'I never viewed myself as that': Why Cosmicat wants to stop the idea she was Saudi Arabia's first female DJ

The pioneering spinner will perform as part of online music festival MDL Beast Freqways this weekend

Saudi Arabian artist Nouf Sufyani performs under the DJ name Cosmicat. MDL Beast
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This past December, Saudi Arabia was, undeniably, at the centre of the electronic dance music world.

The kingdom hosted one of the industry’s biggest and most lavish music festivals, MDL Beast.

More than 130,000 people, including a host of celebrities, teemed into a purpose-built site on the outskirts of the capital, Riyadh, over three days to see a dream line-up of artists including Tiesto, Martin Garrix, David Guetta and Steve Aoki.

Since I performed, I got so many emails from people who wanted to speak about my career

While their eye-popping sets helped establish Saudi Arabia as a new dance music destination, it was an emerging spinner, located further down the bill, that truly underscored the festival’s historic significance.

Performing under the name Cosmicat, Nouf Sufyani was the only female Saudi DJ on the decks and delivered an immersive set of deep and tech-house originals and remixes.

Why Cosmicat is not the kingdom’s first female DJ

If the spotlight was on Saudi Arabia that weekend, Sufyani, 27, was at the centre of its sharp glare with the international press hailing her as the kingdom’s first female DJ.

It is a notion she wants scratched from the record.

Speaking before her streamed set as part of the MDL Beast Freqways, an epic 12-hour online festival beginning from 8pm on Saturday, June 20, Sufyani says she wasn't entirely comfortable with the sudden global attention.

"To be honest with you, it kind of triggered my social anxiety," she tells The National from the coastal city of Jeddah. "Also, I am glad you asked me about this now, because I want to say that I don't even know where this idea that I am the first-ever female DJ from Saudi came from. I never viewed myself as that because I was inspired by other Saudi women who performed before me."

One of those acts was Sufyani’s college friend, who would play at small parties under the stage name Missy.

“She was the first person I saw DJ around eight years ago and that was just inspiring to see,” Sufyani recalls.

“It was just good to see her and other women out there performing, it made me feel like I wasn't an oddball.”

A sense of connection

Born and raised in Jeddah, Sufyani first got into electronic music in college at the age of 20.

More than its immersive and eclectic sounds, what drew her to the genre was its inclusive approach to expression.

“I have always wanted to create music but I never had the education and I barely found any instruments to buy locally at the time,” she says. “I realised that electronic music was something that I could do if I really got into it and I became really obsessive about it.

"What I love about the music is that it is pure feeling and the artist doesn’t need to tell you how you should react to the sound.”

Encouraged by her parents, Sufyani build her deck skills over the years through making remixes, original tracks and playing the odd sanctioned gig or festival. What was missing, however, was a sense of community. The lack of opportunities to perform meant Saudi EDM artists often operated individually or in tight-knit groups.

Hence, the importance of MDL Beast, Sufyani says. Providing more than just the chance to see their heroes, the festival gave Saudi artists the opportunity to emerge and band together in a community.

“It gave me a bigger sense of connection with the world,” she says. “A lot of us were there together and we met people from all around the world. And that’s the thing that I have always been seeking in the music industry, which is to find and have those connections.”

The beat goes on

And that circle continues to grow.

In the seven months since the festival, Sufyani points to a growth in electronic music classes across the kingdom with DJs offering tips on everything from composition to production.

“Since I performed I got so many emails from people who wanted to speak about my career,” she says. “They asked me how I got into the industry and what kind of equipment I use. That’s really cool.”

The best part of all, Sufyani adds, is that a lot of that fan mail comes from fellow Saudi females interested in stepping up to the decks.

In that sense, it doesn’t really matter if she was the kingdom’s first female DJ or not, for Sufyani’s career ensures she certainly won’t be the last.

Cosmicat performs as part of MDL Beast Freqways on Saturday June, 20. The show will be streamed on the event's website. Entry is free upon registration on freqways.mdlbeast.com