Story told by AFISHAL, words written by Brad Hutchins.
After arriving at Heathrow airport for the second day in a row, only to find out once again that our visa’s hadn’t been approved, it seemed like we’d never make it to Saudi Arabia.
That was until the third attempt – a phone call from the Crown Prince’s driver to the Saudi embassy seemed to do the trick.
With no time to lose, we flew into Riyadh, loaded the SUV’s up with the gear and began a five-hour convoy across the desert to Khobar City. The mission to bring live music to the people of Saudi Arabia was fast becoming a reality.
These are the words of AFISHAL – a visual DJ who cut his teeth in Ibiza and rose from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ fame to create an internationally demanded entertainment brand through innovation and some damn fine drumming skills.
After pioneering ‘The Tremor’ (a visual DJ rig that allows him to trigger pre-programmed sounds and visuals on his drum kit) he’s filled arenas across the globe with his bespoke shows for Bentley, Formula 1, UEFA and Red Bull.
But when he got the call up to play a show in Saudi Arabia… well, that was uncharted territory. Not only for him, but for any western DJ back in 2018.
What follows is his story of a life-changing experience that took western EDM to the Saudi people, and opened horizons for both the crowd and the performers.
When our support act kicked things off, it seemed like people weren’t exactly enjoying the music. There was no-one dancing, no hands in the air. Just a large crowd watching intently. The men and women had been separated to either side of the “dance floor”, and due to the fact that no one was allowed to dance – dancing is illegal in Saudi Arabia – they just stood there. It was strange to watch, as we’d never seen anything quite like it. But you could still feel an underlying energy in the air.
Our client asked if we wanted to enter the stage from the back or drive through the crowd towards the stage in supercars… I’m pretty sure you can guess what our response was. We were soon shown to an entire fleet of luxury vehicles, and when we asked, “Which one?”, the owner nonchalantly responded, “You choose.”
As we made our way through the crowd and towards the stage in a Ferrari, a Morgan, and two Lamborghinis (with exhausts spitting flames), TheSaxMan did his thing. He led everyone that wasn’t already there straight to the main stage like the Pied Piper.
This would, for most, be their first-ever live performance from a western DJ, and we were all ready to give them the show of a lifetime. As we pulled up in front of the stage and raised the gull-wing doors, the pyrotechnics exploded and the crowd roared to life.
From the second I hit the first pad on my rig, everyone went wild! The energy on stage was electric, and as we looked out into the crowd, there was a sea of waving mobile phone lights filling the air.
Just before the track climaxed into the big drop I asked everyone to scream, and wow did they make some noise! The first time it actually came as quite a shock. We’d been briefed on the culture before the show, and didn’t expect people to do more than watch. So when they screamed louder than we’d ever heard a crowd scream before, it was an incredible feeling.
The organisers had placed a VIP area in front of the stage to try and prevent people from dancing. However, beyond the VIP area, a huge crowd had congregated as far back as the eye could see.
Security had quite the job on their hands asking people to calm down. One guy even put a 3-year-old toddler on the stage, and it was amazing to feel such a vibe around our music. Then, about halfway through the show, we got asked to stop.
The Ministry of Entertainment felt it was too much dancing and excitement for the people so we had to say a massive thanks to everyone and end the show.
We didn’t see it as a bad thing, it was a compliment from a nation who, for as long as most could remember, had never danced at an event like this before. They couldn’t help themselves despite knowing the rules, and we loved that. Tiny little kids were wanting hugs and high fives. There were loads of messages from people online absolutely loving the show. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we’ll never forget.
Saudi Arabia has long been known for its ultra-conservative culture and laws based on Sharia tradition (Islamic law that refers to God’s will). However, the new Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman has since overturned the ban on women driving and allowed concerts and theatre shows to take place.
As things begin to relax in Saudi’s strict social structure, it’s exciting to think what opportunities and advancements may come out of this incredibly wealthy and ambitious nation in the near future.