Not All Desert And Sand: MDLBeast Is Showing Off What Saudi Arabia Has To Offer

The crowd in front of the massive main stage at MDLBeast’s Soundstorm 2022, taking place on the northern outskirts of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, Dec. 1, 2022. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

When we reached out to MDLBeast co-founder Talal Albahiti, Riyadh had jut been taken over by Gamers8, one of the world’s biggest gaming events, which resides in the Saudi capital until the end of August. MDLBeast is responsible for the entertainment surrounding the virtual extravaganza, as it has been for the past three editions. Macklemore, Alan Walker, Afrojack, and Imagine Dragons lead this year’s lineup, which also features Saudi’s own Moayad, R3hab, Dafencii, and Vinyl Mode, who are signed to MDLBeast Records. It’s one of the ways outside MDLBeast’s main event, the annual Soundstorm festival, in which the company can showcase the rich pool of talent Saudi Arabia has to offer.

Since the premiere of Soundstorm in 2019, which put MDLBeast on the map internationally, the company has been able to build a healthy database of customers, which has made marketing its many events much easier, as has the growing thirst for entertainment among the mostly-young population in Saudi. Venues of all shapes and sizes are popping up all over the place to satisfy, and anticipate, the growing need for space to host live shows. No wonder Albahiti said about his state of mind at the half-way mark of 2023: “We’re quite comfortable. Ticket sales have skyrocketed compared to last year. We’re excited to see that the demand is growing, and we’re happy to be at the forefront.”

MDLBeast: Born In Riyadh, At Home In The World

Outside of its main event Soundstorm, MDLBeast is producing the third edition of Azimuth Festival in AlUla in September, at an outdoor location so pristine, it’s been deemed a UNESCO heritage site. Talal said, “we’ve found the sweet spot of how to treat these locations. They’re very fragile. For example, a team of sound engineers has to make sure that we direct our speakers at a certain angle, so they don’t cause rocks to fall or old buildings to crumble. But it’s quite a scene. The artists coming out of the dressing room are usually looking around and thinking, ‘where the hell am I?'” It’s not the first heritage site MDLBeast has showcased artists on. Last year, the team ran five stages in the Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad district. “We try to show off what Saudi has to offer. We’re not all desert and sand. There’s a lot of locations that are coming up, which will hopefully allow us to string more tours together,” Albahiti explained.

Dish-Dash performing at the Diriyah JAX 2022 arts festival, organized by MDLBeast. The artist is also signed to MDLBeast Records. (Photo by Amro Nureldine / AFP)

He said agents increasingly asked him about opportunities to bring over more artists and have them play more than just one or two shows. After all, if you’re traveling all the way from LA, you want to make the most of it. “This is why we’re focusing on our venues,” Albahiti said, “We’re opening a couple this year and in 2024, even outside of Saudi. We’re now speaking to partners in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait. We’ll start connecting the dots for the artists to have a good and healthy tour in Saudi. Typically, the big companies that buy artists tours skip the middle east completely. I’m trying to show them that there’s a huge opportunity here. When Martin Garrix sells 5,000 tickets in the U.S., I’m sure we can sell 50,000 here.”

“It’s all about the venues,” he emphasized, “currently we’re relying on the events that happen once or twice a month. But once we have the actual venues, I can start signing deals with artists to do residencies, and not just come in for one or two shows. There’s a cool venue that we’re working on, that sits in [Riyadh’s] diplomatic quarter, which contains all the embassies. It’s a very upperclass, unique venue, that carries about 600 people. There’s an old cement factory, which is no longer in use. We’ve asked the municipality to keep the building as is to give it that rough industrial look, and we decided to start producing in the insides of this huge dome where they used to make cement. Obviously, we’re cleaning the hell out of it, but once that’s done, I think it’s fantastic for underground electronic music. We have a few rooftops in Riyadh, a couple of rooftops in Jeddah, and we’re going to be operating a beach in Jeddah, as well. These are the main ones that we’re trying to open doors for this year. Next year, hopefully six more will follow across Jeddah, and AlUla.”

And those are just the venues MDLBeast is working on. There’s many more that have opened, or are about to, which the company may not run, but where where it will still be involved in booking the artists.

Saudi Cinema Night At Hotel Gray D'Albion
DJ Cosmicat, who is signed to MDLBeast Records, has been enjoying international success for a while now. Here she’s seen performing at the Saudi Cinema Night at Gray d’Albion during the 75th annual Cannes film festival 2022 in France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)`

The improving infrastructure will, of course, also be a boost for the rich pool of local talent all across the Middle East. As other nations like Spain or the South American countries, and even India, have shown: language barriers don’t exist anymore. Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna made history at this year’s Coachella as the first artist to perform a full set in Arabic. Saudi’s own Cosmicat made her U.S. debut at Ultra Miami in March. Granted, she doesn’t rely on lyrics, but the female DJ from Saudi Arabia, who also performed alongside David Guetta at his latest Ibiza residency, is evidence that world is ready for Arabian artists.

The demand for entertainment leads to a demand for professionals that can work the shows. MDLBeast isn’t the only live business looking to hire. “One of our signed artists, Dish Dash, just told me that he got contacted by a couple of distribution companies, agents, artists, and managers have opened up shop in Riyadh. I was quite excited to hear that,” said Albahiti. Finding the next generation of live biz professionals, and giving creators the business tools and know-how to start profiting off their music will be one of the main topics to be discussed at XP, MDLBeast’s annual music business conference at the end of November. XP traditionally kicks off Soundstorm, the company’s crown jewel. “This year, we’re definitely going to be focusing on expanding our genres. Year one was mainly electronic, with a few bands and a down-beat stage. Last year, we had DJ Khaled and friends, Bruno Mars, Post Malone. This year, we want to focus a bit more on hip hop, given that it’s the 50th anniversary of hip hop,” according to Albahiti, who was unable to announce any names at press time, but he revealed that he’d like to get into promoting rock and roll shows. Maybe not at Soundstorm, but at one of the many future buildings. “There’s a big following her,” he said, “It’s just a matter of choosing the right artists. I’m a big rock fan, so I’m excited to see some more rock bands over here.”

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