Inside Saudi Arabia’s underground rave scene where neon-clad partygoers risk jail for drinking booze and smoking drugs | The Sun

WHEN hedonistic thrill-seekers think of an ideal spot for an underground party the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would tend to be the last place that would spring to mind.

Yet underneath the reserved and deeply conservative surface of the country, a musical revolution is sweeping festivals and unsanctioned raves.

The once frowned-upon music scene in cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah is flourishing – and a change in attitudes has brought about a neon-clad rebellion.

In 2019, Saudi held its first Soundstorm Music Festival after years of public musical events being banned across the country.

Since then the Kingdom, known as the birthplace of Islam, is now being recognised as a haven for music lovers after an incredible makeover by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The mention of a party in Saudi's conservative society would have sparked outrage just a decade ago – but in 2016 the Prince revealed his plan to modernise the country including the entertainment sector.


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Saudi opened its doors to artists such as Post Malone, David Guetta and Bruno Mars while holding festivals in the desert under neon lights.

But those scouring for dark and dinghy warehouses with techno sounds blasting may need to look a little harder.

While lots of strict music laws have been lifted, the thriving music scene is very much frowned upon forcing ravers to set up parties away from prying eyes.

This has sparked a rise in secret events with only those "in-the-know" or partygoers lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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One Lebanese influencer based in the Saudi capital Riyadh who spoke to The Sun often shares clips of the underground techno scene online.

It shows huge cheering crowds shrouded in darkness with strobe lights flashing and DJs blaring out basey tunes.

Most of the exclusive underground gatherings are privately held in closed areas with a limited number of attendees.

They told The Sun: “They are announced and organised by local DJs and event organisers but not publicly.”

The forbidden nightlife of Saudi cities is not without its risks, as alcohol and drugs are still strictly prohibited in the country.

If partygoers take the risk of bringing smuggled drugs or alcohol to these underground parties and are caught, they could face jail or the death penalty.

One expat, who wished to remain anonymous, said while they weren't hard to find, it was difficult to get people to tell you about the events.

They explained: "It took a lot of asking hotel concierges and cafe managers, many of whom would take offence. So I guess it’s about how social you are.

"Alcohol was there but a bit pricey for the added hassle of operating an event where people are drinking outside of one’s own home. No drugs – due to the big prison sentence – but weed aplenty."

The partygoer explained that the crowd at the rave was more men, but there were some women present.

He added: "I think there is fear amongst civilians but if you’re being sponsored to stay in Saudi, you are not a resident or have a nice passport, there isn't much worry."

DJs and performers are careful what they post while performing or attending unsanctioned underground raves in KSA.

But the detail in videos of the soirees is made glaringly clear to the observer: the majority of those attending are men, with only a spattering of women dotted throughout.

The influencer told The Sun that the raves remain majority male, but more and more women are joining in the festivities as attitudes shift in the country.


Saudi Arabian culture is changing, and quickly.

In 2019, the formerly conservative country began what would have been unthinkable a few years prior.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a state-sanctioned rave as part of a multi-faceted governmental initiative called “Vision 2030”.

The rave is just a small part of the sweeping social changes brought by Prince Salman, who also made it legal for women to drive and attend public events alongside men.

Mixed-gender events are now encouraged as well, something encompassed in the massive state rave, named Mdl Soundstorm, and a sister event called Mdl Beast.

Mdl Soundstorm is held yearly in the deserts surrounding Riyadh, bringing in thousands of young people to throw away their inhibitions, albeit with a few remaining restrictions.

Countless others on SubReddit Saudi Arabia have reported instances of harassment towards women throughout the festival, however.

One woman shared: “I'm going with a group now. Heard it was horrible for women so I really didn’t want to take the chance by going alone. Sucks that I have to take precautions though.”

Mdl Sandstorm, which was labelled as part of a program to “support new liveable and lifestyle options in Saudi Arabia”, has shown the country still has a ways to go despite efforts to "modernise" from it's leader. 

The festival has been labelled by many activists as an attempt to “clean” Saudi’s international image and make it more appealing to tourists.

Rights violations remain high in Saudi Arabia, with Amnesty International recording hundreds of detainments of human rights defenders, government critics, political activists and journalists.

Executions reached 147 people in 2022, and are traditionally done by beheading the "criminal" with a sword.

Yet, the allure of a festival in the desert – and underground parties still draw a mass of people each year. 

Riyadh-based influencer told The Sun about the positives of the festival, which attracted 700,000 people last year.

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They said: "Mdl Sound Beast inspires people and other artists to change their perspective of Saudi Arabia and not find it a threat to visit the country. 

“Instead they can come and have their gig here. It truly brings music lovers and connects people together from all around the world."

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