Unveiling The Design Marvel Of SoundStorm MDLBEAST Festival

December's rendition of the SoundStorm MDLBEAST festival in Riyadh continued to set standards for excellence in event design while also representing a groundbreaking cultural shift for Saudi Arabia. The entire festival spread out over a 5.5 km purpose-built site housing 8 dynamic stages where more than 150 acts performed over three days for more than 450,000 visitors. The sheer scale of the event and the challenge of building in a desert epitomize the delicate interplay between creativity and logistics, necessitating a global team effort to orchestrate. At the heart of this symphony was Alex Reardon, the Creative Director and Lead Designer from Silent House, the design firm entrusted with shaping the festival's visual identity. PRG played a pivotal role in supporting Reardon’s vision, providing rigging, video, lighting, audio and automation for the festival's centerpiece, the Big Beast stage.

This past year marked the third consecutive collaboration between MDLBEAST, Silent House, and PRG. Executive Director of Events, Michael “Curly” Jobson set the well-oiled machine into motion. The enormity of the task at hand was evident as the Big Beast stage received a vast array of gear sourced from PRG's locations across the Middle East and around the globe.

Taming the Big Beast Stage

Each year sees an evolution to the festival’s main stage design. While the underlying design for the event draws from the MDLBEAST logo itself, Reardon also was sure to identify what he calls a nucleus—a central theme or emotion that guided his decisions. The team landed on the movement and symbolism of an “Art Deco eagle”, calling to mind optimism, flight, and reflecting the local connection to falconry.

The eagle motif is most prominent in the Big Beast design. The creation of the custom-shaped LED walls for the stage involved multiple iterations. Encompassing an area of around 300m x 300m, the stage integrates performance spaces, extended wings, VIB (the festival’s play on VIPs, standing for Very Important Beasts) viewing structures, and terraces. 

PRG's Technical Video Specialist, James Morden, described the challenge of balancing design integrity, budget constraint, and logistical considerations. Global coordination across multiple teams spanning various time zones was a hurdle, albeit one PRG was well-prepared for as a global touring powerhouse. 

The LED walls — weighing a substantial 417 tons hung over 500 motors and spanning 190m wide and 43m high — showcased PRG's Titan X and Atlas X technologies. This LED product was selected to prioritize brightness since it had to compete with the desert sun. Screens had to reach 5,000NITS, with the added necessity of transparency for specific stage sections. This year’s project discussion started in April 2023 and required continual tweaks up until the last day before the show in December. 

Beyond the technical aspects, the project emphasized collaboration across disciplines and PRG entities, involving teams spanning Germany, the UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Approximately 109 onsite personnel were engaged and 60-100 individuals working remotely.

“The sheer scale of this stage is hard to describe,” explained PRG Director of Music Lighting Yvonne Donnelly Smith. “It took me more than two minutes to walk across the main stage, and the video screen we supplied was the tallest ever built.”

The Overall Festival Experience

Reardon's Creative Director responsibilities extended far beyond the Big Beast stage, encompassing the design of MDL Town and the Dance Tent. What sets MDLBEAST apart is the planning that goes into every square inch of the festival site, which encompasses five million square meters. Every detail was carefully considered to enhance the overall experience. 

“Everything is curved, all the walkways that guide the flow of people through the festival grounds are a series of arcs,” explained Reardon. “This means you never can see the end, and you're always in the sense of discovery. That's what keeps patrons exploring.”

MDLtown, the central area of the festival intentionally free of music and stages, was designed with four quadrants of seating inspired by Arabic forms. “I wanted to use the kind of repetitive pattern that you'll see across a lot of Arabic architecture. And that actual shape came from a plate that one of our team found on Etsy,” he explained. 

Reardon also incorporated this motif into elevated grass sections provided for comfort and relaxation. Even the picnic tables were color-coded for easy identification in the sprawling festival grounds. Reardon explained. “If you think about any design choice, from the perspective of the person experiencing, it means that you're more likely to make the right choice.”

This same attention to detail extended to the Dance Tent, a massive 14,000-person capacity venue that hosted an eclectic lineup of artists spanning multiple electronic music genres. Artists took to social media to praise the stage, including Alesso, who extended a thank you to the designers for including a LED screen on the ceiling, prompting Armin van Buuren to chime in and agree that the setup “was awesome.”

Communication was paramount, especially as the talent booking took on a more multi-genre approach to programming that included predominantly EDM acts such as Calvin Harris, Black Coffee and David Guetta, but also headliners such as Metallica, Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin. Reardon emphasized the importance of listening to artists' requests and finding innovative solutions to make their visions a reality. The goal was to ensure that every artist left the stage feeling that it was a canvas for a perfect and brilliant performance.

Reardon expressed his reliance on PRG, emphasizing, "We wouldn't be able to do anything without PRG. The benefits of having one company handle rigging, video, lighting, audio and LED are endless.” For him, the assurance that PRG will deliver allows his focus to remain on creative endeavors. "It's a very nice sensation, working with PRG because you know it's going to get taken care of. You know you're going to enjoy the people you're working with; you know the gear is going to be great, and the crew is going to be great."

Cultural Impact

Reflecting on the cultural impact of the festival, Reardon was honored to witness the delight the festival evoked for the people of Saudi Arabia, especially considering the country's recent cultural transformations. He highlighted the country's youthful population and its eagerness to embrace entertainment, creating an extraordinary time for the nation.

Donnelly Smith echoed this sentiment. “The event holds particular significance as it reflects the evolution of Saudi Arabia's music scene, which had thrived behind closed doors for two decades,” she explained. “It is truly a cultural catalyst for Saudi youth, and I’ve seen amazing changes there in the last few years – particularly for women. Just a few years ago, audiences were segregated into male and female areas; there was no dancing, and there were guards between the two areas. Now, everyone enjoys the show together, singing and dancing.”

There are also women production staff, tour managers and business managers. And, on the stage there were women DJs performing on one of the most fantastic stages ever built. “Contributing in my small way to cultural change, especially changes that improve the lives of women, is quite special for me,” she reflected.

As the festival continues to make musical history in Saudi Arabia, Silent House and Alex Reardon stand at the forefront of design innovation. Congratulations to MDLBEAST, Silent House, Cassius Creative Design, Production Glue and Team PRG for yet another year of pushing the boundaries of creativity and setting new standards in live event design.

Learn more about PRG’s work in music here


Chief Creative Officer: Ahmed "Baloo" Alammary
Executive Director of Events: Michael "Curly" Jobson
Senior Manager Events: Quentin Greyling
Senior Manager Events: Azeez Malhas

Silent House
Festival Creative Director and Lead Designer: Alex Reardon
Associate Designer: Amanda Hamilton
Creative Producer: Vincent Richards

Production Glue
VP, Global Projects & Team Lead: Matt Richman
Senior Technical Director / Production Manager: Zach Wright

Big Beast Stage
Production Management:  Bill Leabody
Production Management: Andy Head

PRG Team
Account Executive: Yvonne Donnelly Smith
Technical Video Specialist: James Morden