with an estimated 1 security guard for every 35 visitors. Additionally, the festival was monitored by more than 300 CCTV cameras. Free water was available throughout the night at all locations.

Baloo said the festival’s suspension includes “safe dance areas.”

“If anyone feels insecure or unsafe or wants to dance alone or as a couple, then we will build places in the big stages where women and couples can dance freely,” he told Arab News. “Everyone is welcome to come.”

“In the last three years things have changed from zero to 100 here,” Lana Alsherif, 23, communications coordinator for XP Music Futures, told Arab News.

“It’s great to see this in the music industry. Everything is happening now. There are many opportunities and everyone wants to find talent. We want to build connections with everyone from here in Saudi, promote local talent and bring international artists. We want to be a new brand in the music industry.”

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