When you think of Morocco, the first things that will spring up are probably the classic and romantic connotations from popular fiction like Casablanca and Lawrence Of Arabia (not set in Morocco but you get where I’m going at). What nobody expects in this Northern-African, is a quality dance music festival in a luxurious surrounding with reigning artists like Dixon, The Black Madonna & Tale of Us.
So there, in the middle of the desert, just south of the state’s capital of Marrakech, laid Oasis Festival. The festival’s second edition had a change of location and was moved to “The Source”, a luxury resort consisting of picturesque Berber-like buildings functioning as hotel rooms. The idea behind Oasis Festival was to organize an event with international as well as settled local DJ’s to show the potential of a now rapidly growing Moroccan scene. This year alone, two new dance festivals popped up in the wake of Oasis succesful debut edition in 2015, in the form of Atlas and Moga Festival. Other than that, people like the internationally booked Moroccan DJ Amine K are influential spokespeople for their home country when traveling to dance music hubs like Amsterdam, Berlin or Ibiza.
The set-up of Oasis’ main stage couldn’t have been better, with a serious F-1 sound system hanging on both sides and a dance floor that was spacious enough for a boutique festival like Oasis. And with temperatures reaching 35 degrees, the swimming pool wasn’t unnecessary either. The first day started a bit later for us, still adapting to the heat, but when we arrived the atmosphere was already festive. We went to see David August play in “The Arena”, a breathtaking miniature Roman amphitheatre, where it was already crowded with partying Moroccan and Algerian guests (contrary to last year, Oasis attracted a high number of local scenesters and connoseurs from the more well-off parts of Moroccan society). Whereas in Amsterdam De School would have been sold out while having an all-nighter with Hunee, the same artist’s set at Oasis was only spectated by a quarter of the stage’s capacity. It was not until Hunee raised the tempo of his set with records like Yo Yo Honey – Groove On (Wildpitch DJ Pierre Remix) that he caught the attention of the festival’s visitors. After the Amsterdam resident’s set, eclectic Belfast duo Bicep followed with some nice up-tempo house records. During MMM – Nous Sommes Mmm, the crowd lost it and was more than ready for the closing of that day by Dixon.
Satisfied with our kick off of the festival, we began day two with adrenaline-fused disco from the men of Spoetnik. The Arena, which they opened was hosted by Deep House Amsterdam, and saw other artists like Job Jobse, The Black Madonna and a B2B with Leon Vynehall & George Fitzgerald come by. As where the day started with swinging Italo Disco, Job Jobse did an authentic Job Jobse set; build up, climax, a drop and the same over again; as always incredibly effective. The favourite record amongst audience was without a doubt Syclops – Where’s Jason’s K (Bendix Mihle Re-Edit). Jobse was followed up by The Black Madonna, who made the gathered melange of spectators from all corners of Europe and Northern Africa lose their minds, from hip hop to techno, “The Arena” was filled to the brim (the second day saw over 4000 visitors coming to the festival). Different then we heard before, the set of Leon Vynehall & George Fitzgerald was melodic and joyful with quite a lot of their own records, especially from Vynehall’s new album. At that point the main stage was about to be closed by none other than techno messiah Derrick May. Unfortunately May wasn’t in his best form and played a set that did not follow a clear storyline like the Detroit maestro’s normally do.
Day 3 started for us on a giant golden unicorn to the musical curation of Motor City Drum Ensemble. As ever, we got schooled into the early foundations of dance music with classic disco records and a touch of early house music to keep things interesting. On this third day we really started to get the hang of the festival, as did every other visitor it seemed; we were all chilling and partying in a true Oasis of mixed cultures, music and…. food! The festival cuisine was provided by Le Jardin and Nomad, one of the most well known restaurants in Marrakesh and delivered quality local tastes as well as solid burgers and local superstar Omar Souleyman was a particular attraction for the ladies it seemed, with his heavily Middle-Eastern influenced brand of electronica causing adrenaline highs throughout his audience. Souleyman was followed by Butch, who made the audience dance again with his own selection of Arabic sounds. After we chose to go to Steffi, who choose to do a set in Ostgut Ton style. Because Blawan missed his flight, Jennifer Cardini played again this weekend and made the Arena burst with energy. One of the best sets of the weekend was given by Hamburg’s Helena Hauff. Her selection of lo-fi, synth-riddled bunker and acid stompers give all the reason why this artist is in the midst of such a meteoric rise. Like with a few other artists at Oasis Festival, we wondered why they were placed at the slightly less intimate main stage and not at The Arena, where Hauff’s sound would have come across much better.
After Helena Hauff came the artist that, together with Dixon, most of the Oasis visitors had looked forward to: Jeff Mills. As Hauff took off her last records from the Technics 1210’s the show shifted rightward a couple of feet towards The Wizard and his setup consisting of his trusted 909 drum machine, CDJs and Vestax rotary mixer. Other than at Dekmantel earlier in the summer, where his set was the military march laden with percussion and low on melody, Mills’ Oasis set was surprisingly funky and had more of the classic Detroit roots in it. At one point, he teased The Bells for about a minute, causing of course a total meltdown on the dance floor.
This second edition of Oasis Festival included many of the improvements that were expected after its 2015 debut. A resort that was much better suited to fit the amount of people needed to make a boutique festival like this work; no more huge distance between the crowd and the artists at the main stage; a bar staff that was more equipped and experienced to handle queues (although the bracelet paying system still leaves much to be desired), and above all a crowd, consisting of over 30 nationalities, that was a perfect blend of Europeans and electronica-loving locals coming together to enjoy and dance to a mega-festival kind of line up in an off-kilter, intimate setting. And all that in a city and country that is on a fast pace to become the exotic dance music destination that people have been looking for. Inshallah.
Words by Milan van Ooijen & Danique Dobbe