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Soundstorm fest attracts massive crowds

Saudi Arabia’s Soundstorm festival pulled in huge crowds from around the world, according to promoter MDLBeast.

Held in Riyadh from 16-19 December, the four-day event hosted more than 200 acts, including international stars such as David Guetta, Jeff Mills, Major Lazer Soundsystem, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Armin Van Buuren and Carl Cox. Ticket prices started at 339 SAR (€80).

Organisers say daily attendance averaged 183,000, while the Saudi Gazette reports the festival attracted 200,000 fans for its second day alone.

It has been a success on every level

“It exceeded the expectations of everyone, including us as organisers,” says MDLBeast CEO, Ramadan Alharatani. “It has been a success on every level, having attracted a huge number of music lovers and provided them with a safe space to enjoy the highest standards of music entertainment. We are very proud.”

Soundstorm featured four main areas including the main stage Big Beast, reputedly the world’s tallest and largest stage.

First staged in 2019, this year’s edition came on the heels of MDLBeast’s inaugural XP Music Conference.

Speaking at XP, Saudi Arabia’s assistant minister for tourism, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud, said the number of concerts held in the kingdom each year is set to rise by up to 600% on pre-pandemic levels.

Global superstars including Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, A$AP Rocky and David Guetta performed in Jeddah for the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix post-race concerts earlier this month, while a series of events are also taking place as part of Riyadh Season, which runs from October to March.

 


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Saudia Arabia to host 600% more concerts from 2022

The number of concerts held in Saudi Arabia each year is set to rise by up to 600% on pre-pandemic levels, according to the kingdom’s assistant minister for tourism.

International superstars including Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, A$AP Rocky and David Guetta performed in Jeddah for the post-race concerts after the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier this month. A series of events are also taking place as part of Riyadh Season, which runs from October to March, and features the likes of Pitbull.

Speaking at MDLBeast’s inaugural XP Music Conference, which concludes today in the capital city of Riyadh, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud discussed the region’s potential as a live events destination.

Where we had 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600% from 2022 on

“People used to travel for nature, and then they started to travel for culture and now it’s about lifestyle,” she said, as reported by the National News. “It’s about meeting other like-minded people from across the globe and sharing what they are passionate about. The creative industries, such as music, is at the very heart of that.

“You are talking about 25% of the UK and US population, pre-Covid-19, of course, travelling to attend at least one music festival a year. This tells you where the world is shifting and where it is growing. So where we had 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, before the pandemic, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600% from 2022 on.”

Princess Haifa recalled her time working on the Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in 2018, which included a three-day, 60,000-cap. music event featuring acts such as Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, David Guetta, OneRepublic and The Black Eyed Peas.

“That event made us realise that there is an appetite both locally and internationally to experience Saudi Arabia and for Saudis to experience their own country,” she said.

While acknowledging the music scene was currently being “supercharged” by government bodies such as the General Entertainment Authority, she shared her hopes that in time, most events will be initiated by the private sector and Saudi creative communities.

“Because we are kick-starting and opening something that is an absolutely green field, there are a lot of regulatory reforms that need to accompany all these developing industries,” she said. “So this is why the government is playing a more proactive role at present while [understanding] there is a need for organic growth.”

 


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VibeLab co-founder on Saudi Arabia’s music push

One of the speakers at Saudi Arabia’s first music conference, XP, has shared his thoughts on how the region can further grow its creative economy.

Lutz Leichsenring, co-founder of Amsterdam-based consultancy VibeLab, will appear at the inaugural three-day event in Riyadh from 13-15 December, which is aimed at accelerating and amplifying the music business in the Middle East.

A leading authority on protecting night time economy, community and culture, Leichsenring advises the territory to take note of the best practices and tools employed around the globe.

“It is important to understand that the music scene is not going to be built the same way you build a tower,” he says. “There is not an actual blueprint to building a music scene, but I don’t see this as something very hard as it is rooted in the Saudi culture.

“The Saudi people are creative, the Saudi people have craftwork, the Saudi people enjoy music. It is basically rooted in their DNA. The important question is how to rekindle this?

“You need to make sure that people are willing now to a different route from their parents or grandparents, or even from the musicians they listen to that are from another country. You need to make sure that people are willing to build their own identity and own culture. And all of this takes a lot of time – there’s no shortcut.”

Huge transformations are happening in the country and they’re creating the opportunity for what was previously underground to enter the mainstream

Billed as the “most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region”, XP is being organised by MDLBeast in partnership with the Saudi Music Commission and will feature leading cultural representatives and music industry experts from around the world.

Through workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, networking opportunities, and music activations, XP plans to expand opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and policymakers.

Organisers say the conference is built on four key pillars – talent, policy, scene and impact – that will help to amplify the region’s music industry. The full programme will be released in due course.

Asked how a country like Saudi Arabia goes about building a music scene, Leichsenring says: “Most cities, most countries will have had a scene of some sort. Perhaps it wasn’t visible, perhaps because it wasn’t allowed, but there would been something there and that was certainly the case in Saudi, with a genuine underground vibe.

“Now, these huge transformations are happening in the country and they’re creating the opportunity for what was previously underground to enter the mainstream. That’s being supported by government, so from the top down, but then there’s also the grassroots ‘bottom up’, organic scene which is now able to grow much much more.

“Further, there are now Saudi creatives returning home to be a part of these changes and they’re bringing experience they’ve gained all around the world back to their hometowns. This is amplifying the movement.”

Regional artists TamTam and Jeme have also been announced for the conference.

“I’m inspired by a lot of cities and Los Angeles is top, although it’s not the perfect role model for our region,” says TamTam. “I think the best angle would be to take away what’s best from different music cities, not just look at one city.”

“Creating public venues for artists to showcase their art and work will play a big part in supporting the music ecosystem as a whole,” adds Jeme. “Having more venues will create demand for artists, a huge market for promoters, booking agencies, production companies and so many other possibilities.”

Meanwhile, MDLBeast’s Soundstorm festival, which debuted in 2019, will return to Riyadh between 16-19 December, this time with a fourth day.

Armin van Buuren, deadmau5, The Chainsmokers, Charlotte de Witte, Cirez-D, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki and Tiësto are among the 150 acts scheduled.

 


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MDLBeast plans S.Arabia’s first music conference

MDLBeast has announced Saudi Arabia’s first music conference, set to become the “most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region”.

The inaugural conference, XP, will take place in the capital city of Riyadh between 13 and 15 December, drawing leading international and regional music industry executives.

Through workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, networking opportunities, and music activations, XP plans to expand opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and policymakers.

The conference, which is in partnership with the Saudi Music Commission, comes days after MDLBeast’s Soundstorm 2021 festival, which debuted in 2019.

“XP is a first for the region and will serve as the foundation for a thriving music industry across the Middle East”

Ramadan Alharatani, CEO of MDLBeast, says: “XP is a first for the region and will serve as the foundation for a thriving music industry across the Middle East. Providing a platform to authenticate and further build the music industry in the region, local and international guests will be embraced by the wealth of possibility offered by this exciting new market over the three days. Through XP, we aim to join the global conversation, and by hosting such an event we will continue to build & accelerate the music infrastructure across the region.”

Nada Alhelabi, XP programme director, added: “Through these conversations, we want it to inspire future generations to consider a career in the industry and promote music as a vehicle for job creation and innovation, making it a sustainable industry from which they can profit. A big focus for us is promoting diversity, wellbeing, and fair working conditions to empower females and give a voice to minority groups within the industry.”

The organisers say the conference is built on four key pillars – talent, policy, scene and impact – that will help to amplify the region’s music industry. Full programming will be released in due course.

Soundstorm will return to Riyadh between 16 and 19 December, this time with a fourth day.

Armin van Buuren, deadmau5, The Chainsmokers, Charlotte de Witte, Cirez-D, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Tiësto are among the 150 acts slated for this year’s bumper edition.

 


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Anghami to open venues in Middle East, UK, US

Anghami, the largest music streaming service in the Middle East and north Africa (Mena), has announced plans to open music venues in Dubai, Riyadh and several other Middle Eastern cities, as well as in the UK and North America.

Lebanon-based Anghami, which is preparing for a flotation on New York’s Nasdaq market, has partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch Anghami Lab, an “innovative entertainment venue” concept which will debut in Dubai in early 2022. According to the companies, Anghami Lab will bridge the worlds of live and digital music, its live stage being joined by a studio where performers can create “music inspired by both Arabic and international cultures” which will then be made available to listen back exclusively on Anghami.

In addition, new features will be added to the Anghami app “complementing both experiences”, say the new partners.

“This is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience”

Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami, says: “We are excited to partner with Addmind to create this unique, transformational experience for our users. Addmind is a leading expert in conceptualising and operating hospitality spaces, and this is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience.”

Following the opening of the Dubai venue, further Anghami Labs are planned for Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, then Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Cairo (Egypt), Beirut (Lebanon), London, New York and Los Angeles.

“Anghami is more than just a streaming platform,” comments Tony Habre, CEO of Addmind. “They have elevated the value of the music industry in the Middle East as a whole. Anghami Lab is an amazing and unique concept that embodies our rich Arab culture with an international twist, which we are thrilled to bring to fruition and scale.”

 


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Rock-it Cargo allies with Saudi Arabia’s Sela

Rock-it Cargo has gained a foothold in the emerging Saudi Arabian market by partnering with Sela Sport Company, of the kingdom’s leading event management outfits.

The global partnership sees LA-headquartered Rock-it become Sela’s freight-forwarding and logistics provider for all countries outside of Saudi Arabia, while Jeddah-based Sela will act as the logistics provider to Rock-it Cargo within Saudi Arabia.

Sela, which has worked with partners including Live Nation Middle East, WWE, PRG and Formula 1 race circuit designer Tilke, offers services including event management, venue operations, ticketing, sponsorship, broadcasting, marketing and athlete representation.

Under the partnership “Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Sela now has a global partner with an extended network across five continents,” says Paul Martins, president and CEO of Rock-it.

“Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”

“Both companies are already well-established market leaders in delivering time-sensitive logistics solutions for live sporting and entertainment events, industrial projects and much more. This new global partnership provides us with a strong opportunity to further grow our business and broaden our service offering for customers.”

Rock-it will act as Sela’s single provider to handle the global logistics of freight movement to Saudi Arabia for the company’s shows and events.

“Sela is going to raise the bar once more in the event management sector in Saudi with our partnership with Rock-it,” comments Loai Kamakhi, general manager of business solutions for Sela.

Rock-it Cargo in January announced its merger with UK-based Sound Moves, with both companies set to rebrand as Rock-it Global later this year.

 


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MDLBeast’s Ahmad Alammary: “Saudis love to dance”

Ahmad Alammary, chief creative officer of Jeddah-based entertainment company MDLBeast, has said the success of its recent Freqways festival further underlines Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a live music market to watch.

Alammary describes MDLBeast (pronounced “Middle Beast”) as an “entertainment and lifestyle experiences brand with a focus on music, art and culture”. Founded by a group of “ambitious professionals [from] various backgrounds and disciplines”, the company’s first event, the MDLBeast festival, took place in December 2019, with performers including Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix and David Guetta, as well as a number of local DJs.

“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh,” recalls Alammary, who also DJs under the name Baloo. “People really enjoyed what we prepared, and we pulled it off in record time.”

In keeping with the times, MDLBeast’s second festival was an all-digital affair: a 12-hour, multi-stage online event that took place from 20 to 21 June. MDLBeast Freqways again featured a mix of international and local talent, with Baloo and compatriots Cosmicat, Antabi Brothers and Jade and Tala rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aoki, Afrojack, Claptone, Maceo Plex and Benny Banassi during the free-to-watch live stream.

Freqways – which ran from 7pm to 7am local time – was seen by more than 650,000 people and recorded 1.2 million total views, with attendees in 185 countries across the Middle East, North America and Europe, according to MDLBeast.

“There are so many talented artists in our region”

The DJs performed live from their own cities, allowing those with an MDLBeast Freqways ‘boarding pass’ to visit destinations including Las Vegas (Aoki), Zurich (EDX), Rotterdam (Afrojack), Beirut (Jade and Tala), Paris (Phil Weeks) and Thee Ain, Saudi Arabia (Baloo).

“We wanted to develop something that anyone could relate to, and that we were all longing for,” explains Alammary. “Discovery, travel, culture, dancing, nature, heritage: all these came into play, and we produced 30 videos in locations around the world.”

“We realised that we needed to give people a sense of escapism,” he continues. “We wanted to remind people, virtually, that there is so much to see around the world, even through a screen – to bring people around the world together through a virtual musical experience.”

A “string of future events” are in the pipeline for MDLBeast, including further Freqways ‘flights’ and more “physical events, once we feel it’s safe again”, according to Alammary.

Events like MDLBeast/Freqways, as well as the growing number of shows in Saudi Arabia more generally, illustrate how “accepting and encouraging of cultural events” Saudi music fans are, he says. (Other recent festival successes include Jeddah World Fest and Winter at Tantora, while artists including Mariah Carey, BTS and Marshmello have played headline shows.)

“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh”

“People all over the world love music,” continues Alammary, and Saudis are no different: “Saudis are musical people; we love to dance!”

While many foreign observers focus on the newfound ability of Saudi Arabia to attract major international artists, Alammary says MDLBeast is committed to using its platform to showcase and developing local talent. “There is a big community of music-lovers in Saudi,” he says, and “Saudi DJs have been seeing great popularity on a local and regional level” after years of playing underground.

“There are so many talented artists in our region,” he concludes, “and we wanted to create a platform that celebrates them and our own perspective of nightlife and entertainment.

“There’s so much more coming, and we’re excited about bringing it to the surface.”

 


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Bridging the Gulf: Arab Gulf states come of age

And it was all going so well!

Going into Christmas, you might have said the live entertainment business in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf states was on a decisive path to maturity, at least in certain prominent markets. Dubai finally had its permanent Coca-Cola Arena and was hauling in the crowds and the talent, including Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and John Legend.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, had nailed down a name for its own 18,000-cap. indoor venue – Etihad Arena, part of the 12 billion AED (€3bn) Yas Bay development project – and an expectation of a 2020 opening.

Even Kuwait, fairly quiet lately on the touring front, was preparing to cut the ribbon on a 5,000-cap mixed-use arena: the Sheikh Jaber Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah International Tennis Complex in Surrah, managed by Live Nation and opened in February.

And, of course, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the pedigree dark horse of the region, was fast emerging as by far the most promising market of them all, with concerts, festivals, Formula E racing, international tennis, equestrian competitions and boxing.  To varying degrees, these events have met with international controversy due to Saudi’s well-known diplomatic issues.

But they have also been powered by large amounts of cash, rabid local demand and the grand ambitions of ‘MbS’ – controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – and his Vision 2030 plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop its public sector.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible”

Then came Covid-19, which still rages worldwide at press time, and the region was forced to hit pause on its entertainment aspirations. Like almost everywhere else, concert halls closed, shows were postponed, and the industry went into enforced hibernation. When it will rouse itself again is anyone’s guess.

“As with the rest of the world, all events [in Saudi Arabia] are cancelled until further notice,” said Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of regional ticketing hub Platinumlist, speaking to IQ in late March. “The public is not allowed to go outside the house from 3pm until 8am and the death toll is rising. People are worried.”

The UAE states had imposed similar measures and were already daring to dream of a light at the end of the tunnel. “Large organisers are hopeful to restart their operation in July, but again, that depends on how the situation pans out in the coming [months],” said Anatoli.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so I’m sure they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible,” he added. “[Dubai’s] Expo 2020 has already been moved to ’21. As for the rest of the organisers, they have moved all events to November and December. Rugby Sevens is confirmed for December, but again, it depends on government regulation.”

Each of the various Gulf markets has its own economic logic: generous state funding combined with remarkably strong ticket sales in Saudi; a similar balance in Abu Dhabi, albeit on a far less turbo-charged scale; and a grittier commercial market in Dubai, closely controlled, but not underwritten, by the state. Clearly, all will suffer damage, even if some can absorb it better than others.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 89, or subscribe to the magazine here


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Saudi fund adds Disney, Facebook to entertainment stocks

Saudi Arabia’s acquisitive sovereign-wealth fund added investments in leisure and media giants including the Walt Disney Company, Facebook and Marriott International in the first financial quarter of 2020, according to newly revealed US regulatory filings.

According to the Financial Times, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – which made headlines last month after buying half a billion dollars’ worth of Live Nation shares – spent nearly US$8bn on US and European blue-chip stocks in the first three months of the year, as the Gulf kingdom seeks to benefit from low prices on stock markets spooked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Live Nation share purchase, along with an earlier buy of Carnival Cruise Line stocks, were picked up by industry and financial press at the time, as the value of the deals (relative to the size of the companies) required that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) be notified.

However, the earlier purchases were also sizeable: Among the PIF’s pre-Live Nation investments are a $827.8m stake in BP, a $713.6m stake in Boeing and smaller investments in Bank of America, Citigroup, Starbucks and drugmaker Pfizer, reports the FT.

IF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks”

The stakes in Disney and Facebook are valued at $496m and $523m, respectively, SEC filings reveal.

The fund has also been linked with Warner Music Group in recent weeks.

A senior Saudi official told the FT in April that the kingdom had set up a dedicated team to look at the “midterm and long-term, downside and upside” of the global economic crisis caused by governments’ response to the spread of Covid-19.

The PIF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks who we expect will be sector leaders when global economic activity begins to approach pre-pandemic levels”.

Other sovereign funds in the oil-rich Middle East, including Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, and the Qatar Investment Authority, are also seeking investment opportunities, the paper reports.

 


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Saudi government takes $500m Live Nation stake

The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has taken a 5.7% stake in Live Nation.

According to a document filed today (27 April) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the PIF has bought 12,337,569 shares – valued at just shy of US$500 million at the time of writing – in the world’s largest live entertainment company.

The fund is now reportedly Live Nation’s third-largest shareholder, with Liberty Media still No1 and investment company Vanguard Group second.

Live Nation’s share price rose above $40 for only the third time this month following the SEC disclosure, continuing a rally that began in late March following a sharp fall after its shows were postponed or cancelled globally.

The investment in Live Nation is the latest in the live sector for rapidly liberalising Saudi Arabia, which is pushing hard to grow its domestic events market in order to reduce its reliance on oil revenues.

PIF bought 12,337,569 shares, valued at just shy of US$500 million

Speaking after a BTS show last October, Live Nation Middle East’s president, James Craven, celebrated the growth of live entertainment in Saudi Arabia, saying: “Two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi.

“I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people.”

Following the debut of Jeddah World Fest, the country’s first-ever popular music festival, two months earlier, organiser Robert Quirke was similarly full of praise for the transformation, telling IQ: “There is absolutely no doubt that this is a turning point in Saudi youth culture and live entertainment. The future is incredibly bright and full of hope for the new generation.”

Earlier this month, PIF governor Yassir al-Rumayyan revealed the fund is looking into investment opportunities in “areas such as aviation, oil and gas, and entertainment”, according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia took a stake in Carnival cruise lines shortly before.

 


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