Timmy Mowafi takes a trip across North Africa to explore Morocco's burgeoning dance music scene at the second annual Oasis Festival in Marrakech, featuring some of the world's biggest deck dazzlers... and a lot of glitter..
People are always surprised to hear that Egypt has a thriving electronic music scene, one that has hosted every big name spinner and revered underground deck dazzler under the sun over the last few years. However, despite flirtations with a spattering of international audiences at various festivals, the country has yet to put itself on the map of the world's big dance music pilgrimages. Following The Oasis Festival's sophomore event, Egypt now has some serious competition as North Africa's number one destination to –for lack of better verbiage – get fucked up whilst listening to sick tunes surrounded by exotic landscapes usually reserved for Disney movies.
If I'm going to travel somewhere, the journey should provide both ample opportunities to explore new cultures as well as party it up, and the festival's setting provided a perfect setting for both. Days were split between wandering through the berber-esque alleyways of Marrakech and waltzing through the magical layout of the festival where non-stop maniacal dancing ensued between its two main stages. Equal parts Aladdin and Amine K. Both, I assume, are national treasures.
This was one of the biggest dance music lineups in Middle Eastern history, which justified its full 3,000-strong crowd to boot, featuring techno legends such as Jeff Mills and Derrick May, as well as current hot favourites like Tale of Us, Hunee, and Maya Jane Coles.
Day one kicked off as most festivals do, avoiding an obstacle course of yoga poses, uber-sized graffitied inflatable unicorns, and over-excited twentysomethings throwing glitter at you. With the Atlas mountains glistening in the distance and the sun coming down on the pool-side Oasis stage, we made our way to hear a soulful house set from heroic Hamburg native David August in the festival's stunning Roman amphitheatre-style second 'Arena' stage – a space which turned out to be the place for more hard hitting house on show away from the navajo head features and, thankfully, the glitter.
The night waded on through the dream-like infrastructure of the festival - moving from stage to stage was a treat, meeting people from all walks of life through bedouin tents and magic carpet mezzanines - and culminated in two relatively contrasting sets from Belfast duo Bicep and then Dixon that had the crowd equally on their feet till the early morning.
After finally managing to scrape off the glitter from my face, I was ready to take on day two, which featured a diverse lineup throughout the day with the likes of Eli & Fur and B.Traits performing pool-front, and Leon Vynehall and The Black Madonna in the arena. The Black Madonna was the highlight for me, in the midst of a crowd going apeshit over her eclectic mix of hip hop, breakbeat and techno.
Motor City Drum Ensemble (who, by the way, likes 70s Egyptian jazz
and confuses Pokemon with Tamagotchi
) kicked off day three with the slickest of disco-inspired sets, by which point I had succumbed to the zeitgeist and was happily dancing along in tree position from the comfort of my inflatable unicorn whilst smothered in glitter, which, by the way, is pretty much rabies of the face - a disease, which spread through the festival like word of Virginia, Steffi, and Dexter's infectious live performance at the amphitheatre. And you thought my mumbling about glitter had no point! That I would never segue it into something meaningful related to the festival...such as the appearance at sundown of Syrian dabke music legend and charisma bomb Omar Suleyman on main stage. It doesn't matter that his one hour set consisted of about five fluctuating baritone lyrics, a dude clapping like mum at a school play in Ray Ban's, and a ghotra is no doubt going to make girls go weak at the knees. Booka Shade then picked things up a notch or two before The Wizard from Detroit, a founding father of the house and techno movement - Jeff Mills, took to stage for a typically pounding, mechanical finish.
With its intimate nature and stunning setting, this is a festival that has the potential to capture the imagination of its travellers in every sense. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years I'll be chatting to some House head and he'll say something about this huge global festival set in the deserts of Marrakech; I will satisfyingly look back and say, "Yes. I know. I was there, at the beginning."
"Just watch out for the glitter."
Photos courtesy of Lahcen Mellal