In Saudi Arabia, there is a music collective called MDLBeast that seeks to uplift the electronic music scene all across the Middle East.
Beginning in 2019, MDLBeast hosted the first electronic music festival in the Middle East, called Soundstorm. It took place in the capital city of Riyadh across three days and hosted over 130,000 people. Due to the success of the maiden event, MDLBeast then hosted a second event in December of 2021 that expanded to four days and hosted over 500,000, becoming the largest music festival to ever be held in the Middle East.
When you think about global, large-scale music festivals and their iconic destinations, such as Tomorrowland in Belgium and EDC Las Vegas, these festivals are iconic. But have you ever thought about an equally iconic festival in the middle of the glorious Arabian desert?
The Middle East is poised with perfect weather and ample space for an outdoor music adventure. That is exactly what MDLBeast is hoping to continue accomplishing. However, doing so has obstacles.
Many Middle Eastern cultures are rooted in moral and religious customs. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the state of the Middle East has made the expansion of many music cultures challenging. Customs dictate everyday lives, and these standards don’t often include casual or mass gatherings for the purpose of listening to music, especially music that branches heavily away from religious norms and decorum.
Additionally, the Middle East has dealt with political unrest and warfare that has made it difficult for musicians, artists, and DJs to gain the recognition and opportunities that so many in the music industry are afforded in other regions.
Aside from the large-scale festivals MDLBeast has been putting on, they also do other amazing work in the industry. They operate a YouTube channel where they have their own show that explores underground music across the world, they conduct interviews with middle eastern and big name artists alike, they sponsor harm reduction intiatives in the middle east that otherwise don’t exist in the music industry there, and they operate their own record label. This team truly takes the term “collective” to heart and has no plans on stopping their already illustrious progress.
Culture Impacts on Music in the Middle East
In 2017, Vice published an expose on what it was like to be a musician in the Middle East by profiling several artists from predominantly Muslim countries. The article painted a thought-provoking scenario: “Unless you’re Middle Eastern, or a world music aficionado, chances are you can’t name enough artists from the Middle East to count on one hand.”
According to the Vice article, “Nightlife has been banned since the Islamic revolution and they do not currently have an organized contemporary music scene.” Music in the Middle East typically serves a religious purpose, and music outside of this purpose is explicitly or implicitly banned in many areas of the Middle East. In some instances, you must to acquire permits to perform or author music.
Due to many of the regions in the Middle East experiencing ongoing internal and external conflict, many of these areas do not have the infrastructure to sustain club shows or festivals. Some even lack electricity or running water, and buildings showing the scars of many conflicts have made it increasingly difficult to perform live.
Even with all of these obstacles, there are still those who perform underground and have been doing so since the ’90s. They have also left their countries and spread across Europe and the United States seeking to fulfill their creative destinies. Collectives such as MDLBeast wish to bring them back to the places they call home by providing an atmosphere that supports and welcomes them.
MDLBeast as a Collective
MDLBeast has a manifesto that sums up the work they are doing, and what they hope to accomplish:
With our beast lens, we see the world a little differently.
Creating fresh music, art, and culture from the underground up
Pulling in the obscure, the unconventional and the surprising.
The things that light up your curiosity
We’re here to make you move, to the beat of your own drum.
Our creative journeys are ongoing, our destinations unexpected
Culture is always in motion, and so are we.
Amplify the unseen.
THIS IS MDLBEAST.
Aside from large-scale festivals, MDLBeast curates a YouTube channel where they host a show called “Amplify.” The series goes global to find the hottest underground events and locations. They hope to bring them out of the underground with explorations of Amsterdam, Berlin, Sarajevo, and New York City.
In addition to their “Amplify” series, they also have great interviews with artists such as Steve Aoki, R3hab, in addition to Middle Eastern DJs including Cosmicat from Saudi Arabia.
MDLBeast operates a record label called MDLBeast Recs that produces local artists from across the Middle East. They released a track with R3hab and Middle Eastern artists FAFAQ and DNF called Ringtone. Demos are accepted through their website, and anyone is welcomed to submit their music.
Lastly, MDLBeast has teamed up with renowned subject matter experts to launch their support for an anti-harassment initiative called Respect and Reset. According to their site “[Respect and Reset is] aimed at education, prevention, and support resources. A team of internationally renowned subject matter experts has begun coordinating with local resources to implement wide-reaching anti-harassment initiatives, dedicated to creating a safer, more respectful music and entertainment experience for every attendee.”
By supporting initiatives like this, MDLBeast is opening a dialogue on how to create more inclusive and safe events for everyone in the Middle East. What’s more, MDLBeast is breaking the stigma that music is “not a job” or “not a worthy profession or passion,” and building the narrative that music can lead to success and can help regions scarred by conflict uplift their communities.
The work starts with collectives like MDLBeast, and it ends when we all band together and show our sense of pride and unity in the global EDM community. Remember the age old values PEACE, LOVE, UNITY, and RESPECT (+responsibility). Values in which we can all choose to instill in the world and follow in the footsteps of this amazing collective.
Recently announced, Soundstorm will return this year for it’s third installment. To take place December 1-3 in Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Pre-registration is now open to receive news on early bird ticket sales, lineup announcements and more. If you’re interested in travelling abroad this for a whole new experience, be sure and sign up here for all the information you will need once it’s announced!
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