Upon arriving at Morocco’s Oasis Festival, there’s an inescapable feeling you’ve accidentally wandered off the beaten track. Situated some 30 minutes outside Marrakech, the festival entrance is enshrouded; dominated by half-finished construction work, ad hoc parking spots, and listless-looking guards struggling with the merciless sunshine. Wander up and through the gates, however, and you’re greeted with an achingly pretty fairyland populated by azure pools, cozy hookah lounges, and some of the biggest electronic acts on the planet.
Now in its fourth year, Oasis flies the flag for electronic music in North Africa. With such events, it’s only natural to fear that local talent might be underrepresented, neglected in favor of Western glamor names. Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The bill sees local DJs nestled alongside international big-hitters, while native food vendors whip up Morrocan favorites in the makeshift souks. There are talks by the country’s biggest artists, whose work is readily available to buy, while other creatives mingle with visitors at the bar. At one point, Virgil Abloh, in town to perform his own DJ set, can be spotted checking out pieces by domestic designers in one of the showrooms.
It’s dope — a reminder of the arts’ power to remove cultural barriers and bring people together.
Most people, however, are here for the music — and Oasis boasts a roster that could go toe-to-toe with any of its big European counterparts. Across three main stages and two smaller ones, there’s enough to sate even the fussiest electronic music gourmand. On Friday night, Berghain resident Ben Klock closes proceedings with a pulverizing techno set; Saturday sees Actress x Mount Kimbie get ravey; and Derrick Carter goes B2B with The Black Madonna on Sunday, bringing the house down with a slew of thumping disco.
It would be remiss to discuss the festival without mentioning Marrakech itself. With its rose-hued pavements, bustling medinas, and year-round scorching sun, Marrakech is a panacea for vitamin D-deprived tourists from northern climes unable to accept the sad transition from summer to autumn. Oasis’ schedule encourages visitors to get out and see the sights, with the late afternoon starts offering ample time to explore.
Beautiful as it is, Marrakech isn’t a place for the faint of heart. Acrobats, snake charmers, and even monkey handlers are to be found in the famous main square Jemaa el-Fna, while local sellers do their utmost to badger tourists into checking out their wares. It’s a full-frontal assault on the senses that can easily overwhelm.
Thankfully, Marrakech is also home to many points of refuge, making it easy to escape to any number of lush gardens, the most famous of which is Majorelle Garden, a cobalt paradise famously bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. The designer’s ashes were even scattered in the garden in 2008.
It might be a mere budget airline flight away from Europe (a touch steeper if you’re flying from North America or elsewhere), but Oasis is a festival experience unlike anywhere else. For culture, history, and of course, banging tunes, look no further.
Now, read our exclusive interview from Oasis Festival with Virgil Abloh.