When Baloo first started DJing nearly a decade ago in Saudi Arabia, the scene was different.
He remembers the parties he would gig at as being more, well, intimate.
However, with the electronic dance music (EDM) growing to become one of the most popular genres today, and the changes in Saudi Arabia, those gigs have grown over the years, and his deep house sets now host up to 1,000 people.
Baloo is about to perform his biggest show yet, as part of the much-anticipated Middle Beast Fest in Riyadh.
Running from Thursday, December 19 to Saturday, Saturday 21, more than 50 artists will perform in a purpose-built venue hosting five separate stages. Leading the dream line-up are EDM mega stars such as Dutch DJs Martin Garrix and Afrojack, in addition to popular veterans Tiesto and David Guetta.
To be included among such esteemed names, Baloo states, means that Saudi Arabia is now truly part in the global EDM culture.
“We've been buzzing and it has been happening for decades,” he says. “I've been doing it for 20 plus years here and it grew from parties of 15 to 20 people to now hundreds and even thousands.”
Adding to the historic significance of the event is Cosmicat. Hailed by organisers “as Saudi Arabia's first female DJ," she says she is part of a Saudi EDM community full of talent and potential. “People have been waiting for this forever,” she says.
“We have lots of artists here in Saudi Arabia, and giving them this platform to show the world what Saudis are capable of is everything.”
It is a sentiment echoed by fellow spinner Mohannad Nassar. Performing internationally since 2012 under the name of Vinyl Mode, he is looking forward to his biggest home gig of his career.
The fact that he can share the stage with fellow Saudi talent, he says, makes it sweeter.
“The local talents are like a time-bomb,” he states. “They are so talented, they have so much inside them, and they are just ready to pop.”
Yet despite the large scale of Middle Beast Fest and local expectations, the Saudi artists are really just looking to enjoy the festival as much as the crowd. They all entered the scene first as fans.
Cosmicat says it best: “If someone ever told me a couple of years ago that Middle Beast is coming with all these artists and this crazy line-up here in the middle of Riyadh, I would just tell them 'you're tripping'.”
Local spinners on the Middle Beast bill
Baloo, Cosmicat and Vinyl Mode are not the only Saudi talents taking the decks at Middle Beast. Over the weekend, nearly a dozen local artists will be on hand to showcase the burgeoning talent that makes up the kingdom’s EDM scene.
Here are five acts to check out:
The duo are veterans of the scene, having performed in various underground and large-scale public events for nearly a decade. Driven by powerful tech sound, the group have the experience to rock a large crowd.
Real name Ahmed Aziz, the Jeddah DJ and producer's work has a keen focus on melody and movement. “It is underground music with a hypnotic groove,” he says in his SoundCloud page. “It is about playing those tracks that get you tapping your feet and nodding your head without you realising it, regardless of genre, tempo, style, release date.”
Residing between Jeddah and Toronto, Shisma has been perfecting his “deep and dark groove” since 2010. His healthy catalogue of work also showcases an ear that extends beyond the clubs, with references to jazz, funk and classic RnB.
The Jeddawi artist, real name Faris Melibari, is viewed as a stalwart of Saudi's formerly underground dance music scene. His deep tech sounds are interesting, as Varoo takes his cues not from the major European hot spots such as Holland and Germany, but from the adventurous sounds coming from Eastern Europe – particularly from the vibrant dance scene of Romania.
Expect him to bring some traditional vibes to Middle Beast. The Saudi producer and DJ has built a reputation for his blend of deep house and Saudi folk, ranging from its signature syncopated beats to flutters of the oud and ney. As he says in his bio, it is all about creating a vibe and “combining traditional instruments with cosmic and nostalgic tones.”
Middle Beast Fest will be held from Thursday, December 19 to Saturday, December 21. The purpose-built venue is located opposite the Durrat Al Riyadh Resort & Spa, Banban, at King Fahd Road, Exit 6, Durrat, Riyadh.
Tickets begin from SAR 150 (Dh140) for a one-day pass to SAR 300 (Dh293) for a three-day pass. The prices then increase to include platinum and VIP packages. More information is available on www.mdlbeast.com