MDLBEAST took the world by storm with their premier event last year; Soundstorm. The festival unfortunately had to skip 2020 but is set to return to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2021. They’ve since launched their Freqways livestream featuring acts such as Steve Aoki, Afrojack, Maceo Plex and more.
From hosting the debut of Soundstorm in Riyadh with approximately 400k attendees through to their much-watched Freqways stream back in June; they are continuing to grow as the most inclusive platform in the Middle East that bridges a gap across cultures, offering opportunities for collaboration and representation of regional and social movements in Saudi Arabia.
We talked with Baloo, aka Ahmad Alammary who is the Chief Creative Officer of MDLBEAST. We discuss their expansion throughout the Middle East, their new livesteam series, the effects of COVID and the overall layers of the MDLBEAST brand.
You’ve been a pioneer in the Middle Eastern entertainment market. What were some of the biggest challenges when it came to bringing large scale events to the area?
For our first event, Soundstorm, our challenge was believability. Nothing of this size or of this nature had happened before. Skepticism was high. We were dubbed as the next Fyre Festival when we made our first announcement. We were also trying to build away from the centre of Riyadh, and that gave us a chance to operate in secrecy. This was clearly a double edged sword. We were able to do all this discreetly, but also maybe too discrete for our own good. Once we built it, we highlighted the festival grounds and stages through press and media, and they came, over 400,000 of them.
Through MDLBEAST you’ve been focused on highlighting regional talent and giving them a platform to reach the rest of the world. Who are some of the most promising rising acts in the region?
The region is full of talent! There are already many regional underground brands that are rising like Noctuary out of Dubai, or Propaganda from Bahrain. We also featured regional artists in SOUNDSTORM, Frequencies (our online radio channel) and in FREQWAYS including: Anmarz, TAREK ANTABI, KLED & MAJID, Jade X Tala, Cosmicat, Anmarz, SPCEBOI, Daylomar, Hameed, and Vinyl Mode, among many others.
With regards to the landscape of the wider music industry in Saudi Arabia currently, are there any influential record labels we should be paying attention to?
Yes, a few actually, GLEAM Records, KNZ Records, to name a few, and there are plenty more in development and on the rise, including our own labels.
Why do you think there aren’t that many dance music festivals in the Middle East?
The Middle East actually does host several music festivals in Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, and Bahrain, but I do believe there’s room for much more. There are existing language and cultural barriers that may have blocked the rapid spread of this culture. But it is music at the end of the day, with dedicated fans and followers, and there are millions of people who love to dance in the region. There’s also a different, more musically driven barrier. Arabic music, by default, is dance music. Its rhythms are syncopated just like house and techno, and these have been dominant forms of music for public events in the past. Electronic music has always been appreciated here from a listening perspective, and more recently a lot of regional music producers and DJs have been emerging, influenced by a very universal music with our cultural textures adding those unique sounds.
MDLBEAST has some great opportunities for female artists, what would be the next step for their expansion in Saudi Arabia?
More features! We take pride in supporting both male and female talent across all realms of creativity. We noticed that there is a lack of female representation in the underground scene around the world. We aim to change that as we grow to become a much more inclusive industry, on a global level. Our focus is not just for our brand and our events, but also for the industry in its entirety.
Throughout COVID you hosted a unique livestream concept called FREQWAYS which was designed around the concept of virtual air travel which featured virtual museums and much more. Could you share more about how you developed this concept?
At a time when the entire world was grounded and unable to travel, something we all took for granted before, we wanted to evoke feelings of travel and wanderlust through our experiences. We created FREQWAYS as a faux airline, with flights as musical experiences courtesy of our captains, the DJS, transporting our viewers everywhere. We wanted to create something unique, something we can continuously develop and expand into new ideas within the realm of travel, an experience that can live beyond the COVID era, fresh concepts for music fans to enjoy. We had a great lineup of artists on board, helping us create a truly unique virtual festival experience.
With COVID, artists have been hit hard. How are the performing artists in the region sustaining themselves?
It has been really tough on artists, which is part of why we established FREQWAYS, to begin with. There’s so much uncertainty in our world right now, and it doesn’t stop with the artists, who have had to look at other ways of income. And while we can’t have live events for a while, there are many ways for us to work towards helping artists continue their work, continue to inspire joy in humanity, even during these uncertain times.
With electronic music in the region on the rise, has the surrounding infrastructure in the production and recording side equally grown to support local talents?
We are also working on that. MDLBEAST is a multi-layered brand, we are producers of festivals, but also music, film, video content, immersive art & experiences… all this requires us to build from the ground up, and so we have established an ecosystem of sub brands to support our vision including:MDLBEAST Frequencies, our online broadcast channel, MDLBEAST XP, our non-profit educational and development arm, MDLBEAST Presents, developing small and large scale events across the region and the world, and MDLBEAST Collective, our talent development and booking arm. It doesn’t stop there, we have a lot of exciting work in development.
It seems worldwide that most major events are on hold. When do you think live events will resume in the region? On that note, could you tease when your next festival may be?
I think the safety of people is paramount in our work, and if that is not a guarantee, we will need to innovate and develop new solutions that will keep people safe. Those are all future concepts we are working on, always keeping up with the latest developments in the pandemic. Our next event will not have a date before we can assure our staff, audience, and artists. Either way, this won’t stop us from entertaining our fans, one way or another. We have so much in the works!
A very special David Guetta B2B Steve Aoki set at MDLBEAST last year