Reviewed: Oasis Festival 2016
“Dance somewhere different” appears on your screen when you search online for Oasis Festival which is quite a bold claim these days. As you approach The Source Hotel, half an hour south of Marrakech, Morocco it becomes clearer. The dry desert terrain of the approach is replaced by lush greenness as small footpaths snake off through swathes of herbs, shrubs and succulents. These lead to the two stages for this intimate festival, one overlooks a luxurious swimming pool whilst the other is in amphitheatre surrounded by tall cactuses. The site looks stunning, especially at sunset, so no surprises that many acts including B.Traits, Midland and Maya Jane Coles stayed all weekend, enjoying the sights and sounds.
Around half of the festival’s visitors are Moroccan, the other fifty percent being a mixture from 24 different countries. The warmth and appreciation of the locals, who are rarely exposed to line-ups of this calibre, was tangible. “The Moroccan crowds really have something special, they jump, scream and shout” explains Amine K, the man behind Moroko Loko whose DJ set on Friday evening pulls the first big crowd of the weekend. “I’ve been involved in other festivals in Morocco but nothing on this scale musically or logistically. They’ve made it the right way, everything is so professional. For the local scene it is amazing. Obviously not everyone here can afford to go to Ibiza or wherever to see the big names. Oasis Festival is really good for the Moroccan DJs as they can come, listen and get influenced.”
Definitely no shortage of influential acts heading up the line-up, from Detroit and Chicago forefathers Jeff Mills and Derrick May to Norwegian nu-disco pioneers Prins Thomas and Lindstrom. Standing out, however, are the plethora of current names who have mastered the art of genre-hopping musical journeys taking full advantage of the two hour set times and open-minded excitable crowds. Hunee’s impressive set on Friday night begins with a well chosen afrobeat before seamlessly moving into vintage Italo and Telex’s “Moscow Discow”. Bicep follow with an edits heavy set including Leftfield “Release The Dub” and Blaze “Lovelee Dae” resulting in one of the best receptions of the weekend.
Saturday sees a visibly ecstatic Eli & Fur bring the playful Oasis Desert stage crowd up to sundown. The more intimate Arena attracts much bigger crowds than the previous night from the off. Italian duo Speaking Minds provide an early evening highlight, blue LEDs and smoke engulfing the revellers to a crescendo during Todd Terje’s “Ragysh”. Man-of-the-moment Red Rack’em brilliantly sets the tone of diversity playing everything from Four Tet alias Percussions’ “KHLHI” to early nineties classics from Salt City Orchestra to Ragga Twins. “I want to subvert.” Red Rack’em (aka. Daniel Berman) proclaims post-set, “I’m known for playing house and disco and I’m going to do that but I’ve got the opportunity now to really push stuff in that doesn’t get played at those kind of clubs”. Inevitably, the biggest reaction is reserved for his own “Wonky Bassline Disco Banger”, a track which has been in the record boxes of everyone from Moodymann to Mark Ronson this Summer. It’s clear from his triumphant set that, like The Black Madonna on later the same night, Red Rack’em will be seen on many future festival line-ups.
There could be no better way to welcome in the final sunset here than with an extended poolside masterclass from Motor City Drum Ensemble. Disco and rare groove dominates the first hour of his set, Randolph Baker “Getting Next To You’ rubbing shoulders with Fatback Band “Wicky Wacky”. Once the area between the pool and the DJ booth becomes one big dance floor the musical adventures begin, with African rhythms from Gyedu-Blay Ambolley moving towards James Brown then acid via Steve “Silk” Hurley’s seminal “Jack Your Body”. Arguably the set of the weekend, it shows how high the standard of programming is at Oasis Festival. This quality continues into the evening with Omar Souleyman’s live set perfectly reflecting the aforementioned “difference” of this weekend from the other events across the dance calendar. Blawan’s unfortunate illness results in a last minute line-up change with Jennifer Cardini standing in at the Arena stage. The Correspondant label boss, who had originally played on Friday afternoon, relishes the later set, gauging the crowd perfectly with a solid selection of techno. Huge cheers ring out as Jennifer ends with Unknown’s sublime “Loving (O.C. Edit)”, handing over to Mano Le Tough for the closing set of the festival.
Morocco could not feel more welcoming to the international visitors over this weekend and this, it seems, is reciprocated. Organiser Marjana Jaidi explains “the locals said that when they stepped into the festival they felt like they had left Morocco, so I like that it’s a destination festival for everybody”. Oasis Festival has the makings of a music lovers’ destination for many years to come.