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Metallica fuel Saudi Arabia’s concert charge

The country will host its first major heavy metal concert when the US band headline Riyadh's Soundstorm festival next month

By James Hanley on 28 Nov 2023

Metallica in Amsterdam

image © Jeff Yeager

Metallica are set to perform the first major heavy metal concert in Saudi Arabia in the latest evolution of the country’s burgeoning live entertainment scene.

The American band, who debuted in the Middle East at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Park in 2011, will headline the opening night of MDLBeast’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh on 14 December.

“An amazing opportunity has just come our way to perform at a major festival that we have never played in a part of the world we rarely get to visit,” Metallica wrote on their social media channels.

The group are currently in the midst of their M72 World Tour and will join a short list of guitar-oriented acts including Imagine Dragons and OneRepublic in playing Saudi Arabia.

“When we started playing, there were so many parts of the world where the type of music that we were doing was not really accepted,” Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich previously told The National. “There were a lot of places where people didn’t know what we were doing or didn’t have enough infrastructure to support a band like us. But it’s opening up. It’s changing and the world is shrinking. It’s great to be in the front lines.”

Soundstorm 2023, which runs from 14-16 December, will also welcome acts such as Black Eyed Peas, Calvin Harris, Chris Brown, Anne-Marie, David Guetta, H.E.R., Wizkid, Swedish House Mafia, J Balvin, Swedish House Mafia and Martin Garrix. General admission day tickets start at SAR169 (€41), with three-day passes available from SAR379 (€92).

“The desire for people to go and see live events in Saudi Arabia is stronger than anything I’ve seen in 35 years in the industry”

“The desire for people to go and see live events in Saudi Arabia is stronger than anything I’ve seen in 35 years in the industry,” Iain Campbell, ASM Global EVP of the MENA region told IQ‘s Global Arena Guide earlier this year. “With all the venues planned for Saudi Arabia, and potentially three in Riyadh alone, there could be a tour circuit of this country alone.”

The country’s ongoing efforts to attract and host A-list live entertainment is documented in IQ‘s recently published Global Promoters Report 2023. There is great interest in the opening up of the once-closed country, despite the kingdom’s record of human rights abuses.

A huge number of new venues is being built by the state, including the 20,000-seat Jeddah Arena, which is due for completion in December 2025, while the 25,000-cap Al-Awwal Park was renamed Mrsool Park in 2020. Other big name acts to have performed in the kingdom include Post Malone, Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars.

Veteran promoter Thomas Ovesen joined Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in 2019 before launching his own company TOP Entertainment. He was hired to head up European live entertainment group All Things Live’s fledgling UAE-based Middle East operation earlier this year, and sees the emergence of the Saudi scene as an international touring destination as a huge positive.

“The Saudi market is an incredible story of how the country has gone from having no entertainment at all to now featuring live entertainment and music events for almost any type of activity,” says Ovesen. “The exciting part of this development is that it is still in motion, so we are only still getting to terms with how we service, collaborate, and benefit from this new market.

“As most of the Saudi show programming and bookings are done by or for government stakeholders, it’s yet to be seen how we will eventually be able to do business there and take risks on our own events based on a conventional market scenario.”

“Of course, there are challenges, including that some artists are still hesitant to play this market”

He continues: “Of course, there are challenges, including that some artists are still hesitant to play this market; very short timelines on many entertainment projects and bookings; and the perception – sometimes with reason – of unlimited budgets driving fee expectations up on the artist side. But on balance, the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East live events and entertainment market is a great opportunity for our business.”

Ovesen says the Saudi market is “young, affluent, and very engaged, so pretty much anything will perform well right now”, adding that contemporary music, K-pop, and EDM are especially popular. And while the population is young, there’s also good business for mature audience offerings in smaller capacity venues and premium priced tickets.

Abu Dhabi-headquartered Ethara, which was formed earlier this year with the merger of UAE state-owned promoter Flash Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, is also active in the country.

“We are anticipating further interest and arrival to the region for major live events, shows, and performances following the recent successes in the UAE and Saudi,” says Ethara chief venues officer, Brint Jackson. “With this, it is important that we continue to strengthen the region’s infrastructure and capabilities to host international events, thus leading to further interest from international brands to enter the space.

“The coming years will be focused on expansion and growth, but we need to keep versatility firmly in mind with this to allow for new opportunities as well.”


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