Talal Albahiti COO and Head of Music MDLBEAST - Vision 2030 and the Evolution of Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Industry

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Talal Albahiti COO and Head of Music MDLBEAST - Vision 2030 and the Evolution of Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Industry


Interview with Talal Albahiti, COO and Head of Music (Talent Booking, MDLBEAST Records, and MDLBEAST Radio)

"During our recent visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ibiza Live Radio had the distinct pleasure of meeting Talal Albahiti. Talal, a prominent figure in the local scene, graciously agreed to sit down with us for an insightful interview. Here, we delve into his perspectives on music, culture, and the vibrant community of Riyadh."

With Saudi Arabia opening up in recent years as part of the Vision 2030, what was your perspective on creating a local brand during this period?

Talal Albahiti: We recognized this as an opportunity to create a local brand that truly resonates with people, as something homegrown rather than externally imposed. Both Ramadan (MDLBEAST's CEO) and I grew up in Jeddah and Riyadh, where there has always been a community around electronic music and parties, which we used to attend growing up, back when it was still illegal. This underground culture is ingrained in our DNA. As the country began opening up, it felt natural for us to pursue something we are passionate about and bring it to life.

At that time, you were all consultants. How did that corporate background influence your  decision to start this company?

Talal Albahiti: Back then, due to our line of work, we were extremely formal and corporate—very corporate. We wanted to reconnect with our roots and our passion for music, so we decided to take the leap and start MDLBEAST. As we used to say “work hard and party hard”.

Could you add a bit about your musical experience?

Talal Albahiti: Oh, yeah. It's actually a funny story that my dad and I still laugh about. When I was studying in the States on a scholarship, I would DJ at various bars and clubs after hours. Although I was accepted into a master's program, my parents were concerned. They said, "It seems like you want to party instead of study, so you should come back and get work experience before your masters.".  I never returned to get my master's degree. In hindsight, it was the best decision I made. Now I run the largest entertainment company in the region doing something I love.

And how did your early experiences influence the vision of founding this real-life entertainment  piece?

Talal Albahiti: Well, we were part of the nightlife scene as teenagers and in our early twenties, not only because that was the cool thing to do, but because we were so into  music. I love music, specifically house music. The funny thing is, in DC where I was living and playing at local clubs, house music wasn't popular. Mainstream radio music dominated there. So, it felt like swimming against the tide, and the heaviest tide was in Saudi at that time, where music, regardless if it was house or not, was frowned upon. That pushed me to continue pursuing what I love.

How did you manage to get music for your parties when you were young? How did you get the  CDs back then?

Talal Albahiti: We had music shops here, but CDs and cassette tapes were censored, so every album was the radio edit version. However, we managed to get music when we traveled, long before the era of downloading. I actually stopped DJing when the switch from CDs to USBs happened. Lukickly, my friends here in Saudi were all well-traveled, so we would often ge together to share and discover new music.

Interviewer: Was it risky to import music that was considered illegal?

Talal Albahiti: I wouldn't say music was risky, but you could get in trouble if the cover page wasn't the one bought here, as it would attract unwanted attention. We would throw parties with 100 people in someone’s house and only invite people we were comfortable with. Back then, you couldn't just send out an invite or broadcast that you're throwing a party.

Do you remember your first ever contact with electronic music?

Talal Albahiti: Yes, it was a friend of mine, Baloo, who is now MDLBEAST’s Chief Creative Officer. He's older than I am and I learned about DJing from listening to him. I would practice using his released hour-long sets. I would get the same music and try to replicate it. If I could get the same sound, I knew I was on the right track. That's how I started practicing. Even when I traveled abroad, at clubs, my friends would be partying while I stood next to the DJ, just watching and learning.

Now, with the space you have, people can come together and have a party, and they can actually send out invites?

Talal Albahiti: Yes, exactly. And get a permit to sell tickets even.  

How do you ensure that the club meets the needs of music professionals, enthusiasts, and  creatives? What impact has this had on community building via Beast House?

Talal Albahiti: Beast House is a great achievement for us, and it's one of the multiple venues we have. When we first started doing our festival (Soundstorm), we didn't really have other venues in the market that we could offer for artists, especially our local artists. The venues in Saudi would carry 50,000-plus people, and I can't book that for a local person just yet. But now, with Beast House that can carry up to 450 people, and with Attaché opening in Riyadh (4000 pax), and Balad Social in Jeddah (300 pax), it provides a healthy mix in the market. Local DJs can now become residents and we can provide ongoing entertainment, not just wait for once-a-year festivals. We want to normalize it more.

Beast House - Riyadh

We had a pleasure to visit the Beast House. It’s nice to see people coming with their friends to enjoy the weekend at Beast House. Can you tell us more about that ….

Talal Albahiti The dance floor was packed. Everyone had such a good time. The synergy between all the DJs was really great. See, the people you met on the dance floor used to be in smaller circles. We wouldn’t  have known each other. Now, all the different circles can come together. It’s like, "Oh, you also party? Oh, you too party?" That's how it started.

That's amazing.

Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming events or projects?

Talal Albahiti: Sure. We have many exciting things in the works. We're here today for the boxing event (Ring of Fire), where a MDLBEAST artist has been booked to play before the main event. Our next big event after that will be Azimuth happening over the National Day weekend in September, which takes place in AlUla, a UNESCO heritage site that looks like Mars, with castles carved into mountains. It's quite a unique event and quite a sight. We're also planning the Soundstorm festival  and XP Music Futures, which will be part of Riyadh Music Week. It starts with XP as our flagship music conference, followed by a music summit developed by the Music Commission and the Ministry of Culture.

Looking ahead, what are the long-term goals for these hubs in terms of expansion within Saudi  Arabia, the region, or internationally? Are there any partnerships or initiatives you're excited about?

Talal Albahiti: Beast House was designed as a venue and private member's club for music industry professionals, and we are gradually selling memberships and reviewing applications to ensure our community consists of like-minded creatives and artists. The venue features a mix of recording studios and a radio station upstairs, from which we broadcast. We recently partnered with PepsiCo for their Rockstar energy drink. We're also opening similar venues, such as Attaché in the Diplomatic Quarter, which will include a restaurant, morning programs, and various other offerings for a different vibe and capacity on a daily basis. We are very excited to open doors to our beach club this year. As part of the new Red Sea projects, Sindalah Island will host our Sindalah Beach Club. This expansion allows us to offer more gigs to DJs and foster connections with other regions like Dubai and Egypt, making our offerings more attractive and cost-effective when it comes to touring artists in the region.

XP Music Futures - 2023

Could you tell us more about the new venue, Attaché?

Talal Albahiti: Absolutely! Choosing the colors for the venue was quite a challenge. We wanted it to be vibrant and attention-grabbing. Our brand, MDLBEAST, enjoys playing with words and concepts, so we decided to name the club "Unstable" as a playful nod to its previous identity as an old horse stable. This playful spirit is reflected in our color choices as well. We've opted for bright yellow or pink to create a bold and unconventional look. The name of the restaurant and members club Attache was inspired by the neighborhood its in. The DQ is home to embassies, ambassadors and diplomats. The brand tells us what it wants.

Why that decision about the colors?

Talal Albahiti: It's all about our brand identity. We like to be confident and daring with the choices we make. Choosing bold colors reflects our playful and witty approach to our venues. We want to create spaces that  are not only visually striking but also evoke a sense of fun and excitement.

I read somewhere that you're planning to have 130 studios?

Talal Albahiti: Yes, that's correct. This initiative, spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture under the Vision 2030 program, aims to enhance the quality of life by promoting music and arts education. We believe that nurturing local talent is essential for the growth of the entertainment industry. Consequently, we've launched initiatives like the XP Music Futures conference to unite policymakers, industry professionals, and aspiring artists.

How do you think these opportunities in the entertainment industry will impact society and  traditional values?

Talal Albahiti: I believe it will complement traditional values rather than change them. Hospitality, for  example, is a deeply ingrained value in Saudi culture. As we expand our entertainment offerings, we're also creating new career opportunities in hospitality within the industry. By involving locals in these roles, we're not only supporting local talent, but also enriching the industry with a deeper understanding of our culture and values.

You mentioned that you're opening up in other cities in Saudi. Which ones will be getting  venues?

Talal Albahiti: Our main focus for expansion is on regions with high population density and tourist traffic. One of the most exciting developments is Sindalah Island, part of the new Red Sea projects. We're managing Sindalah Beach Club there, which will host resident DJs and become a hub for entertainment in the region. This  expansion allows us to offer more opportunities to DJs and connect with other regions like Dubai and Egypt.

Is it important for you to sustain and promote local music as well?

Talal Albahiti: Absolutely. We not only aim to sustain local music but also to redevelop and repackage it for broader appeal. We're exploring ways to adapt Arabic songs to fit popular music formulas for easier exportability.

So, do you agree that now it's like a second phase of this whole scene that's emerging, that now it's all about the original talent as well being pushed internationally?

Talal Albahiti: Absolutely. We've had several Saudi artists booked for international gigs. For instance, Saint Levant and Bayou played at Coachella this year. It's gratifying to see them gaining recognition abroad. Local artists like Cosmicat and Dish Dash have performed at festivals in Ibiza and Tomorrowland. Our motto is amplifying local talent, and seeing them succeed internationally validates our efforts.

How do you facilitate collaborations with international promoters?

Talal Albahiti: It often starts with booking international artists for our events. We ensure that local artists  share the same space as international ones and introduce them to each other. Over time, we build connections with international promoters and collaborate on projects where we mix local and international talent.

You mentioned the diversity in music genres at Beast House, from solid tech house to hip hop.  How about harder genres like hard techno?

Talal Albahiti: We're open to experimenting with new genres. We recently had a company from Amsterdam express interest in introducing hardstyle at Soundstorm. While it might not resonate as strongly as other genres in Saudi, we're willing to give it a try. We previously tested rock music at the festival, and the response was positive, especially with acts like Metallica.

What was the feedback from the Saudi audience regarding rock music at the festival?

Talal Albahiti: Surprisingly, there's a sizable rock fanbase in Saudi. Metallica concerts used to be screened in  movie theaters here, showing there's an appetite for such music. When we brought Metallica to perform live, it was a huge success. People of all ages attended and enjoyed the show, reflecting the widespread  appeal of rock music in Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the number of local rock bands which is in the rise.

What do you hope the audience will take away after attending a Soundstorm event or a night  out?

Talal Albahiti: I hope they have new experiences and discover something different. Similar to my own  experiences at festivals abroad, where I met new people, heard new music, and broadened my musical  horizons. Ultimately, I want them to have a positive experience and feel confident in our ability to provide a safe environment for them.

With the rapid changes in the Saudi music scene, how do you maintain quality in terms of  music, bookings, and venues?

Talal Albahiti: Speed is essential in this industry, a lesson I took from my corporate background. When Saudi Arabia began opening up, we quickly launched a festival to establish our brand. We've rapidly expanded, fueled by the audience's growing demand. In an age of social media and short attention spans, continuous innovation and adaptation are crucial. Quality remains our top priority, and our dedicated team ensures every aspect of our events meets our audiences’ high standards.

Can you tell us more about the diversity within your team, both in terms of gender and expertise?

Talal Albahiti: Our team is diverse, reflecting our commitment to inclusivity. We started with a small group of trusted individuals who shared our vision and understood the challenges we are tackling. We intentionally looked for team members who could contribute diverse perspectives and skills. Currently, we have a balanced gender ratio, with women holding key positions across the organization. In fact, our female  representation exceeds industry standards, which has been positively received by artists and partners alike. We are proud to say that 46% of our employees are young professional women.

How has the local music industry evolved since Soundstorm's inception, and what role does  your team play in its growth?

Talal Albahiti: Since Soundstorm's launch, the Saudi music industry has seen remarkable growth, with new venues and companies emerging. Our team has played a big role in this transformation by fostering talent, creating opportunities, and attracting international partners. By prioritizing local artists and investing in infrastructure, such as studios and equipment, we've helped stimulate the industry's development. Our vision is to continue expanding and democratizing access to music across Saudi Arabia, with plans to open 130 studios nationwide.

How do you plan to attract and develop talent within the Saudi music scene? Talal Albahiti: Our strategy involves providing opportunities for aspiring musicians to hone their skills and  collaborate with industry professionals. With the opening of over 130 studios across Saudi Arabia, we aim to  create spaces where emerging talents can learn and grow. Additionally, our live events and performances  serve as platforms for discovering new artists. We're committed to scouting and nurturing talent, ensuring  that our label remains at the forefront of the music industry.

Can you share any upcoming releases or collaborations from your label?

Talal Albahiti: We've been consistently releasing new music, with approximately 20 to 30 tracks dropping each month. One artist who stands out is Dafencii, a talented Sudanese hip-hop artist based in Saudi Arabia. His Arabic-language hip-hop resonates strongly with young audiences in the region, and we're excited to support and promote his work. Additionally, we're collaborating with emerging talents like Hi-Fi, a promising local female DJ and music producer. Our objective is to continually diversify our roster and offer a platform for both established and up-and-coming musicians.

How do you see the role of music in shaping Saudi culture and identity, especially considering  the Vision 2030 initiative?

Talal Albahiti: Music plays a vital role in shaping culture and identity, and our goal is to contribute positively to Saudi Arabia's cultural landscape. Through our events and initiatives, we aim to expose audiences to diverse genres and experiences, helping to broaden their musical horizons. By showing Saudi talent on the international stage and promoting cultural exchange, we're helping to redefine perceptions of our  country and our people. Ultimately, we want Saudi Arabia to be known not just for its oil wealth, but also for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant music scene. The real wealth is our people.

"As we conclude this enlightening conversation with Talal, we extend our heartfelt thanks for sharing his time and thoughts with us.

Stay tuned to Ibiza Live Radio for more stories and interviews from around the globe, celebrating the diverse voices that shape our world."


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