Riyadh Festival Brings Spotlight to Saudi Human Rights Record

Sebastian Ingrosso and Salvatore Ganacci play a back to back set as they close the final day of MDL Beast, a three day festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bringing together the best in music, performing arts and culture. (PRNewsfoto/MDL Beast Festival)

A record-setting, 3-day music festival faces criticisms from those opposed to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.

MDL Beast wrapped up its 2019 edition with 400,000-plus people flocking to Riyadh to see the biggest names in EDM.

Top DJs like Steve Aoki and David Guetta performed on five unique stages. One stage even received a Guinness World Record certificate for the world’s tallest temporary stage. But the festival’s accolades did not shield it from its detractors.

The EDM scene is built upon the principles of PLUR; peace, love, unity and respect. Saudi Arabia arguably has a record on human rights that seems to contradict PLUR. Some even call MDL Beast an attempt to whitewash the host nation’s poor reputation.

“The regime has been working overtime and spending billions to try to rehabilitate its image, partly by using western influencers,” Karen Attiah posted on Twitter.


Attiah is the Washington Post’s Global Opinions editor. She condemned the assassination of her colleague, journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi government agents murdered Khashoggi in 2018.

“Money over human lives,” Attiah continued. “What good is your platform if you overlook Saudi regime’s murder and torture for a few bucks?”

A U.S. State Department report says Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses include censorship, anti-LGBT laws, and discrimination against women.

Model Emily Ratajkowski cited these issues as her reason not to attend MDL Beast.

“It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there,” Ratajkowski said to Diet Prada in a statement.

Subsequently, Diet Prada encouraged their 1.5 million followers to “tag any attendees you know of… just in case they haven’t been reading the news.”

The public shaming on social media didn’t seem to deter many from enjoying the fun, including Dutch DJ R3hab.

“What I like about this festival is that it’s very different – it’s a complete fusion,” he said, “some Arab artists and a lot of international DJs and it all works really well.

“I think that’s very special and I’ve never seen that before.”