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How ROQU Media and The Manual London staged Saudi Arabia’s largest ever music festival

The Manual London won the ‘Large Event of the Year’ category at The Drum Experience Awards 2019 with its ‘Jeddah World Fest 2019’ for ROQU Media. Here, the agency reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

The first Jeddah World Fest international music festival wowed an audience of 40,000 adoring fans like never before in Saudi Arabia. Held on 18 July 2019, the inaugural edition of the music festival took place in the grounds of King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah. Commissioned by the Kingdom of Jeddah, the Festival was built specifically to unite music fans and inspire young people through live performances from global superstars.

As part of a progressive trend towards modernisation, driven by the young Prince Mohammad bin Salman; the challenge was to create an entertainment property to generate positive perceptions of the Jeddah Kingdom amongst the rising Saudi youth audience. Of the 40 million Saudi population, 70% are below 24 years of age. With strict entertainment laws and limited entertainment options for young people, the appetite for a modern music event was huge.

The strategy

The Festival marked a new beginning for the Jeddah Kingdom and a turning point for Saudi’s youth Culture and live entertainment scene. The Festival was part of the Kingdom’s vision to invest in the experience economy to drive tourism and move away from their reliance on Oil.

The project was a global and cultural ‘first’ and had never been attempted before at this scale in-market. The Kingdom was embarking on forging a brave new relationship with its youth audience. This was thrilling to be part of and genuinely felt like the event was shaping cultural and political change like never before.

Promoted by clients and contract owners ROQU Media (Robert Quirke) and produced by The Manual London; the incredible seven-hour event featured the largest outdoor festival stage ever built in the Middle-East. International star talent including Janet Jackson, Liam Payne, Chris Brown, 50 Cent, Tyga, Future, Steve Aoki and R3WIRE & Varski.

This took an immense amount of optimism and ambition and was hugely rewarding personally and professionally for the team at The Manual London. There were strong perceptions of KSA from a global audience which brought its own challenges across the project. The team had to create a progressive story to reflect the values of the rising youth culture, positively promote the Kingdom and create a new era in entertainment history for Saudi.

This was especially the case when approaching global music artists, where the ‘sell’ was for them to step forward and create positive change in Saudi and break barriers/current perceptions of the Kingdom. This was a brilliant pitch and meant they were on-board with our mission to create progress from the start of their journey. In-turn, their reactions were outstanding. They rallied on our mission to drive positive change and really felt that they were taking part in something truly supportive and meaningful. This resulted in their genuine support and goodwill which extended naturally to their social platforms.

The campaign

The Manual London worked with specialist stage designer Mike Cuniffe who created the majestic outdoor stage. Designed to immerse fans in the live show, the stage stretched for 85m across the Jeddah landscape. With no need for a roof the stage created an iconic backdrop to the show which was broadcast to global audiences (filmed by production company CC Lab).

Use of multi-panels of video screens enabled a dynamic flow of content throughout the show; adapting to each artist’s set across the night. The stage featured 500 lighting fixtures, 1000 video panels and full pyro effects.

As this was the first large outdoor production in the Jeddah Kingdom, there wasn’t any existing production infrastructure or equipment in market. All equipment had to be sourced brought into the State via borders. This created logistical challenges and meant timings had to be critically managed. Due to the challenging climate with extreme daytime temperatures, crew had to work through the night on evening shifts (35 degrees in evening). Throughout the project Crew welfare was paramount, as it was critical teams were hydrated at all times. Audience wellbeing was also paramount due to the nature of the event.

This was the first year of Jeddah World Fest and the event is planned to continue annually for the next five years. The event ties in with Vision 2030, a progressive plan which sees the country open up as an entertainment destination and relax some of its stricter laws around events. Everybody over 16 years of age can attend and there are no restrictions on gender or any form of segregation.

The results

The Festival was the Kingdom’s largest music festival ever to date and the first ever televised music Festival in Saudi Arabia. A huge moment for music and media. Selling out in four hours, the event hosted 40,000 guests. Reactions from the crowd were incredible; as fans revelled in the experience in total euphoria, finally able to express themselves in an environment like never before. Political attitudes were changed forever as the Kingdom witnessed the crowd’s reactions and incredible attendance.

The success of the event has set the scene for the future of live events in the Kingdom and opened the doors to mass engagement, shared live-experiences. It marks a bright new future for youth culture and the start of a new generation of entertainment. The Jeddah Kingdom are already in conversations with ROQU and The Manual London about repeating the Festival in 2020.

"When our client ROQU Media came to us with the brief for Jeddah World Fest we knew it was going to be an important moment in history throwing Jeddah into the international media spotlight. Jeddah World Fest was the first of its kind in many ways, the first festival in Saudi Arabia, the first large scale outdoor show, amongst many other ‘firsts’. We created a historical moment where the audience came together to produce an experience never before seen in market.” - Richard King, director of The Manual London.

“I have never before in my life seen an audience so excited and responsive. This project is something truly special. It absolutely represents a wave of positivity for the young people in Saudi Arabia and unites all people together. Ultimately, this is about inspiring youth through live music experiences and connecting people. The heart of this project is built on bringing positivity to the World. It’s about the fans, it’s about the performers, it’s about positive energy and shared experiences. 40,000 young men and women enjoyed the live show together, many saying it was the greatest night of their life.

“At the show, our event teams were flooded with thanks from the crowd who genuinely see this as a new beginning. It is testament to the hunger and desire of the young people here to connect and enjoy these moments as one, regardless of your background. The Manual London were essential to the success of the project. From start to finish they gave nothing but determination and commitment. The team worked relentlessly to make it happen and we look forward to working with them for 2020’s Jeddah World Fest.” - Robert Quirke, president of ROQU Media

This project was a winner at The Drum Experience Awards 2019. Click here to register your interest in 2020’s event.

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