Villa Janna, Morocco
Morocco and the Netherlands go way back – something Atlas Electronic has been a part of for the last three years. The event takes place in the idyllic Villa Janna, an ecolodge dug out of the La Palmeraie oasis just outside Marrakech. Usually functioning as a peaceful, pricey, 32-person Airbnb getaway, for four days the six-acre site becomes occupied by a 2000-strong mix of local and international artists and attendees spread over three distinct stages (plus a low-key ambient room which appeared at some point over the weekend).
The stunning Amphitheatre Stage understandably takes most of the shine – a large but intimate space carved out of the earth. Lined with a patchwork of carpets, it was just as suited to taking in some of the earlier, more gentle performances as for the dance in the early hours. The smaller Pool Stage never quite popped off over the weekend (Job Jobse and Elias Mazian’s ecstatic b2b being a notable exception) – its long, tunnel-like dancefloor feeling a little tame compared to the other two. However it did play host to some of the festival’s most exciting bookings, with Morocco’s own Yasmean being a particular highlight. Her late-afternoon set wonderfully disregarded the accepted notions of an early playtime, as Soundmurderer & SK-1’s ruthless Call Da Police got an airing as intrigued local officers loitered at the far end of the dancefloor.
The Red Light Radio Stage, perched on the roof of the main building, allowed for spectacular views across the sprawling desert and was soundtracked by their notoriously eclectic schedule. Following the opening concert, two of the night’s most talked about acts found their way onto the stage over the course of the weekend. Génération Taragalte delivered their gently ecstatic brand of “desert blues” on the Sunday afternoon, cutting into Lena Willikens’ time slot as they answered the deafening calls for one more tune. But the highlight of the stage, and of the entire festival, was Asmâa Hamzaoui & Bnat Timbouktou, a six-piece group of women playing Gnawa – a traditional, spiritual music found throughout Morocco. Hamzaoui absolutely shreds the sintir (a three-stringed bass lute), while her quietly powerful voice is met in response by the others as they keep time with their handheld, cymbal-like krakebs. The music is in turns both hypnotic and euphoric as the assembled crowd erupt into song, applause and, eventually, something close to moshing.
Back in the amphitheatre, the Hessle Audio trio of Ben UFO, Pearson Sound and Pangaea impressed on Friday, their six-hour b2b session centring around sassy, skippy 90s house belters, with frequent tangents into emosh italo, shark-eyed, angular ballroom and a few hefty techno hoofers. Sunday saw Call Super close the festival in visceral style, chopping and cutting through tracks across three decks in a pretty Millsian fashion. Overmono’s forthcoming drum extravaganza iii’s Front made a notable showing, drifting in and out of the mix over the course of about 10 minutes, while the appearance of Schacke’s soon-to-be-released Automatic Lover seemed to sum up the tone of the set with its cautious optimism and relentless momentum.
It can be hard to put into the words the uniqueness of the location, the feeling of inclusivity and the considered scope of the festival’s nature, but it’s easy to see that Atlas Electronic has built something truly unique out in the desert – shining a light on Morocco’s rich traditions while cementing itself on the international stage.