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Eminem to headline Saudi’s Soundstorm festival

Eminem is set to make his live debut in Saudi Arabia as one of the headliners for this year’s Soundstorm by MDLBeast festival.

The Detroit rapper will top the bill for the fifth edition of Soundstorm, which returns to the capital Riyadh from 12-14 December.

Thirty Seconds to Mars, Muse, Richie Hawtin and Marco Carola have also been announced for the 2024 lineup. Ticket prices range from SAR209-899 (€51-220).

After building its reputation as an electronic music-oriented event, Soundstorm has evolved into a multi-genre festival. Metallica became the first major heavy metal band to perform in Saudi Arabia at last year’s gathering, which also starred the likes of Travis Scott, Timbaland and Wizkid.

The country’s ongoing efforts to attract and host A-list live entertainment are documented in IQ‘s Global Promoters Report 2023 and Global Arena Guide 2024. There is great interest in the opening up of the once-closed country, with a flurry of new builds and upgrades on the way, despite controversy around the kingdom’s human rights record.

Eminem and Muse will also join Maroon 5 as headliners for this year’s Yasalam After-Race Concert Series, tied to the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix

The New Murabba Development Company, which is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), this week unveiled designs for a new 45,000-cap stadium. The venue will be located in Riyadh and is anticipated to be complete by the end of 2032.

Other new builds in Saudi include the 45,000-cap Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh unveiled as part of the Vision 2030 masterplan. Saudi already has four large stadiums under construction or being upgraded ahead of its hosting of the 2027 Asian Cup.

“The Saudi government has plans to build venues all across the country,” Iain Campbell, Oak View Group’s EVP Middle East and Africa, told the Global Arena Guide. “Not just in Riyadh but Jeddah and across the nation. The number of new venues in the pipeline is very exciting.”

In addition, ASM Global has planned a 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena Airport City at King Abdulaziz International Airport, and other developments are planned for Dammam.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Eminem and Muse will join Maroon 5 as headliners for this year’s Yasalam After-Race Concert Series as part of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend from 5-8 December.

 


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Saudi plans another stadium amid flurry of new builds

Saudi Arabia is set to gain another stadium, amid a flurry of new builds and upgrades.

The New Murabba Development Company, which is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), today unveiled designs for the new venue.

The 45,000-capacity stadium will be located in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and is anticipated to be complete by the end of 2032.

The development company said the venue would feature “cutting-edge” sporting technology, while renderings show the stadium in football mode – suggesting that it could be used for the 2034 FIFA World Cup in Saudi.

Other new builds in Saudi include the 45,000-cap Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh unveiled as part of the Vision 2030 masterplan.

The stadium, named after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, will be capable of hosting some of the country’s biggest sports, entertainment, and cultural events, including, potentially, matches at the 2034 World Cup.

“The New Murabba Stadium embodies our commitment to transforming Riyadh into a global destination for sports and entertainment”

It will serve as the home of Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and is projected to attract an estimated 7.6m annual visitors, with a retractable roof, pitch, and LED wall, and a lake and ice wall to cool the air inside.

Meanwhile, ASM Global has planned a 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena Airport City at King Abdulaziz International Airport, according to the Global Arena Guide 2024, and other developments are planned for Dammam.

Saudi already has four large stadiums under construction or being upgraded ahead of the 2027 Asian Cup, which it is also hosting.

“The New Murabba Stadium embodies our commitment to transforming Riyadh into a global destination for sports and entertainment,” says Michael Dyke, chief executive of New Murabba Development Company.

“The stadium will not only be a world-class venue for sporting events but also a vibrant community hub that enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.”

 


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Platinumlist expands event ticketing business into Oman

Platinumlist, a leading ticketing and event solutions company in the Middle East, has announced its official launch in Oman.

The Dubai-headquartered firm deals in concerts, sporting events, attractions and more in 18 cities across Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Last year, the company expanded into Turkey with two concerts at the Haliç Congress Center in Istanbul by Iraqi singer Majid Al Mohandis and Syrian singer Assala Nasri.

Building on the firm’s success in these markets, Platinumlist is planting its flag in Oman to help organisers stage music festivals, cultural events, corporate conferences and other events.

Cosmin Ivan, CEO of Platinumlist, says “We are excited to bring Platinumlist to Oman. Our goal is to provide top-tier support and innovative solutions to event organisers. We believe our platform will significantly enhance the event experience in Oman, and we look forward to collaborating with local organisers to create memorable events for audiences.”

“We believe our platform will significantly enhance the event experience in Oman”

According to the most recent International Ticketing Report, Platinumlist has historically claimed up to 80% of all entertainment ticket sales in the UAE but as Live Nation gets the region in its sights, the local Ticketmaster branch can only grow.

In the report, Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of Platinumlist, said the ticketing market in UAE is going through a period of significant growth and diversification. “We experienced a significant surge in the number of events being ticketed.

“Many of the event organisers now prefer more customised ticketing solutions for their events. In this context, Platinumlist stands as a complex but agile solution, containing a diverse range of ticketing products such as tourist attractions and activities, sporting events, venue management ticketing solutions, tourist attraction inventory management ticketing solutions, and business events.

“With our flexible ticketing system, we are experienced at promptly adapting to the developing needs of organisers and facilitating the completion of customised solutions.” He says the company’s active customer base “increased over two-fold in the last two years. Overall, we are very lucky that the company has grown 100% without any investment while maintaining profitability growth of 100%.”

Read more in the International Ticketing Report 2023.

 


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Saudi Arabia to gain another new arena

Saudi Arabia is set to open another arena as part of its goal to enrich the country’s entertainment landscape by 2030.

The 20,000-seat multipurpose venue is being built in a new city on the outskirts of Riyadh, around the historic town of Diriyah.

Designed by London-based architects HKS, Diriyah Gate Arena will cover 76,000 square metres and is currently one of the tallest new buildings planned for the town.

With huge sand-coloured stone blocks and a cascading waterfall of digital windows, the design of the building adheres to the classic style of Najdi architecture that Diriyah is famous for.

Adjacent to the arena will be a plaza intended for live performances, pop-up shows and events, as well as an urban park.

“The Arena in Diriyah is a cornerstone element of our mission to blend tradition with innovation”

The arena is said to be a key component in Diriyah’s ambitious $63.2 billion master plan to foster cultural and economic development in Saudi Arabia.

Under the plan, the Diriyah Gate development also includes Saudi’s first opera house, a new Saudi Arabian Museum of Contemporary Art and a full-size version of the famous Parisian avenue, Champs-Élysées Boulevard.

The new city also aims to draw visitors to events such as the Diriyah E-Prix and Diriyah Season, with scores of new hotels being built.

“The Arena in Diriyah is a cornerstone element of our mission to blend tradition with innovation,” says Jerry Inzerillo, Group CEO of Diriyah Company

“It exemplifies Diriyah’s unique lifestyle offering that harmonises community, culture, and natural connection, setting a new standard for world-class destinations rooted in Saudi heritage.”

Oak View Group are believed to be involved in Diriyah Gate Arena, which will be located mere miles from a brand new 45,000-capacity stadium in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh that is also part of Saudi’s Vision 2030 masterplan.

 


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AEG Presents secures LIV Golf concert partnership

AEG Presents has announced an exclusive multi-year partnership with professional golf tour LIV Golf.

The arrangement will see AEG and its Concerts West subsidiary book acts and produce live concerts for LIV Golf events around the world.

From this spring, AEG Presents/Concerts West will book musical acts and execute concert production for LIV Golf tournaments around the globe, including talent booking, artist management, show and venue planning, creative development and technical production.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to join forces with LIV Golf to bring world-class entertainment to this exciting new golf league,” says Mark Norman, SVP of global touring at Concerts West. “This felt like such a natural fit for us, and to sit right at the intersection of sports and music will enable us to super serve an audience that’s looking for an elevated experience at LIV Golf events and tournaments.”

“Through this partnership, the league’s fan-friendly tournament experiences and ‘Golf, But Louder’ ethos will reach new levels of excitement”

Artists including Zac Brown Band, Tiësto, Nelly, Sebastián Yatra and Alesso have performed for LIV Golf fans since the launch of the LIV Golf Invitational Series in 2022.

“LIV Golf is proud to partner with AEG Presents, one of the biggest live entertainment companies in the world,” adds LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman. “Global leaders in sports, entertainment and technology are embracing LIV Golf and recognising how our game-changing league is connecting the sport with new audiences. Through this partnership, the league’s fan-friendly tournament experiences and ‘Golf, But Louder’ ethos will reach new levels of excitement as we deliver even more value for fans in 2024 and beyond.”

The breakaway golf circuit, which is owned and operated by LIV Golf Investments and is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, kicked off its 2024 season on 2-4 February with LIV Golf Mayakoba at El Camaleon Golf Course in Mexico, featuring a live performance by The Chainsmokers.

LIV Golf Las Vegas featured Gryffin, who also performed at LIV Golf Hong Kong in early March. The season’s global schedule returns to the US with LIV Golf Miami from 5-7 April, which will feature a live concert by Akon.

Last week, AEG announced it has entered into a “historic” partnership with US-based Latin music promoter Cárdenas Marketing Network (CMN), designed to create “the world leader in live Latin music”.

 


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Bridging the Gulf: Touring the Gulf States

As oil-rich economies ramp up investment in their live entertainment sectors, the Gulf States are providing the global industry with a credible touring destination to link Europe with Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Adam Woods reports on this remarkable, fast-changing region.

In terms of their specific demographics, weather, and politics, not to mention their disparate commercial models, the live entertainment markets of the Gulf – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, in this context – are unlike any other regional grouping in the world.

But some things are the same in this pocket of the Middle East as they are everywhere else: such as when Ed Sheeran came through Dubai in mid-January and sold out two Sevens Stadiums and 60,000 tickets – just as he does in seemingly any market he visits.

“It was a new level of production that hasn’t been seen in the market before,” says the shows’ promoter, All Things Live Middle East CEO Thomas Ovesen. “It’s a show in the round, so we were conscious that we had to somehow explain that to people, without too many technicalities. But he’s such a phenomenal artist and so strong that it all worked out, and everyone wanted to get a ticket.”

That’s Ed for you. Such displays of ticket-selling clout don’t happen every week in Dubai. The Emirate, by far the least subsidised active market in the Gulf, has always been a tricky one to get right, though many promoters have tried – none harder than Ovesen, who in various guises has brought in Justin Bieber, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Jennifer Lopez and Elton John.

These days, along with neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai is a solid stop on a burgeoning touring circuit – one which, in addition to the markets of the Gulf, increasingly encompasses India, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, even Georgia and Azerbaijan. But lately – at least when Ed Sheeran isn’t in town – the main driver of regional excitement has been Saudi money.

We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE. So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds”

Fuelled by a plan to draw tourism, build soft power, and entertain a young population, Saudi lately become the land of the ‘gigaproject,’ where gleaming new megacities, jaw-dropping historic restorations, mind-boggling urban developments, and eye-wateringly luxurious resorts aspire to redefine the very limits of ambition and opulence.

And whenever ground is broken, the word ‘entertainment’ is somewhere in the air, whether it’s the planned 45,000-capacity stadium on a 200m-high cliff in Qiddiya City near Riyadh; a proposed opera house at the Jeddah Central waterfront development; or ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City, scheduled to open at the end of next year.

That is a large part of the reason why, after years of patchy development spearheaded mainly by hardworking Dubai and its wealthy neighbour Abu Dhabi, the Gulf now finds itself a very interesting region indeed – albeit one that remains distinctly lopsided, its various key players coming to the table with very different budgets and goals.

First, there’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where generous state backing has put cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, and festivals (notably including MDLBEAST Soundstorm), uppermost in the minds of the world’s agents. Beyoncé, Metallica, Mariah Carey, Nelly, Janet Jackson, and Future have been among the visitors to this booming new market, where tickets are cheap and sometimes even free, but the 36m-strong population – more than 40% of it under 24 – guarantees a mighty crowd.

In Dubai, where the population is far smaller and the commercial realities more pressing, the market is a more pragmatic one but highly engaged in its attempts to mobilise a remarkably diverse market that counts an almost unbelievable range of cultures among its 3.3m inhabitants.

“We have close to 200 different nationalities living in the UAE,” says Ovesen. “So we have people that come from very different cultural backgrounds and experiences when it comes to live entertainment. Sometimes we have to get people out to the very first gig of their life; sometimes we’re dealing with 14-year-old kids of 200 nationalities. It’s all very exciting, but it’s challenging as well.”

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009″

Then there’s Abu Dhabi, where music, again heavily state-funded, tends to intertwine with the local Grand Prix; and Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, where a variety of highly modern venues enable a steady but controlled stream of shows by well-known western and Arabic stars.

All of it adds up to an increasingly viable regional circuit, albeit one rife with budget inequality. Meanwhile, investment in venue infrastructure across the region, combined with the development of nearby and not so nearby markets, suggests that, should the Saudi Arabian chequebook slam shut, something is being built in the Gulf and beyond, that ought to last a while.

Promoters
As an increasingly sturdy market coalesces across the Gulf and the wider region, many of the prominent global players have ramped up their presence.

Live Nation Middle East, long present and now increasingly active, now presides over sophisticated regional tours for western and Arabic artists from its base in Dubai. All Things Live made its first non-European investment last April when it backed regional live veteran Ovesen to establish All Things Live Middle East.

In Abu Dhabi, state-backed promoter Flash Entertainment, which over the years has brought Beyoncé, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, and Coldplay to the Emirate, merged with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) in May last year to become Ethara. And in KSA, MDLBEAST is the standard-bearer for a new generation of Saudi promoters.

Based in Dubai under regional president James Craven, Live Nation Middle East recently added a team to nurture up-and-coming Arabic talent, led by Amin T. Kabbani, and accordingly, the promoter’s highest-grossing arena show of 2023 was one such artist, Abdul Majeed Abdullah, at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. But across the board, the live giant’s focus on the region is palpably intensifying.

“2023 was a record year for Live Nation Middle East, with the largest show count and ticket sales we have seen since first establishing the Middle East business in 2009,” says Craven. “The potential for the market is enormous. This year, we’ll continue building strong regional venues and tours across clubs, theatres, and arenas. And now, with talent teams across music, comedy, Arabic, and family entertainment, we see even more opportunities to bring benefits to the wider region.”

“Not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to”

In recent years, Live Nation has famously pioneered the concept of the regional tour of the Middle East. After Maroon 5’s shows in Abu Dhabi, Israel, and Egypt in 2022 – the first joined-up tour of the region following the resumption of flights between Tel Aviv and the UAE in 2020 – Imagine Dragons was the next boundary-pusher in January and February last year, building shows in Riyadh, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, and Johannesburg around an appearance at the first Indian Lollapalooza in Mumbai.

For an even more complete illustration of the emerging Middle Eastern/South Asian/South African circuit, Live Nation points to the Backstreet Boys, who rounded off a four-year, pandemic-hit world tour in May with 12 shows in Egypt, India, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa (a show in Israel was cancelled due to the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza). Increasingly, the touring giant regards the wider market as one with the potential to rival any other continental circuit.

“When you’re doing 12, 13, or even more markets in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, not only are the bands making more money but it’s a more extensive run, and it builds up a region that they can continue coming back to,” says Zaed Maqbool, VP Middle East/South Asia, who has spent years laboriously bringing new markets into the circuit.

The geopolitics of the region are not for the faint-hearted, but careful negotiation and diplomacy reveal opportunities in all sorts of guises. While promoters are not able to operate conventionally in KSA, for instance, the local infrastructure there still needs significant support, where a previously fallow market now finds itself juggling huge, star-studded events, including one of the world’s biggest festivals.

“In Saudi, 90% of the business is government-underwritten, perhaps even government-controlled or part of government-owned activities, and there is no legislation or framework yet that enables me to go in on conventional terms and do my own promotion,” says Ovesen. “But then, I can lend my expertise to those buyers. The government projects need advice on what to programme; they need advice on what to book and how to book; they need producer services. So the whole ecosystem benefits tremendously.”

Ethara is active in KSA, too, having opened an office in Riyadh in 2022, with a dedicated in-market team to build a year-round event calendar for domestic, regional, and international events, but its home soil remains in Abu Dhabi, where it has significant infrastructure at its disposal.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain”

ADMM and Flash have delivered more than 700 major events in the 15 years since their inception, including the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yasalam After-Race Concerts, and the FIFA Club World Cup. Ethara – which translates as “thrill” in Arabic – will continue to manage and oversee a portfolio of assets including Etihad Park, Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 circuit, Yas Marina Circuit, and the Yas Conference Centre.

As the most commercially liberal market in the region, Dubai boasts a range of promoters, from Live Nation and All Things Live to indies such as Blu Blood (a South African specialist in Bollywood, comedy, and children’s entertainment that has staged James Blunt, The Wailers, and Demi Lovato since it launched in the Middle East in 2019), and Speed Entertainment, which focuses on western and Asian shows (from the likes of Simple Minds, Ronan Keating, and Arijit Singh), plus DJ gigs and corporate and luxury events.

Another indie, Full Circle, will this year bring The Kid Laroi and the next instalment of its Afroworld events to the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as a range of EDM artists. However, managing director Shaz Hayat makes no bones about the challenges of the market. Particularly the fee inflation that has accompanied the rise of Saudi and other wealthy smaller markets in the neighbourhood.

“I would imagine it was a better market in Dubai when there was no Saudi, when there was no Qatar, when there was no Bahrain,” says Hayat. “With the fees these guys pay, backed up by the government, it makes it difficult for Dubai to get good talent. If you think about it, you will never see guys like Drake, Travis Scott, Post Malone in Dubai – that level of talent just wouldn’t come because we don’t have the money to pay for it.”

Part of Dubai’s problem, he suggests, is a global misapprehension about its wealth, which was built on tourism but does not rival that of oil-rich states such as Qatar and KSA.

“The London agents have a little bit of understanding because they’ve been to Dubai a few times, they know what it is, but the guys sitting in LA, they have no clue,” says Hayat. “They think Saudi and Dubai are all the same, and they want $5m for no-name acts. And I think that’s the biggest issue we have in the market.”

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia”

Full Circle remains the busiest EDM promoter in the region, but though the government underwrites certain tourism-driving events, sponsorship for such shows is hard to come by, to Hayat’s frustration.

“The government never wants to fund DJ events or pay any sponsorship dollars towards them,” he says, “but they are the ones that sell the most tickets; Martin Garrix, Tiësto, David Guetta – those are the guys that sell 10,000 tickets, more than any other rapper or pop act.”

Yet, while the numbers may be a challenge, the wider market continues to expand, offering the potential in the long term to draw artists to the broader region on more sustainably commercial terms.

“I think that the biggest change that we will see in the next few years is going to be the opening-up of the Caucasus region, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia,” says Maqbool. “You don’t necessarily think about the Middle East in relation to Central Asian markets, but geographically, they’re so close. Georgia is approximately three hours north of the UAE and has the ability to connect into our broader touring region.”

The region’s family entertainment business is also growing exponentially, allowing companies such as Sportainment Entertainment & Sports (SES) to build a routing that extends across the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrian and Oman, although the company has also conducted business in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Established in 2005, SES is at the forefront in the sport sponsorship and entertainment sectors in the Middle East, while under its live events sub-brand, SESLive!, the company promotes globally recognised family entertainment concepts across the region, where it is the exclusive promoter of Disney On Ice, Disney Live!, Marvel Universe Live! and Jurassic World, thanks to a partnership deal with Feld Entertainment.

“The competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition”

“When we started out with SESLive! things were very different,” notes SES business development director, Alison Goldsmith. “Back then, when you came into a market with an event, ticket sales could be phenomenal because people had nothing else to do. But now, people have so much choice with where to spend their money, so the competition is fierce. But it’s a great sign of a maturing market, so we welcome the competition.”

Indeed, while the challenge of enticing people to specific shows can be tough, Goldsmith tells IQ, “A few years ago we’d struggle to find venues and dates, but there are so many world class venues in the region now, that’s no longer an issue. It also means that customers can be confident that the shows they love will return year on year.”

Looking ahead, SES will be bringing Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal to Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena in April, while Goldsmith hints that the company is also actively looking for new markets to take Disney On Ice later this year.

Festivals
Where Middle Eastern festivals are concerned, all cower before the instant giant that is MDLBEAST Soundstorm – just four editions old (2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023) and already being discussed as one of the world’s foremost events, just as its organisers clearly intend.

Soundstorm racks up 700,000 visitors over three days, and MDLBEAST head of talent booking and events Talal Albahiti is justifiably proud.

“Soundstorm 2023 was an extraordinary experience for us, surpassing its ’22 edition with a remarkable fusion of innovation and immersive experiences,” he says. “We built on our prior successes, introducing cutting-edge technologies in production and elevating the overall audio-visual extravaganza. The lineup featured diverse musical genres, catering to broader audiences, and the production reached new heights, creating an unforgettable ambience. Attendees enjoyed not only world-class performances but also interactive installations and engaging activities.”

“Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze”

As well as Metallica, heavyweight artists including J Balvin, 50 Cent, Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Calvin Harris and Wizkid played across Soundstorm’s three days, but it is clear the Saudi plan is not simply to import US and European talent.

“Our mission, vision, and goals revolve around uplifting Arab talent and the creative economy,” says Albahiti. “Looking ahead to 2024, we aim to intensify our support for local talents and explore international opportunities and collaborations.

“There is an abundance of talent in the MENA region,” he adds. “The wider world should undoubtedly keep an eye on hip-hop artists such as [British-Lebanese female rapper and producer] Laughta and [Sudanese/Saudi artist] Dafencii, who performed at the last edition. Arabic hip-hop is exceptionally unique and holds the potential to set the international industry ablaze. I’m also immensely proud of Cosmicat’s journey and her achievements as a breakthrough act from Saudi, now gracing some of the biggest festivals in Europe and the United States.”

MDLBEAST’s other Saudi festivals include Balad Beast in Jeddah in January, with Bebe Rexha, Wu-Tang Clan, Ty Dolla $ign, and others, and the two-day Azimuth event at the historic Al-‘Ula oasis city in Medina Province last September, where you could find The Kooks, Cosmicat, Thievery Corporation, and Nooriyah.

Elsewhere, too, festival ambitions are heating up. In mid-February, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, in partnership with Expo City Dubai, launches the Emirate’s own version of Romania’s electronic UNTOLD Festival on the outdoor Expo City site, with Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell, Tiësto, Timmy Trumpet, Ellie Goulding, G-Eazy, and Major Lazer in tow. The Dubai edition expects a crowd of more than 280,000 over four days.

Last year, Live Nation launched Wireless Festival at Etihad Park on Yas Island, with 25,000 fans and 18 artists including Travis Scott, Roddy Ricch, Central Cee, Wegz, Black Sherif, Ali Gatie, M.I.A., King, Divine, and Young Stunners. A second edition lands on 2 March at the same location.

Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected

Other staple events in Dubai include DJ Deian Markov’s homegrown electronic festival Groove on the Grass, which takes place in November at Emirates Golf Club and spawned two-day spin-off events in Jeddah and Riyadh last year; Live Nation’s retro Rewind Festival at the Bla Bla beach club and nightspot in March; and youth and contemporary culture festival Soul DXB, founded in 2011 by friends Hussain Moloobhoy, Joshua Cox, and Rajat Malhotra, which in December brought Arlo Parks, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$, Busta Ryhmes, and others to the Dubai Design District.

Venues
Wondrous venues in the Gulf these days come in two varieties: the real and the projected. In the former camp is an impressive array of newly built structures, from Abu Dhabi’s 18,000-cap Etihad Arena and Dubai’s 17,000-cap Coca-Cola Arena to Bahrain’s 10,000-cap Al Dana Amphitheatre and the 5,000-cap Arena Kuwait.

In the latter group, there is even more choice. In January, Saudi Arabia unveiled details of the 45,000-cap Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh, under its Vision 2030 masterplan.

The stadium, named after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, will be capable of hosting some of the country’s biggest sports, entertainment, and cultural events, including, potentially, matches at the 2034 World Cup. It will serve as the home of Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and is projected to attract an estimated 7.6m annual visitors, with a retractable roof, pitch, and LED wall, and a lake and ice wall to cool the air inside.

Other coming developments in Saudi include further new stadiums in Riyadh and Dammam, as well as ASM Global’s 20,000-capacity Jeddah Arena Airport City at King Abdulaziz International Airport, not to mention numerous other possible megaprojects with an entertainment component.

Also on the cards, but certainly not yet confirmed, is a rumoured second Sphere venue said to be the subject of discussions between Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan and investors in Abu Dhabi.

If even a proportion of these projects – particularly those in KSA – come to fruition with their entertainment ambitions intact, it is clear the live ecosystem in the Gulf will have to expand significantly to meet their needs.

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver”

“We definitely see lots of talk about programming for these future theatres and arenas that are being built, so someone eventually has to deliver,” says Ovesen. “It’ll be interesting to see what kind of partnerships are created across the region, particularly in Saudi, where there’s so many facility and venue projects that will start needing programming of 50 to hundreds of shows annually within the next couple of years.

“I don’t think any of the existing operators in the market can fulfil that need. Some of these projects might start their own business and inadvertently become our competitors. Or we might be smart enough to do some deals where we end up assisting with that.”

It’s only a few years since Dubai and Abu Dhabi had to make do with busked-up outdoor venues if and when an arena-sized concert came to town. Not anymore: Abu Dhabi got its Etihad Arena in January 2021, while ASM Global’s Coca-Cola Arena opened in Dubai June 2019, the 2,000-capacity Dubai Opera having made its entrance in August 2016. These indoor venues have done as much as anything else to cement the live market of the UAE.

In addition to the Backstreet Boys, the Etihad has received Westlife, Akon and Ne-Yo, and Disney On Ice in recent months, while at the time of writing, the Coca-Cola Arena is preparing to host Indian Tamil film composer Anirudh, Pakistani singer-songwriter Atif Islam, Glaswegian arena-fillers Simple Minds, US R&B star Khalid, Russian rockers Kino, and Indo-Canadian Punjabi rapper and singer AP Dhillon – an eclectic lineup for an arena with no set audience.

“We’re in a space that is a complete melting pot,” says Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar. “If you look at other international cities, Hong Kong might have Chinese, Mandarin, or Cantonese content and then exclusively western; they wouldn’t necessarily also have Pakistani or Indian content, or Russian, or Arabic, but we do. Even if you just look at the Southeast Asian content, you’ve probably got about seven or eight different dialects that have a population in Dubai.”

Clearly, this represents both an opportunity and a challenge, as cultural differences can be dramatic. Arabic concert-goers, for instance, often attend in family groups, so the maximum number available for a single buyer to purchase rises from ten to 16 to accommodate bulk buys. Southeast Asian shows, meanwhile, support a particularly broad range of prices and tiers.

“Your front row tickets could be going at, let’s say £500 a ticket, and your cheapest ticket might be £20,” says Kar. “Same show, five metres apart, but it’s what people are prepared to pay. Whereas for western artists, it’s three or four categories maximum, and it’s maybe, at most, $150 variance between those categories.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis”

Dubai Opera has a brief to introduce a different kind of culture to the Emirate. Last year, it drew 200,000 visitors, many of them first-time attendees of a classical concert, but it deals in more mainstream culture, too – a run of Matilda last year sold 20,000 tickets across ten days.

“Those are big numbers for a theatre with an auditorium of 2,000 seats,” says Paolo Petrocelli, head of Dubai Opera, whose ambition is to elevate the venue to the top ten or 15 performing arts centres in the world. “We have such a diversified programming that covers the entire spectrum of the performing arts, going from opera to ballet, symphonic music, musicals, jazz, Arabic, world music, you name it. So it’s really special. And I think there are just a few cases around the world of major performing arts centres in global cities that have this kind of artistic mission.”

Bahrain’s Al Dana Amphitheatre, which opened in November 2021, backed by Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince and prime minister, was also created with big ambitions: to give the kingdom a globally recognised world-class venue and to form a regular stop on the local, regional, and international circuit.

The plan is working, with Sheeran, 50 Cent, Westlife, Halsey, Backstreet Boys, and Imagine Dragons, plus comedians Kevin Hart, Mo Amer, Maz Jobrani, and Michael McIntyre among the highlights of a busy 12 months.

Tamdeen Group’s Arena Kuwait launched in March 2022 in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall and has just completed its first full year of operation, focusing on live entertainment, sports events, and consumer-focused exhibitions, as well as a heavy bill of Arabic artists, including Amr Diab, Mohammed Abdo, Sherine, Angham, Tamer Hosny, and Majid Al Mohandis.

“The Arena Kuwait calendar is dominated by Arabic content,” says Arena Kuwait general manager Ken Jamieson. “With the rise and appeal of new Arabic talent growing every day, we are looking forward to welcoming a steady stream of new Arabic artists from the whole of the Middle East region on a regular basis.”

International tours are coming, too, Jamieson predicts. “We have received an increased volume of enquiries for artists on regional tours, as Kuwait is now firmly on the touring map in the Gulf region. We expect to schedule a number of international western artists in 2024 and beyond.”

 


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First Riyadh International Jazz Festival announced

Iconic American singer Chaka Khan has been confirmed as the headliner of the inaugural Riyadh International Jazz Festival in Saudi Arabia.

Announced at just a week’s notice, the festival will take place from 7-9 February at the Mayadeen Theatre in Diriyah. Set over three evenings, the event will feature renowned international artists performing alongside emerging Arab artists. Tickets start at SAR 120 (€30).

The festival is produced by the Music Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of 11 sector specific commissions under the Ministry of Culture. The commission was established to oversee the further development and growth of the Kingdom’s music sector through the launch of various initiatives, educational programs, events, festivals and the establishment of venues such as The Warehouse and the recently announced Royal Diriyah Opera House.

“The first Riyadh International Jazz Festival is a unique opportunity to host some of the world’s most renowned music artists alongside amazing Saudi talents,” says Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Saudi Music Commission. “It is an important step in supporting the further development of the music sector locally.”

Pacifico was CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition and latterly the UK’s Association of Independent Music (AIM), prior to taking on his current role 12 months ago.

The festival lineup includes international musicians such as Chaka Khan, The Cat Empire, Masego, Hiatus Kaiyote, YolanDa Brown and Kokoroko

The festival lineup includes international musicians such as Khan, The Cat Empire, Masego, Hiatus Kaiyote, YolanDa Brown and Kokoroko, alongside up-and-coming artists from the Arab music scene including Garwasha and Majaz.

In addition, it will feature a Jazz Cafe where clarinettist Peter Long and his orchestra will perform each night with a rotating line-up of vocalists, including Saudi artists Nourah Sings & Mazen Lawand, Sarah Alshafie, Loulwa and Abdullah Filfilan.

Metallica performed the first major heavy metal concert in Saudi Arabia last month, headlining the opening night of MDLBeast’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh.

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

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Chaka Khan was unveiled as the curator of this summer’s Meltdown Festival, set to take place at London’s Southbank Centre between 14-23 June, as a celebration of her 50-year career.

 


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XP Music Futures 2023: A catalyst for growth

XP Music Futures, the three-day music conference organised by MDLBEAST, is making waves in the MENA region, cultivating the music scene and community for its third consecutive year. The event, held at Riyadh’s JAX District from 7-9 December, offers a dynamic program that spans both day and night, featuring a remarkable 47.42% increase in the number of international, regional, and local speakers compared to the previous year, totaling 286 speakers.

Sessions at XP Music Futures addressed critical topics such as ‘Maintaining a Thriving Grassroots Culture,’ ‘Powering The Creative Economy with AI,’ and ‘Turning up for a Sustainable Future: Music for Climate Action.’ This regional-first event encompasses panels, workshops, live acts, retail experiences, and more, serving as a precursor to the grand SOUNDSTORM music festival from December 14th to 16th.

MDLBEAST CEO, Ramadan Alharatani says: “Over the past three years we have brought together the brightest minds in the music and entertainment industry from across the globe. We consider XP an incubator of talent and creativity—giving artists a platform, knowledge, tools, and network that they need to forge successful, sustainable, and profitable careers in the region and around the world.”

Diversity is a key focus, evident in the gender split of 48.25% female vs. 51.75% male, the international speakers comprising 51.7%, and regional/local speakers at 48.3%. With representation from over 30 nationalities, XP Nite promises an eclectic mix, featuring performances by more than 150 artists across seven event stages.

With each passing day, the event continues to amplify the nation’s cultural landscape

The captivating energy on display beautifully seized the momentum, highlighting the vast musical potential of Saudi Arabia. XP Music Futures, held at Riyadh’s JAX District, hosted sessions like ‘DJing & Turntablism Workshop with Nacho Marco’ and ‘Listen Up! The Importance Of Hearing Health.’

Beyond the music, the event offers a unique escape, known as “The Healing Oasis,” where nature, music, and art converge to create a sensory haven for attendees. Elevating the essence of music innovation in the Middle East, Hamaki spearheads “Beyond The Beats: Sony Music Middle East x Hamaki” at XP Music Futures. This distinctive workshop not only showcases Hamaki’s pioneering influence but also becomes a pivotal chapter in the event’s commitment to unravelling artistic frontiers and fostering educational brilliance.

As XP Music Futures transitions from day sessions to XP NITE, Saudi Arabia’s underground scene explodes with energy, featuring over 130 artists across seven stages. Notable collaborations like Noctuary x Yoyaku and MDLBEAST Records X SWANA Sound amplify the nightlife, keeping party-goers moving until the late hours. Among the diverse lineup, international acts such as Tinariwen from Mali and Chelina Manuhutu from the Netherlands bring their unique sounds, while local talents like Majid Untamed and Femme Fest x EQUAL Arabia’s lineup contribute to the eclectic mix, ensuring a dynamic and unforgettable three-day extravaganza.

XP Music Futures and its accompanying festival SOUNDSTORM not only showcase the present vibrancy of Saudi Arabia’s music scene but also contribute significantly to its future growth and cultural enrichment. With each passing day, the event continues to amplify the nation’s cultural landscape, solidifying its position as a catalyst for the music industry in the MENA region.

 


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Saudi unveils ‘futuristic’ 45,000-seat stadium

Saudi Arabia has unveiled details of a new 45,000-capacity stadium located in Qiddiya, an entertainment and tourism megaproject in Riyadh under its Vision 2030 masterplan.

The Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium, named after Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, will be capable of hosting some of the country’s biggest sports, entertainment and cultural events.

The “futuristic” development would be located in Qiddiya City on the 200-metre-high Tuwaiq cliff near the Saudi capital.

Qiddiya said that Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium will attract an estimated 7.6 million annual visitors.

The stadium will serve as the home of Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and is one of the proposed venues for Saudi Arabia’s 2034 FIFA World Cup bid. Qiddiya said the stadium could also be used during Riyadh’s staging of the 2034 Asian Games.

Saudi Arabia will also host football’s Asian Cup in 2027 and the Qiddiya stadium has been included as one of the proposed venues for the tournament.

Designed by global architectural firm Populous, Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium will supposedly be the world’s first fully integrated venue with a combined retractable roof, pitch and LED wall.

“It will become a bucket-list destination for fans and enthusiasts across the world”

It would be capable of transforming into different ‘event modes’ in a matter of hours, while its LED wall would showcase live event broadcasts, HD films and laser shows.

Qiddiya said the stadium will be capable of hosting events all year round without consuming large amounts of energy.

This will be achieved by creating an environmentally friendly lake directly beneath the stadium, where rainwater is collected and pumped into an ice wall, cooling the indoor air.

Abdullah bin Nasser Aldawood, managing director of Qiddiya Investment Company, said: “Our ambition is for Qiddiya City to become a global destination for entertainment, sports and culture and this iconic new stadium will be at its very heart.

“The futuristic venue aims to reinvent the traditional stadium concept and embody the true spirit of Qiddiya’s Power of Play philosophy. It uses state-of-the-art technology and innovative, world-leading design to put the spectator at the centre of the experience.

“It will become a bucket-list destination for fans and enthusiasts across the world, hosting major events from across the world of sport and entertainment.”

Today’s announcement about The Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium comes a month after Qiddiya unveiled plans for ‘a pioneering new gaming and esports district’ in Qiddiya City.

Qiddiya City, a “one-of-a-kind” destination located on the outskirts of Riyadh, will be Qiddiya’s first offering. With 60,000 buildings in an overall area of 360 square kilometres, it will eventually host over 600,000 residents.

 


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Metallica fuel Saudi Arabia’s concert charge

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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