'I don't have to leave Saudi for fun anymore': MDL Beast represents a 'paradigm shift' in the kingdom

'This whole event was designed to have a shock and awe effect,' says the festival's creative director

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Saudi Arabia’s MDL Beast Fest concluded in epic fashion last night. The three-day festival, held in Riyadh, welcomed more than two dozen acts, who performed across its five stages.

Headlining the final day was Dutch DJ Afrojack, who was joined by Moroccan-Dutch R3hab and Swedish Salvatore Ganacci, while Steve Aoki, Tiesto, David Guetta, J Balvin and Black Coffee performed in the earlier nights.

This is the biggest stage in the world right now. The idea is one of energy, potency. The DJs perform under a portal to take you into the future of Saudi Arabia

These big names drew in crowds, too: nearly 200,000 people flocked through the gates over the three days of the festival.

There every single night were Saudi brothers Jamal and Sultan Al Anezi. The pair told us they are proud “Riyadawis” and that the event, in addition to the other social changes sweeping the kingdom, made them reappraise their homeland.

“People are just happy, and it is not just because there is concerts. Come on, it is simply more that,” 29-year-old Jamal, who works in a hospital in Riyadh, told us. “A lot of things are happening here very fast, but we are ready for it because we know what is happening in the world. Change happens. This is normal.”

Saudi brothers Jamal and Sultan Al Anezi went to all three nights of MDL Beast Fest. Courtesy Saeed Saeed
Saudi brothers Jamal and Sultan Al Anezi went to all three nights of MDL Beast Fest. Courtesy Saeed Saeed

Meanwhile, 33-year-old budding entrepreneur Sultan sees large-scale events like MDL Beast as a boost for the local economy. “Look, I am not going to lie to you. Before all these changes happened here in Saudi, I would go to Bahrain nearly every weekend just to have fun,” he says. “The way things are going here, I just don’t feel I have too [anymore].”

A festival that was organised in months

The final evening evening of MDL Beast was marked by a series of huge guest appearances, ranging from Egypt's Amr Diab and Myriam Fares to K-pop band Monsta X – and their vocals served as sweet relief after hours of shuddering beats on the main stage.

From its huge music line-up to state-of-the-art production, everything about MDL Beast Fest was monumental, and unprecedented for the kingdom.

As John Rush, the festival's creative director, told The National, the brief he received was not to simply entertain, but to actually cause a paradigm shift among Saudi youth.

Rush, who has designed numerous festivals in the US says he was thrilled by the ambitious vision for the project. “This whole event was designed to have a shock and awe effect,” he says. “If a normal festival is a stage in a field with artists performing, and people here didn’t have that experience before, we wanted to smash that idea and do something that people have never seen before. The idea was to show people what is possible in a short of amount of time.”

Rush is not being modest. He was enlisted to design the festival only three months ago. “Back in September, there was absolutely nothing,” he says. “This site was a desert, and the idea only existed on a PowerPoint presentation.”

In line with Saudi Arabia’s vision for rapid development, Rush chose the concepts of “energy” and “the future” as the guiding themes for the overall festival design. This resulted in the main stage’s eye-popping design, with the DJs performing underneath a hexagon shape of constantly shifting light.

“This is the biggest stage in the world right now. It is 36 metres high and 126 metres wide,” he says. “The idea here is one of energy, and by that I don’t just mean power, but potency. The DJs perform under what is a portal that is supposed to take you into the future of Saudi Arabia.”

The industry is taking note of Saudi: 'the world is now watching us' 

Omar Basaad was there: the Saudi producer is a stalwart of the local dance music community, and one of the first artists from the kingdom to perform internationally. “I have never seen anything like this,” he says. “I have performed across Europe and the states at big festivals, and to perform in the biggest dance music festival in the world right now, and in my homeland, that is just amazing bro.”

The success of MDL Beast Fest is not only a game changer for Saudi Arabian youth, Basaad states, but for the EDM industry as a whole. “Some of the big festival organisers are here in the crowd,” he says. “Other festivals in the world are now watching us. And I know this from my people, and this is something new. It shows that you need to invest in Saudi and that you can do a lot of things here.”

Joining Basaad on stage last night was MC Money Plus. A much-loved performer on the UAE club circuit, the Dubai rapper said the event blew away any of his misconceptions about the kingdom.

“The idea of having an event this big and on this level in Saudi Arabia was not something that went through my mind," he says. “But for me to come here and witness this first hand, I just got to say 'wow' and salute everyone that's involved, because it was amazing.”

What’s next for MDL Beast?

Ahmad "DJ Baloo" Alammary told The National after his festival set that the party is just getting started.

As a partner in the Saudi marketing and branding agency 9SS Creative, Alammary was part of the team that created the MDL Beast brand.

While confirming that further music festivals are being planned across the country, Alammary says MDL Beast's ambitions extend beyond such events.

“It will be an artist management company, a radio channel, a non-profit organisation that will provide sound therapy to clients. It is more of an ecosystem than just a music festival,” he says.

“This festival was created to establish the brand. But really, the true aim here is to spread smiles and joy. I mean, that has always been here among Saudi youth but for it to be done on this level and scale ... it is just beautiful to see.”


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