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Giant Rave in Saudi Desert Pushes Kingdom’s Changing Boundaries

  • Four-day electronic music festival was officially sanctioned
  • Rapid social changes unfolding as entertainment sector grows
Festival-goers at the MDL Beast Soundstorm 2021 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 17.
Festival-goers at the MDL Beast Soundstorm 2021 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 17.Photographer: Neville Hopwood/Getty Images/Getty Images/MDL Beast Soundstorm

The party in the Saudi desert looked like any other rave until the music stopped for the Islamic call to prayer, leaving attendees in ripped skinny jeans and combat boots to stand in silence.

Fifteen minutes later -- religious duties completed -- thousands of party-goers got back to business. Men and women danced with abandon in a country where that would have been unthinkable five years ago.