Oasis Festival 2019 review


The fifth edition of Oasis Festival in Marrakesh returned to the Fellah Hotel for a sold out birthday edition welcoming 5,000 revellers. More than 60 artists played across four stages including debut appearances from Paranoid London, Four Tet, Seth Troxler, Moodymann, Jayda G, Theo Parrish, 박혜진Park Hye Jin, DJ Bone and Nicola Cruz plus returning acts such as Amine K, Cassy, Driss Benniss and Polyswitch. Mike Barnard was there.

Kieran Hebden’s near-three hours flew by on wave after wave of shimmering electronica with a few tough beats thrown in to keep us on our toes.

Although Oasis Festival is billed as being in Marrakesh, its location at the Fellah hotel - actually more a series of villas than a sprawling complex - is found to the south of the city centre, requiring a free, 20-minute shuttle bus or taxi to get to. There are festival-recommended hotels which sit on pick up points you can choose from, but there are also plenty of other options such as riads, managed apartments and Airbnbs if you want to sort yourselves out. The best thing about the shuttle bus, though, is it means you can stay close to the hustle and bustle of the medina - in particular the main square of Jemaa el-Fna - where you can experience a slice of the real Marrakesh before losing yourself in the festival with all its modern trimmings. If you’ve never had mopeds, carts and bikes streaming past you down the narrow roads while shopkeepers try to sell their wares, a trip to Oasis is the perfect excuse for an opportunity to experience it. But we digress.

Our first bus to Oasis Festival on the Friday would see us arrive around 7pm, in time for a golden hour tour of the site at the Fellah Hotel. The ‘hotel’ part is a little confusing - don’t think of a sprawling high rise, the Fellah is a series of villas with the space in and around them used for the festivals stages, bars, food outlets and chill out areas interlinked by decorated paths with lit up arches every few metres.

A central hub of activity was around the swimming pool available for all to dip in and ideal for the early arrivals from 4pm when the temperatures hit up to 36 degrees. Around the pool we’re a series of street food stands offering crepes, hot dogs, burgers, sushi and ice cream. The nearest villa offered games such as table football, table tennis and an old school arcade machine but we didn’t stop to play - we headed straight to the Mirage stage in the farthest corner of the site for KOSH.

The Mirage was on a grassy area of Fellah, with a backdrop of cacti and, beyond that across the desert, the Atlas Mountains. This stage felt the most at one with nature by its surroundings and it was easy to admire the Moroccan environment here. KOSH’s live set kicked off with electro - he’s perhaps best known for that genre with EPs Endless Quest and Keep Hope Alive released this year - then developed into a soft, sleek and very precise techno set that helped ease us into the night as twilight fell.

We used this time to check out the rest of the festival, walking past the ‘Moroccan Square’ with its rugs, hookah, snails and coffee while the Mbari House in one of the villas with its art and clothing pop up was alive to the sounds of Voodoo Gents (check) - and even offered another chill out space around a pool to enjoy. The Bamboo stage at the north of the site used a villa as a backdrop to the stage with revellers dancing over a covered swimming pool (it was also the place for an hour of yoga each day before the dancing started). Nearby, the secret garden was another area of rugs and comfy seating services by champagne and cocktail bars for a classy sit down. With our cashless wristbands topped up, we’d complete our tour by catching Nicola Cruz at the Main stage - Oasis - which sat in the biggest open space next to the food court swimming pool.

Cruz’s life set of intricate drumming coupled with warm, fuzzy electronica seemed to fit the mood of the festival just after sunset perfectly: it was easy to sway ourselves into the crowd amassing on the dancefloor, and the Squidsoup lighting shimmer behind him effectively. The music gently guided us through the low gears, its earthy feel seems to match the Moroccan setting. Next we’d head over to Mirage where DMX Krew was also playing live, but we caught the last couple of tunes from Driss Bennis who gave us a blast of some ghetto tech before DMX’s funky synths kicked in to slow down the pace. We’d sample the packed Bamboo dancefloor for Sonja Moonear’s set but it was so hard to find space to her house grooves that we abandoned and headed back to DMX where he’s shifted gears into more breakcore/jungle vibes for a strong finish that saw us befriend a trio of guys from Mumbai who, along with their own Spanish addition from their Medina hostel, proved to be excellent company for the duration of festival. Like so many of the people we chatted to, Oasis was alive with friendly faces speaking in accents from across Europe, Africa and Asia.

That eclecticism carried over into Moodymann’s set at the Oasis stage. The Detroit original followed up the more jazz and funk infused stylings of Theo Parrish with a set he seemed intent on cover as many eras as possible. There was the disco of Jackie Moore’s ‘This Time Baby’ alongside ‘September’ by Earth Wind and Fire, while New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ was dropped to catch everyone off guard, but still happy to sing along. He brought his set up-to-date with DJ Koze’s ‘Pick Up’ in what was a masterful selector at work.

Another masterful selector would bring the curtain down on night one at the main stage: this time from Four Tet. Although we only recognised his recently-released ‘Only Human’ tune by name, Kieran Hebden’s near-three hours flew by on wave after wave of shimmering electronica with a few tough beats thrown in to keep us on our toes. After losing ourselves in the sonic delights given added depth by the Squidsoup lighting that made Four Tet’s London set at Alexandra Palace so alluring, we boarded the shuttle bus home happy.

Saturday’s 36-degree heat during the day along with a few too many tequilas the night before led to a very lazy day by our apartment’s pool rather than one at Oasis, and we’d only get down to the festival site after sunset. Food was needed so we got our first taste of the street food – an O Dog Taxi hot dog with plenty of sauce, gherkins and crispy onion and, as it turned out, we’d need the fuel for what was the best night of the weekend.

It all started with Jayda G’s set at Mirage where she was belting out all her favourite dance songs – literally. Bouncing around to the beats, she was singing and mixing her way through pumping house and disco tunes – her energy alone was enough to get you moving in time with her, blasting away the day’s sluggishness. Although it felt like she was having a lot more fun than everyone else on the dancefloor put together with one-too-many vocal-led numbers that didn’t land with the crowd the same way she was hearing them, we left for the Oasis stage in good spirits.

Paranoid London’s set was an hour of rugged, reach-out-and-shake-you music that never let up.

There we found Recondite’s warm, fuzzy techno taking us to the next level as he subtly layered his music with drops that built up a rich texture. Like an audio shower, we were fixated in his spell while those around us were showing their excitement in different ways. One guy seemed to be making his way through his phone book, video-calling them with his beaming face all through the set while others were so desperate to get on someone else’s shoulders there were a few mishaps, though no one got more than their pride bruised.

By the end of Recondite’s set we had a solid foundation of dancefloor goodness to work with, and we found the perfect follow-up at Bamboo: an acid work-out from Paranoid London. While the duo of Gerardo Delgado and Quinn Whalley worked away at the controls of their synths, screwing up and contorting their faces with every intricate knob twist or button press, their lively vocalist shouted lyrics down the microphone that would sometimes sounds like statements, other times instructions, baying the crowd. It was an hour of rugged, reach-out-and-shake-you music that never let up. Hit such as ‘Drop the Beat’ and ‘Glue’ seemed to build and build relentlessly before dramatic pay-offs – this was one of the sets of the weekend.

More quality was to follow via the good time vibes of Horse Meat Disco at Mirage with Gwen McCrae’s ‘Keep The Fire Burning’ and another airing of Jackie Moore’s ‘This Time Baby’ by moonlight a treat for the senses ahead of DJ Bone’s set at the Oasis stage. Following in the footsteps of fellow Detroit natives Theo Parrish and Moodymann the previous night, Bone was in fine form as he powered into his set, flicking the cross-fader around and playing with levels while driving 4/4 basslines surged through the crowd.

DJ Bone mixed things up with Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ and Model’s 500 ‘OFI’ showing off his musical knowledge, while his knob twiddling during Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ had the crowd in raptures. This was to be another set of the festival, played to a packed Oasis stage dancefloor that lapped up every EQ tweak and punched-in hook. It was a shame the same crowd decided to chant Amelie Lens’ name as she finished setting up her decks at the end of Bone’s set, rather than give him the recognition he deserved – particularly as Lens kicked off hers with a bland choice that saw us head elsewhere.

That elsewhere was first to Mirage where Chromeo’s upbeat funk was enjoyable, then we headed over to Bamboo to see Seth Troxler almost caress us while he mixed deep house. At one point he teased the vocal on Trentemoller’s ‘Moan’, but it got lost in the embrace of another dreamy tune to send us on our way home happy.

The final night at Oasis had a lot to live up to trying to follow Recondite, Paranoid London and DJ Bone the night before. We armed ourselves with an incredibly strong and spicy Naughty Tequila cocktail from the Barometre stall, then made our way to catch the end of Polyswitch’s soulful grooves followed by what we hoped would be a showcase for 박혜진 Park Hye Jin’s dreamy house style. While Polyswitch helped us ease into the evening nicely as the sun set, 박혜진 Park Hye Jin struggled to engage us initially with an overly progressive opening section and tunes like a remix of ‘Renegade Master’ feeling a little forced to illicit some movement from the audience.

DJ Bone was in fine form as he powered into his set, flicking the cross-fader around and playing with levels while driving 4/4 basslines surged through the crowd.

We’d take a break to get ourselves a crepe, a coffee and visit the disappointingly-small Squidsoup installation (we’d hoped to be able to get at least as lost in the hanging strips of light as the DJs had to walk through on the Oasis stage, but the official area for the public turned out to be large enough to hang above a few cushions – more next year, please!). After catching some of Silvie Loto at Bamboo and Amine K at Oasis, we’d find our way back to Mirage for the end of 박혜진 Park Hye Jin’s set where she had picked up the microphone and was singing her track ‘ABC’. Our Mumbai friends informed us she’d just sung her collaboration with Baltra, ‘Ahead of Time’, and she seemed far more engaged with the crowd, even serving up a remix of ‘Walk on By’ with a smile on her face for a stronger finish than the opening eluded to.

The best was yet to come from Sunday night as Baltra himself stepped up at the Mirage stage for a live set that took in his usual lofi music, adding vocal effects to his voice, then delving into jungle to inject some pace. He’d loop back round to play a beefed-up version of ‘Ahead of Time’ to finish off his set which caused a wild stirring of the crowd. Or:la kept the energy levels high with pacey house and techno selections ahead of Mall Grab who seemed keen to cover every genre, including a dash of late 2000s French electro with Mr Oizo’s ‘Positif’ bringing back a few memories.

We’d try to get into the music on the other stages, but Cassy, Loco Dice and AME b2b Dixon failed to deliver much more than some hum-drum house or business techno. We’d make our own fun playing the table football, then realised all-too-late that Mall Grab had cracked on beyond the 3am scheduled finish time until gone 5am. Nevertheless, with the bars running out of everything except wine, bubbles and the odd spirit, we decided it was time to bid Oasis Festival 2019 a fond farewell.

The quality of sound, setting, food, drink and international crowd had been excellent throughout - with the Moroccan influences very clear and helping make Oasis such a unique festival experience. A nod, too, for the toilet attendants who ensured there were well-organised queues and clean, well-stocked loos all night. The line-up covered a lot of ground with many sets giving us acts finding top form, and they all looked to be genuinely delighted to be playing in Marrakesh. We were delighted to be part of it.

Photography by Khris Cowley (2, 18), Ben Hale (1, 10, 12, 15) and Josh Hiatt (5, 8, 9, 13) for Here & Now (also 7, 11, 15); and SOLOVOV.be (3, 4, 6, 14, 17, 19). Additional reporting by Lauren Havard.

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