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Guest contribution by Christina Hayek

Today I join Your EDM as a guest post to share my experience of attending the second time MDLBeast Sandstorm Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with performances by Axwell & Ingrosso, Major Lazer, David Guetta and Armin Van Buuren among many others. When I was first invited, I felt compelled to see the music in the region constantly evolving, especially in a predominantly Islamic state, so I decided to join the Your EDM team on this trip to help them out to experience it first hand. What was unfolding before my eyes was really something that I will process for a very long time. As a personally identifying Arab-American woman whose parents escaped civil war in the Middle East by taking refuge in America, it was simply inspiring and truly moving to see a young generation of Arabs in Saudi Arabia dance freely in a large public space see.

Photo by Neville Hopwood / Getty Images for MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM

There were some reservations about the long journey and expedition to the Middle East, let alone a country that historically did not pride itself on having a full spectrum of freedom of musical expression. It seemed daunting and a little bit terrifying. But what we found was just the opposite. The journey began with an invitation to the first XP Conference, a three-day excursion full of panels, workshops, questions and answers on topics such as feminism and the advances in the industry in the areas of talent, scene, policy and impact. The newer generation who led these discussions were proud of their heritage and progressive in their views. It was impressive and inspiring to watch, especially seeing how it was run by a team of strong women, which made the beginning of the adventure all the more calming.

As we started to orient ourselves and recover from jet lag, we really started to feel the true hospitality of the region and how hospitable the Saudis were to us foreigners; They showed nothing but friendliness and hospitality and shared their date fruits with us, which tasted like pure melted caramel. We had the pleasure of having many conversations with locals who crossed many geopolitical boundaries – we bonded over our love for EDM and our shared hatred of standardized school tests, we even sang Ariana Grande together. The Saudi Gen Zs and Millennials had fashion swag that would put the average New Yorker to shame.

When the first day of the festival arrived, we observed and were affected by some logistical nuances that could be due to new festival jitter in a region unfamiliar with hosting large-scale events. Misunderstandings between the English and Arabic staff made for a bit of a rough walk on the premises, but it was quickly made up for by the eight jaw-dropping stages, design visuals, pyrotechnics, and beautiful sculptural art scattered throughout the large grounds.


One of the most notable sights was the initiative called Respect & Reset. Teams of trained emergency personnel were available throughout the event site and were deployed as needed to intervene and take action against reports of harassment. Anyone who violated the MDLBEAST Code of Conduct or the Anti-Harassment Policy was exposed to immediate removal from the venue and referred to the judicial authorities.

The most beautiful sight to be seen outside of the huge stages and fireworks overnight was the energy of the participants. Many came from the surrounding region and were exuberant in their ecstasy to be there. Even in a sober setting, the energy levels were more contagious than most festivals I've attended around the world. They were only there to experience full synaesthetic immersion in music. I feel honored that I can stand by her side and share in her pure joy. In particular, it is something that will not only shape the next generation, but will also inspire other countries to follow suit.


When the festival came to an end and the team could look back on the past week, we realized that the progress in the country is clear and authentic, I was looking into the future rejuvenated and excited. I will never forget the opportunity to witness this investment in music and advancement in the Middle East along with the overseas media staff. Saudi, you left your mark on my heart, I can't wait to see what you can contribute to the global dance music scene in the future.

MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORMPhoto by Neville Hopwood / Getty Images for MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM

Featured Image by Neville Hopwood / Getty Images for MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM


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