interview via Talal Albahiti
Historically, when people think of electronic music, the Middle East is usually not a region that comes to mind. But MDLBEAST in Saudi Arabia is hoping to change that with its massive SOUNDSTORM festival, which has already received numerous accolades and features top-notch programming this year.
We had the opportunity to talk to the festival leaders about their event, their new label and their new music conference. Read below.
How has the year been for you so far, how difficult has the pandemic made it for you and how have you overcome those challenges?
After a difficult 2020, 2021 has been a good year for us and we are really excited for the next three months. Globally, our industry suffered a lot last year, but it’s great to see so many festivals happening again this year and we can’t wait to welcome music fans from all over the region to our festival. flagship “SOUNDSTORM” in December.
That said, COVID was sort of a blessing in disguise for us as we not only launched two virtual initiatives, Freqways and Frequencies, but we also worked on data and information development to support our business development. MDLBEAST Freqways – our multi-level online music experience – was launched in response to the global pandemic and has, to date, spotlighted over 50 local and international artists with performances at 45 global venues. MDLBEAST Frequencies, our online radio channel, is growing daily and has given many local and regional artists a platform to showcase their music. We have also launched our label, MDLBEAST Records with eight releases for international and regional artists to date.
How is SOUNDSTORM doing this year? Who will appear, what will happen?
We are really excited about the festival this year! With over 150 artists performing on 8 stages, it should be even bigger and better than in 2019 and I have no doubt that our guests will experience something really special. When it comes to artists, the line-up really has 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 amazing local talent on display with personalities like Anmarz, Cosmicat, Spaceboi and Zone +. We’re announcing our second lineup soon, so stay tuned for that.
What importance do you attach to the development of the Middle Eastern scene? How challenging is this, 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 formed as a result of the 2019 festival because we saw the potential in the region. We also saw how big an impact this had – not only on the attendees but also on the artists who performed – and we took it upon ourselves to start building an infrastructure that was previously non-existent in Saudi Arabia – and the region as a whole. For example, in the year after SOUNDSTORM 2019, artists who performed at the festival had 36.5% more demand globally compared to those who did not.
Tell us about the new label – what’s the structure, who’s doing A&R and what’s the goal – just to serve up great music, or to find new talent in the Middle East and bring them to the world stage?
MDLBEAST Records is our label branch that produces and distributes music by local, regional and international artists. We are constantly proactively seeking and identifying talent and accepting sets of talent who wish to present themselves. To date, the label has released seven tracks including ‘Toxic Romance’ by COSMICAT, one of the region’s top female DJs, as well as tracks from dance heavyweights R3hab and Salvatore Ganacci.
What are some exciting new talent to look for from the Middle East?
First, there’s Vinyl Mode – a big name in the Saudi underground scene. He has spent over a decade shaping the electronic music scene in Saudi Arabia, growing his profile and connecting with the EDM community both locally and internationally. Another name to watch out for is Nouf Sufyani aka Cosmicat – Saudi Arabia’s first female DJ. She is an inspiration to many promising female DJs in the region and has a great history. She graduated from dental school and worked in a dental practice before becoming a full time artist and recently released her very first single “Toxic Romance”. There is 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 hard for me to pick one or two artists from this line-up because we have so many big names coming to perform. I’m just delighted to see the festival come back after a tough 2020 and to see so many fans in attendance doing what they love; party, dance and enjoy the amazing music and entertainment on offer.
Tell us about the XP Music Conference – why did you decide to organize this, what is the motivation?
XP is a three-day music event with day and night aspects, created to amplify the future of music across the Middle East. It takes place in Riyadh in December and is set to become the most avant-garde gathering of music leaders in the region. The aim is to expand the opportunities for music industry professionals from all walks of life, including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and policy makers, and to create a platform where they come together to build the future of the region’s music industry.
Tell us about the other projects you are working on besides these, what motivates them, what is the overall mission you are on and what are the end goals?
On the project side, we have already discussed our ambitions with the Freqways, Frequencies and XP label. It’s safe to say that these four things – along with the festival – are our priority projects at the moment. Our motivation is simple: to create a musical infrastructure across the Middle East that inspires a new generation of young Arab talent. So far, we are doing a lot of work to bring our end goal to life, but we will continue to strive not to rest on our laurels and to create a viable and sustainable industry for all.
What are you most proud to have achieved so far under the MDLBEAST banner? What is the best achievement to date?
Good question. I’m really proud of how the company has evolved over the past couple of years and how we’ve already given a platform to several local artists to create and amplify their music. I am 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. Additionally, through independent research, we found that 83% of young Saudis believe that SOUNDSTROM 2019 has increased opportunities for local musicians and creatives in the country, and that 86% of young Saudis said they are more proud of creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia as a result of SOUNDSTORM 2019.
Photo via MNO Photo for MDL Beast