Vaccination checks, mask wearing, sanitisation stations and a strict code of conduct are some of the health and safety measures being taken by this year’s biggest dance music festival in Saudi Arabia.
Soundstorm (formerly known MDL Beast), which begins on Thursday on the outskirts of Riyadh, returns with another mega four-day event featuring more than 150 artists playing across six state-of-the art stages.
Organisers are predicting that the event will surpass 2019’s total attendance figures of more than 400,000 people, so nothing has been left to chance on the safety front.
“We’ve had dedicated teams bringing best practice from around the world, working tirelessly to create a safe and fun place for all,” said Ramadan Alharatani, chief executive of the festival's parent company, MDL Beast.
“We want everyone who comes to our events to have the best possible experience. Safety, security and the opportunity for great fun is something we are striving to provide for all our attendees, female and male, as we will not accept any form of misconduct.”
The MDL Beast code of conduct, available online, focuses on behaviour deemed “uncomfortable” to fellow attendees, that is abusive, offensive or illegal.
A zero tolerance policy is also in place against all forms of harassment and discrimination, with immediate removal as a consequence.
More than 8,000 security officials will be on site, providing a ratio of approximately one guard for every 30 festival goers and a dedicated hotline, including the festival app, are also on hand for swift reporting of offenders.
Playing in the big leagues
Alharatani said these developments are part and parcel of Soundstorm being in line with international safety practices.
Organisers are, after all, aiming to establish Soundstorm as a world-leading dance music festival.
Such was the public and industry response to the first event that MDL Beast wasted no time in building an eco-system of initiatives surrounding Soundstorm.
These included the streamed digital festival Freqways in June, featuring more than a dozen Saudi artists performing in locations across the kingdom, and the XP Conference, a three-day gathering of music industry leaders and artists taking place in Ad Diriyah until Wednesday.
"We have always been about creating something more than a festival," Alharatani said. "While we are proud of what was achieved, the most important thing is using that as a baseline to build and nurture a music industry in Saudi Arabia.
“This is why we introduced the XP Conference, for example, so we can look at the industry beyond the dance-floor and that then leads right into Soundstorm to see how some of the things discussed are put into practice."
It is no surprise that Soundstorm has returned with an even bigger line-up.
In addition to the heavy-hitters on the desk such as trance music figurehead Armin Van Buuren and EDM stars Afrojack, Deadmau5 and recent Abu Dhabi F1 concert headliner Martin Garrix, a number of unsung industry heroes and quiet pioneers of the genre are also scheduled to appear.
They include Detroit techno music pioneer Jeff Mills and the UK’s Carl Cox, renowned for being one of the founders of the British rave scene in the late 1980s.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you
The well-balanced line-up is down to the knowledgeable crowd awaiting the artists and the growing pulling power of the festival.
MDL Beast initiated a study on the 2019 festival and the results, Alharatani said, proved to be a game changer when it comes to booking international talent for this weekend’s festival.
"An interesting aspect is how our relationship with some of the international artists and agents has changed since the first edition in that when they first came in 2019 they were so surprised by the festival and the crowds that by this year we were getting requests to perform," he said.
The research showed artists who performed got a boost in online listenership. “Twelve months later we saw a 36 per cent increase in demand for those artists in Saudi Arabia, so this points to the impact of the festival in that it opens international artists up to new audiences, which they can then grow and expand.”
Bringing it all home
A more important result for Alharatani is for Soundstorm to increase the tourism footprint in Saudi Arabia.
With the launch of the eVisa in 2019 and the stringent measures in place to execute a thrilling and safe event, he envisions the festival becoming a tourism magnet for local and international music lovers.
The vision is in line with Saudi Arabia’s national tourism strategy, outlined by the Assistant Minister for Tourism Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saudin her XP Conference address, during which she said music events will play a central role.
"There is an abundance of entertainment taking place in Saudi so we want people to come here to visit and find out what we have and offer," Alharatani said.
"When it comes to music tourism, we at the festival want to be at the forefront of that. Also when it comes to us Saudis, we used to fly overseas to see music events and festivals. With Soundstorm, the exciting message is that we have finally brought these festivals home.”
Soundstorm runs from Thursday to Sunday, December 16 to 19, in a purpose-built location in Banban, Riyadh. Tickets are from Saudi riyals 399 ($106), which includes a shuttle bus from various locations in Riyadh, and go up to Saudi riyals 8,999. Doors open from 3pm. More information is available at mdlbeast.com
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures from MDLBeast in 2019: