Jeff Mills Responds to Concerns over Saudi Arabia's Soundstorm Festival

Nov 26, 2021

Alexander Dias

4 min read

The announcement of the Soundstorm Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sparked heated debate in recent weeks. The event billed as the largest festival in Saudi Arabia includes a lineup of house and techno's biggest names, including Adam Beyer, Amelie Lens, Carl Cox, Chris Lake, Eli & Fur, Black V Neck, Nora En Pure, Ricardo Villalobos, and Solardo. 

As reported by Selector News, "The 2019 debut of Riyadh festival MDL Beast drew significant backlash for having been funded by the government of Saudi Arabia, a regime associated with a long history of human rights grievances."

Berlin-based promoter Michail Stangl of CTM Festival first rang the alarm on Twitter, stating, "Sure there is no objective morality and all, but if you like money so much that you take it from a government that kills journalists and has the death penalty for being gay, you really should ask yourself some serious questions."

The house and techno community quickly pointed out dance music's early and continuing role in the social justice movement. Many expressed shock that the lineup also included techno pioneer and Underground Resistance founder Jeff Mills.

Mills responded to his fans and followers via Facebook post today. 

"By now and in the political events that have happened in the World over the past 6 years, most of you should know that it's senseless to judge citizens by their actions of their government. The same applies to judging an audience by the actions of a promoter or organizer. If that were the case, the World would have cut off diplomatic relations and isolated America during the whole Trump Presidency, banished all Chinese citizens or Russians for both their government's human rights crimes. And all Cuban people would be categorized as fascists," he says.

He addresses the issues surrounding the long list of human rights violations the Saudi government is known for, including arrests without due process, outlawing feminism, and the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Recently public outrage has prompted the Saudi government to spend billions of dollars reinventing its image and cast the country as a prime tourist destination. The country has financed large-scale music events and booked top-line talents like Nicki Minaj and Justin Beiber, often paying them several times more than their regular booking fee. The government has also invested $500M into Live Nation in 2020, which has doubled in the last year, giving them a 5.7% share.

Mills urges his followers to put it all into perspective, arguing that despite the horrible track record of the Saudi government, the citizens should be allowed to dance and enjoy music.

"Yes, the Saudi Arabian government and the conditions they impose are primitive, violent and abusive and just out right evil, but it shouldn't cloud the idea and question why some there seem to think that by having such a large event and inviting DJs to play unrestricted might make some difference. Most of you can probably remember a time or an occasion in your past when you first realized the power of music and if you're reading this, it's likely that it happened while on a dance floor, listening to a DJ. What makes you think an event in SA would be any different? In fact, if there is any place where the people might need to mentally escape, it would be there. How could a Saudi Arabian dance floor be so different from yours?" 

Mills expands on how necessary music is to help heal a population that is so often in turmoil. He argues that boycotting events will only hurt the Saudi people and cut them off from an important cultural touchstone. Mills, an activist since the early days of techno, explains how engagement is a more powerful tool.

"There are people in SA right now that are in desperate need, suffering, afraid, isolated, victimized, traumatized, abused and have been killed for what they believe in. Some of you seemed to think that it's a good idea for international DJs to boycott and not go which would further isolate the young people there. That, we (all of us) in Electronic Dance Music don't care about them - it's their problem. I'm positive there isn't a single DJ booked for this event that agrees with the SA government and what they're doing, but yet, some try to connect DJs as if they're somehow complicit. That's outrageous, but hey, it's social media - anything goes! Until we fact-check, right? There can be isolation or dialogue. Both have proven to be effective. "

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