Fellah Hotel, Marrakech
14 - 16 September
Launching in 2015, Oasis Festival can stake a claim to being Morocco’s first electronic music festival. Though pop, jazz and world music events have flourished in the North African country, the DJ-driven three-dayer precipitated a wave of international interest in the country as a clubbing destination. Albeit the kind of place where the luxe resort locations share equal billing with the international line-ups.
Three editions later, Oasis feels well established and gilded with lifestyle supplement pomp (this year’s edition took place at Fellah Hotel, which, like its previous setting, is a five-star residence on the outskirts of Marrakech). Street food stalls scratch the surface of the Marrakech food scene and despite an international crowd, middle class Moroccan festival-goers are in the majority suggesting a growing interest in electronic music amongst a younger, affluent crowd. Critically, the line-up featured a wide bandwidth of artists, from Ibiza-sized heavyweights like Carl Cox and Sasha on one end of the bill, to underground names like DJ Python and Powder on the other. In other words, Oasis’ appeal is broad, the programming canny and, as it turns out, aspirational amenities are universal.
We arrived onsite at 11pm on Friday, and were blindsided by the fragrant scent of rosemary. Unfortunately, we were too late for the yoga sessions that kick-start each evening amidst the reconstruction Berber architecture, but just in time for Powder. After an afternoon spent exploring the city’s labyrinthine Medina, it didn’t take too long to slip into relaxation mode, with the Japanese DJ’s set thoughtfully location-adjacent – think deep, languid house and disco, perfect for the stage’s poolside locale. By the time she closed with See U in 2050 by Arian 911 we were fully acclimatised and on Oasis time. As such, we forwent the massive Oasis Stage with its opening night programme of full-throttle techno, opting instead for Jane Fitz’s strand of tech house. Fitz, a much-loved DJ who’s spent years honing her intuition, picked a course through low-slung chuggers and more head-tweaking sounds with casual aplomb, although it was disarming watching people wrestle with inflatables during the more reduced, percussive moments.
Gideön took on the third area, the Bamboo Stage; a wicker wonderland of seating areas, succulents and a treacherous water feature where three people came a cropper, tote bags and all. Here, the London stalwart tapped into the opening night energy, opting for uplifting house music laced with the kind of beaming piano chords and soaring vocals that’d make you forget your sodden iPhone 7. Intriguingly, this kind of resplendent old school house was a common sound across the festival: DJ Boring rinsed the hands-in-the-air-house-is-a-feeling Chicago clichés until we went numb, and naturally The Black Madonna and Derrick Carter’s Sunday night back-to-back set was an extended set-piece of jacking house transcendence. Whether these tracks are simply easy festival crowd-pleasers or if there’s a newfound political relevance for the aphoristic uplift of the first wave of house is a moot point at a festival whose raison d’être is escapism, but it was cheering to hear Honey Dijon drop of a re-edit of Childish Gambino’s This is America, a record whose political potency has yet to be diluted by time and context.
Still, any concerns that Oasis was leaning into the predictable and safe were dispelled on Saturday, thanks chiefly to two outstanding sets. On paper, the tag team between arch-sonic provocateur Actress and MOR post-dubstep doyens Mount Kimbie shouldn’t have worked but both acts drew from their deep well of rave knowledge to create a set of left turns and momentum self-sabotage. It was a joy to watch the British pairing field minimalism from the Truncate label, syrupy R&B edits, Galcher Lustwerk’s Idhouse and abrasive oscillating frequencies to one another with a sense of showmanship. Actress, who’d tied a white sweater around his shoulders catalogue model-style, seemed to delight in keeping the crowd on the back foot.
By contrast, DJ Python paid close attention to the ravers bunched up on the platform in front of him at Mirage. The Queens native eased through mood and tempo – pointillist acid say, or warm pad-laden rave melancholia – with an un-showy but noticeable technical flair. By the time he dropped a hardcore remix of U Sure Do by Strike, many were agreed that he’d played the set of the festival. Sidebar: there’s two sides to Oasis, the more music-agnostic contingent, happy to hang out at the photo booths or shisha lounge, and the hardcore party contingent. Despite strict security and costly drinks, there was a true sense of abandon thanks to the latter, from jaded fashionistas throwing outré shapes in mesh headgear to one guy, dancing front-left in a traditional djellaba.
After the left-field excursions of Saturday, there were perhaps fewer surprises on Sunday. We arrived to Honey Dijon playing a track with the hook, “are there any queens in the house?” before launching, later, into Strings of Life. Likewise, we probably didn’t need to hear another drop of La La Land (courtesy of The Black Madonna and Derrick Carter) but the Green Velvet classic certainly felt awesome on the Oasis Stage’s towering speaker stacks. Instead, it was Black Coffee that stood out the most; his tendency towards fizzing euphoria was fitting for the final night, though we appreciated the way he used polyrhythmic textures and deep-set grooves to offset the widescreen moments. As such, the Caiiro mix of Infinite Souls’ Kokola was an Afro house highlight, although you’d have to have a heart of lead to balk at the SA star’s set closer: a remix of London Grammar’s If You Wait. Do we? Did we? Does it matter. The crowd loved it and in that moment we did too. After all, Oasis understands what makes its audience tick, and this year saw a doubling down on its easy vibe, big-name bookings and high-end luxe. Three years on since its first edition, Oasis knows precisely what it’s doing – and boy, it does it well.