interview via Talal Albahiti
Historically, when people think about electronic music, the Middle East isn’t typically a region that comes to mind. But MDLBEAST in Saudi Arabia is hoping to change that with their massive festival SOUNDSTORM, which has already received plenty of accolades and this year features an absolutely top-tier lineup.
We had opportunity to speak to leaders at the festival about their event, their new label, and their new music conference. Read below.
How has the year been for you so far, how much has the pandemic made things difficult for you and how have you overcome those challenges?
Coming off the back of a difficult 2020, 2021 has been a good year for us and we’re really excited about the next three months. Globally, our industry suffered a lot last year, but it’s great to see so many festivals taking place again this year and we can’t wait to welcome music fans from across the region to our flagship festival ‘SOUNDSTORM’ in December.
That said, COVID was somewhat of a blessing in disguise for us as we not only launched two virtual initiatives, Freqways and Frequencies, but also worked on developing data and insights to support our business development. MDLBEAST Freqways – our multistage online music experience – was launched as a response to the global pandemic, and to date has highlighted over 50 local and international artists with performances across 45 global locations. MDLBEAST Frequencies, our online radio channel, is growing daily and has given many local and regional artists a platform to showcase their music. We’ve also launched our record label, MDLBEAST Records with eight releases for international and regional artists so far.
How is SOUNDSTORM looking for this year? Who will appear, what will be going on?
We’re really excited about the festival this year! With over 150 artists performing across 8 stages, it’s set to be even bigger and better than 2019 and I have no doubt our guests will experience something truly special. When it comes to performers, the line-up really does have something for everyone – from David Guetta, Deadmau5, DJ Snake, Eric Prydz, and Steve Aoki, to Adam Beyer, Amelie Lens, Carl Cox, Charlotte de Witte, Jeff Mills, Nina Kraviz and Sven Väth. We also have some incredible local talent on show with the likes of Anmarz, Cosmicat, Spaceboi, and Zone+. We are announcing our second lineup soon, so stay tuned for that.
How important is it to you to develop the middle east scene? How much of a challenge is it, what are the key aspects to develop and work on, where do you think you can ultimately take it?
MDLBEAST, as a music entertainment company, was established off the back of the 2019 festival as we saw how much potential there is in the region. We also saw how big of an impact it had – not just on attendees but also the artists who performed – and took it upon ourselves to start building an infrastructure which was previously non-existent in Saudi – and the region as a whole. For example, in the year following SOUNDSTORM 2019, artists who performed at the festival had 36.5% more demand globally compared to those who didn’t.
Tell us about the new label – what is the structure, who does the A&R and what is the aim – just to serve up good music, or to unearth new talents in the middle east and take them to the world stage?
MDLBEAST Records is our label arm which produces and distributes music by local, regional, and international artists. We’re constantly looking for and identifying talent proactively and accepting sets from talent who’d like to pitch themselves. To date, the label has released seven tracks including ‘Toxic Romance’ by COSMICAT, one of the biggest female DJs in the region, as well as tracks from dance heavy-weights R3hab and Salvatore Ganacci.
Who are the exciting new talents to look out for coming from the middle East?
Firstly, there’s Vinyl Mode – a big name in the Saudi underground scene. He spent over a decade shaping the electronic music scene in Saudi, growing his profile, and connecting with the EDM community both locally and internationally. Another name to look out for is Nouf Sufyani aka Cosmicat – Saudi Arabia’s first female DJ. She’s an inspiration to many up-and-coming female DJs across the region and has a great story. She graduated from dentistry school and worked in a dental practice before becoming a full-time artist and has recently released her first-ever single “Toxic Romance”. There’s also a DJ called Malkin, who is part of an exciting new wave of EDM artists emerging from the Middle East.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing at MDLBEAST and why?
It’s really difficult for me to choose one or two artists from this line-up as we have so many great names coming to perform. I’m just excited to see the festival return after what was a difficult 2020, and to see so many fans in attendance doing what they love; partying, dancing, and enjoying the incredible music and entertainment on offer.
Tell us about the XP Music Conference – why have you decided to put this together, what is the motivation?
XP is a three-day music event with day & nightlife aspects, created to amplify music futures across the Middle East. It’s taking place in Riyadh in December and is set to become the most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region. The aim is to expand opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives, and policymakers and create a platform where they all come together in building the future for the region’s music industry.
Tell us about the other projects you work on besides these, what motivates them, what is the overall mission you are on and what are the end goals?
Regarding projects, we’ve already discussed our ambitions with the record label, Freqways, Frequencies and XP. It’s safe to say those four things – along with the festival – are our focus projects for the time being. Our motivation is simple: to create a music infrastructure across the Middle East which inspires a new generation of young Arab talent. So far, we’re doing a lot of work to bring our end goal to life, however we’ll continue to push ourselves to ensure we don’t rest on our laurels and create a viable and sustainable industry for all.
What are you most proud of having achieved so far under the MDLBEAST banner? What is the best achievement so far?
Good question. I’m really proud of how the company has evolved over the last two years and how we’ve already given a platform to several local artists to create and amplify their music. I’m also proud of the impact our festival in 2019 had on the country, creating 16,000 direct and indirect jobs while driving exponential growth in the entertainment industry. Moreover, through independent research, we found that 83% of Saudi youth believe that SOUNDSTROM 2019 increased opportunities for local musicians and creatives in the country, and that 86% of young Saudis said they were prouder of the creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia as a result of SOUNDSTORM 2019.
Photo via MNO Photo for MDL Beast