Following the success of the first MDL Beast music festival in December 2019, organizers announced on Monday that the 2020 edition will be an online event. Scheduled to coincide with World Music Day on June 20, the event, named Freqways, will feature an impressive international lineup.
Confirmed performers include Steve Aoki, Afrojack, Maceo Plex, Claptone, Danny Tenaglia, Deep Dish, Sasha, Butch, Art Department, Laidback Luke, Delano Smith, Gui Boratto, Phil Weeks, Benny Benassi, and Dirty South.
Regional artists including Led & Majid, Vinyl Mode, and SPCEBOI are also scheduled to perform. The multi-stage digital event will see virtual festival goers board online “flights” to locations around the world including Riyadh, Ibiza, and Las Vegas where they will be able to party to the pre-recorded sets.
Last year, over 400,000 people participated in the three-day event which pushed Saudi Arabia’s ambition to host large-scale cultural events onto the global stage. Impossible to imagine in the conservative kingdom a few years ago, the event signified an awakening for the EDM community in Saudi Arabia.
“Influencer-washing” Saudi Arabia’s image
The inaugural MDL Beast in 2019 was not without controversy. Many criticized the influencers and celebrities who were paid to attend the festival for failing to comment on the country’s abysmal human rights record.
Among those who attended and posted extensively about the event on social media were models Irina Shayk, Winni Harlow, and Alessandra Ambrosio, actors Armie Hammer and Ed Westick, and social media personalities Sofia Richie and Negin Mirasheli.
Whilst details of the stars’s compensation for their attendance were not made public, some of them are known to command six- or seven-figure sums for a single Instagram post. Among those to call out the celebrities was the Instagram account Diet Prada (@diet_prada), which regularly highlights problematic issues within the fashion industry, and model Emily Ratajkowski.
Ratajkowski claimed she turned down the invitation to attend, issuing a statement in which she voiced her solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community and the rights of women stating, “I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there.”
Commentators on social media called out many of the stars who attended the festival for posting “government propaganda” aimed at rehabilitating Saudi Arabia’s image. Issues raised by commentators included the murder or Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogi in October 2018.
Claims of mass sexual assault
In addition to the condemnation of the influencers who attended the festival, many women claimed on social media they were sexually assaulted at the festival.
Using the hashtag #saudimenharassing in English and Arabic, women detailed their experiences at the festival. One woman described how she was surrounded by men who tore off her shirt and groped her. Others expressed concern that even young girls were victims of harassment, as were those who went with males in an attempt to avoid such problems.
Conservative social media users were unsympathetic to the women’s claims, suggesting that sexual harassment was to be expected when attending a festival such as MDL Beast.