Once you leave the main streets of Marrakesh, you’re enveloped by an unsettling darkness. Dirt tracks are rubble-strewn and uneven, forcing our mini bus driver to negotiate perilous craters. Only smouldering log burners light our path, every hundred metres or so, the scent wafting through a cracked window pane and enticing us further into a gloom not usually explored.
If you’re wondering why we’re trundling through the Moroccan desert, it’s for good reason; now in its second incarnation and boasting a new location, we’re seeking the first night of Oasis Festival, the distant beats of Midland quickening our pace through the gates and along the meandering pathways that zigzag across the festival site.
What with the strength of the lineup, one outstanding act often overlapping the next, much of the three days is spent hurrying between stages and reluctantly missing all the wonderful subtleties that the festival has to offer, from a sumptuous variety of local street food to yoga sessions and reflexology. Aside from a few glances over the shoulder, we don’t even pay much attention to the Atlas Mountains that stretch gloriously across the horizon.
It’s for good reason, however. On the first night alone, David August, Hunee, Dixon and Lindstrøm jostle for our attention and we snatch glimpses of each, although Bicep reign as the undisputed champions of hearts, minds and the main stage dancefloor thanks to a thundering rendition of their ‘Higher Level’ remix.
From the moment Dusky appear, clearly buoyed by an album release next month that could launch the duo into the stratosphere, day two barely lets up. Half an hour of The Black Madonna is never enough but it must suffice tonight, Maya Jane Coles beckons and she’s setting an exhilarating pace for those to follow. Tale Of Us, thriving in an atmospheric twilight slot, more than match her, tearing through a brooding set that would comfortably soundtrack the most harrowing of horror films. Nonetheless, there is no place for nightmares in such idyllic surroundings and bed is the furthest thing from our mind – Derrick May has the pleasure of playing alongside a hypnotic, gorgeous sunrise.
The final day of a festival is often a slog and Oasis is no different – except it provides massages, a pool brimming with inflatables and DJs briefed to sooth sore heads. We’re in the soft, safe hands of Motor City Drum Ensemble early on, his impressive melding of soul, funk and disco proving infectious and sending spirits skyrocketing in the wake of a standout set from Virginia. Flanked by a backing band of Steffi and Dexter, she ends in the throngs of the crowd, the euphoria of ‘Yours’ appearing irresistible and, despite enjoyable sets from Objekt and Mano Le Tough that close the weekend, there’s no question that Sunday belongs to her.
Perhaps like Croatia, the founder of Oasis Festival, Marjana Jaidi, makes no secret of her desire to be the catalyst that ignites a scene in Morocco. And on the strength of what we experience, from the meticulously curated lineup to the deft melding of local and Western cultures, there’s no reason why it can’t materialise. As long as promoters continue to nurture and cherish, many more of us should find ourselves dancing somewhere different – at a time when our city’s nightlife appears under constant threat, we should take note.