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This is What Went Down At AlUla’s Azimuth Festival

Here's a rundown of the two-day event

It all began with a party aboard a private jet. The airplane was nestled at 30,000 feet in the air, en route from Riyadh to the magical landscape of AlUla, foreshadowing the two-days of nonstop beats to come. Renowned regional DJ Misha Saeid was playing electronic music, which blasted through the aircraft’s speakers with everyone’s windows closed, glow sticks in hand, head bopping, and arms swaying. With Azimuth Airwaves the mood was set, and we were officially enroute to AlUla’s epic annual music festival

Taking place from Sept. 21-22, MILLE was invited to wander through the ancient oasis city’s otherworldly rock formations and postcard-worthy landscapes, and most notably to experience a plethora of sounds from both regional and international headliners. With a focus on getting eyes on the nomadic land of AlUla, Azimuth’s lineup featured over 30 artists that catered to a diverse range of musical tastes for its third edition in an intimate setting— for techno heads and electronic music fans, the two-day desert rave provided sets by South Korean DJ, Peggy Gou, regional sets by Saudi Arabian disc jockey Vinyl Mode, German-Syrian duo Shkoon Live, and much more.  Those who went through a slightly angsty indie phase during their adolescence (like me) would have been proud to witness indie-acts Dope Lemon hailing all the way from Australia, Thievery Corporation, and  Britain’s-finest The Kooks (fifteen-year-old me would have been buzzing). You also had regional namesake musicians such as Palestinian heartthrob Saint Levant, Egypt’s very-own Cairokee, all the way from Northern Mali, Tinariwen, and Boiler Room sensation, Saudi-born DJ Nooriyah. 

Day 1: As you walk into the venue, you are instantly taken aback by the geographical wonders everywhere you turn, which are adorned with an impressive display of lights that change shapes, size, and color, metamorphosing each musical act— a mesmerizing feast for your eyes and ears. In addition to musical sets, there was also several booths that included a YSL beauty pop-up, a massage corner for anyone looking to loosen up any hidden knots, a henna stand, and a variety of food trucks. 

Thievery Corporation at AZIMUTH 2023

It all felt like a fever dream at times– whether you are walking past a human glued to a flower-like structure  swaying in a smooth-like motion above your head or crossing paths with people dressed up in a costume that resembled a hybrid of a pinata and disco ball while moving to a beat playing over an out-dated yet extremely cool boombox. A sense of awe and wonder pervades the moment you walk through the gates.

The first day of the festival witnessed an energetic and unique mix of genres played by experimental American duo Thievery Corporation— it was an impressive hybrid of sentar-like sounds, matched with bad-ass reggae vocals and punchy lyrics, sexy guitar solos, and an overall ode to the beauty of listening to live music. It was instrumental galore matched with a sensory experience that punctuated each and every sound. Shortly, after Thievery Corporation ended their enigmatic performance, British-Indie band, The Kooks, graced the stage— lead-singer Luke Pitchard filled AlUla with his hard-to-describe voice that is so undeniably indie. The band gave us sultry solos, as they performed classics such as Naive

Eclectic sets got the crowd bobbing their heads in a slightly-sweaty environment, from DJs like Peggy Gou and Nooriyah, who brought her Arabic-infused medleys, alongside many more live sets by regional beat enthusiasts that got everyone moving in unison.  However, I would have to say, the highlight for day one had to be Egyptian band Cairokee. Many were waiting in anticipation for the band to grace the stage. From the moment each band member stood in their designated spots, the crowd was instantly captivated— screaming back to lead-singer Amir Eid every word, every beat, and every melody. The band performed some of their much-loved tracks, an oldie but a goldie, Kol Haga Bet3ady, El Sekka Shemal Fe ShemalEl Keif, Ya Abyad Ya Eswed, Marboot Be Astek, Ghareeb Fe Belad Ghareeba, and some new tracks including, Basrah W Atooh, James Dean, Samurai, and oh-so-much more.  

Saint Levant at AZIMUTH 2023

Day 2: The last day of the festival witnessed back-to-back performances by international stars, starting with Malian band Tinariwen, which engulfed the stage with an intimate performance that spoke of the different nuanced sounds that come out of a desert landscape, a idiosyncratic guitar style that combines traditional Tuareg and African music with a hint of rock— essentially, they brought nuanced Sahara blues to AlUla. Additionally, the Very Few Friends singer Saint Levant, charmed his way through the crowd, as he performed some of his new and old tracks, alongside a rendition of Cheb Khaled’s Aicha, which we all certainly sang along to.

Australian indie-rock band Dope Lemon brought their effortlessly cool demeanor to the stage. Dressed in floral pants, a double-breasted blazer, and a black sunglasses, lead-singer Angus Stone blew us away, with his folky voice, and electrifying guitar riffs. Shortly after Dope Lemon, another Australian act took the stage— Chet Faker, who gave us experimental sounds that added on to the fever dream-like atmosphere of the festival. 

Jorja Smith at AZIMUTH 2023

Finally, it was the moment we had all been waiting for: Jorja Smith. Everyone had stopped what they were doing, and all eyes were on the British  R’n’B singer. She serenaded us with her ethereal voice and buttery harmonies— her performance was magical. From her background vocalists who did not miss and the remarkable keyboard player to the drummer, Smith brought forth an ensemble that played some of our favorite tracks— Blue Lights, Where Did I Go?, On My Mind, Teenage Fantasy, and the afro-infused Be Honest that got everyone dancing. 

As the night went along, we all started to embody zombie-like mannerisms. The sun came up, and Syrian-German duo Shkoon Live bid farewell to AlUla’s Azimuth Festival. 

The two-day musical enterprise was a uniquely-curated get together for music lovers, with genres that clashed at times, however, everything seemed to symbiotically come together at the end. Although I would’ve liked to see a little bit more of a hip-hop infused presence, the festival brought forth a diverse set of sounds certainly confirming that Saudi Arabia knows how to party. 



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