Saudi Arabia hosted a giant four-day rave in the desert

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A four-day electronic music festival took place in desert in the socially conservative Saudi Arabia this weekend, pushing the Kingdom’s changing boundaries.

It looked like any other rave until music stopped for ‘Azaan’, Islamic call to prayer, leaving thousands of revellers, mainly young men and women, in ripped skinny jeans and combat boots to stand in silence.

Fifteen minutes later – religious duties completed – they got back to business. They danced with abandon in a country where that would have been unthinkable five years ago.

The festival highlighted the changes catapulting through the conservative oil-rich Sheikhdom under its controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A few years ago, the Prince lifted a ban on women driving, loosened gender segregation and defanged the religious police, who used to roam the streets punishing restaurants that played music.

In contrast, the music extravaganza called MDLBeast Soundstorm was endorsed by the government and included performances by global DJs like Tiesto, Martin Garrix and David Guetta, who played on Sunday.

Reports quoting organisers say more than 180,000 people were present on the opening night on Thursday.

“Allow us progress, allow us to represent ourselves in the way that we feel fit,” said Prince Fahad Al Saud, a royal family member and entrepreneur who attended in a psychedelic-patterned jacket and sparkling eyeliner.

“We are very eager to be part of the international community, but we can’t be stifled every time we try to make progress because it doesn’t look like what you want to see,” he was quoted as saying.

The festival was part of a dizzying month in which Saudi Arabia hosted a Formula One race, two separate art biennials and a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron. All of it underlined the fact that any ostracism on the world stage has largely passed for Prince Mohammed, who faced global outcry after the 2018 murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

Reports spoke of scenes at the music festival as being the most extreme of any yet. Women flaunted their style, wearing everything from skintight pants to full-length robes and face veils. Men stumbled through crowds.

The event created a carnival-like atmosphere, opening the space to test limits in the conservative country. – INDIA NEWS STREAM

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