VIP helicopter arrivals and silver service shawarmas

It is often said that DJs are night owls, and this adage holds true when one enters the Soundstorm Festival Artist Village in Riyadh.

The event, which took place at a gigantic site on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, took over a wing of a nearby hotel and transformed its lobby and adjoining conference rooms into a dimly lit cave dotted with plants and trees. other tropical species.

With a blue camel as a decorative centerpiece, DJs and managers sit on sofas and work on their laptops and phones. The muffled tapping of keyboards and the eerie muffled conversation are the only sounds to be heard.

I notice how strange it all sounds and one manager explains that this is a normal feature of large-scale dance festivals.

“It’s a place where artists can kick back, relax and unwind,” says my Soundstorm guide.

“A lot of them do concerts within hours, so it’s a place to help them get in the mood. This is why there is no music, it is a distraction.

Organizing a playlist for a room full of successful DJs would have been an impossible job. The task of creating a menu to match the adrenaline and anxiety some artists would experience before performing in front of a crowd of 100,000 people is almost equally difficult.

That meant a variety of light snacks, such as energy bars, a refrigerator stocked with several Starbucks drinks, and mini cakes.

A bow tie waiter also does the trick and offers shawarmas on a silver platter. American DJ Jeff Mills kindly declined the offer on Sunday evening.

It’s an hour before his set on the Underground 1 stage and the techno pioneer is getting ready by simply looking into space.

I realize that mental preparation is a gradual process.

It starts with the star DJs who come to the festival site in an unmarked white helicopter an hour before the show and relax for a while in the artists’ village.

At minus 30 minutes until showtime, the spinners hop on a buggy for a five-minute ride to the Green Room, located directly behind the stage.

The area can be best described as a sports bar that meets a Bedouin village. A neon-lit pool table is available next to a seating area with an Arabic majlis and ottomans.

Sitting somewhat nervously in the latter is Saleh Al Obaidi, a popular Saudi illusionist tasked with relieving some of the tension by engaging Soundstorm’s greatest acts with a few magic tricks.

“So tell me about Armin van Buuren,” he asks me when I arrive for my interview. “Is he very popular? “

Besides being a mega-star and a pioneer in dance music, I assure him that in my professional experience the Dutchman is a lovely person to deal with.

Van Buuren was suitably impressed with Al Obaidi’s shtick and that welcome dose of spontaneity surely helped ease his nerves ahead of making his impressive debut in Saudi Arabia.

Watching this show from a distance was a select group in an oasis of their own.

The group in question are the VIB (Very Important Beast) ticket holders (which cost 8,999 Saudi Riyals or $ 2,397 for the full four days), who watched the action unfold from a sprawling and lavish area with purple canapes, acrobatic performances and an exclusive range of food and drink options, including beef sliders drizzled with truffle sauce and sparkling cold coffee on tap.

More than the exclusivity and the elevated position facing the main stage, the VIB lounge is also a good place to organize a few business meetings, explains Paul Schurink.

The Dutch environmental consultant, commissioned by UK band Coldplay to make their upcoming 2022 world tour carbon neutral, says he had important discussions while Afrojack and the Mambo Brothers performed their sets.

“I spoke to a few DJs who wanted to make their shows more sustainable,” he says. “It’s not about reducing their light show, it’s about making everything more efficient without sacrificing performance.”

I walk around Soundstorm in awe of the scale and ambition of the festival. It is past midnight and in the distance, a helicopter is carrying the evening’s closing interpreter, David Guetta.

A group of young Saudis await him, from fans to nervous magicians, eager to show how the kingdom came to the party.

Scroll through the gallery below for photos from 2021 Soundstorm:

Update: December 19, 2021, 3:12 p.m.

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