MOGA Festival tops the Moroccan scene: how did it get there?

    In recent years Morocco’s electronic music scene has undergone a bit of a renaissance. Where once there was, only a handful of nightspots playing commercial and regional music, recently there has been an explosion of all manner of different genres and sub-genres, namely minimal and reductionist leaning tech house. A fine example of this shift and a culmination of hard work is the recently covered boutique gathering Ahila Festival and their fine combination of minimal acts and attention to detail.

    With the minimal and microhouse scene being steadily built up from scratch over the past 10 years by a collection of experienced and hardworking individuals this increased interest in this burgeoning community is currently being nurtured on a much larger scale by MOGA Festival. With their off parties and festivals including more and more scene defining artists with each party, their upcoming and third installment will feature an unprecedented number of huge artists. Taking place at Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa between Friday, October 11th and Monday, October 14th MOGA Festival will play host to DJ W!LD, Enzo Siragusa, Lazare Hoche, Maher Daniel, Praslea and Raresh as well as local artists Daox, Two Faced, Achil, Nawfal and Mr ID “Soul of Elbaraka” who are currently pushing the scene forward.

    As well as nurturing minimal and microhouse, MOGA Festival also brings on board superstars from the more melodic and also techno end of the electronic spectrum with the likes of Alex Niggeman, Bas Ibellini, Behrouz, Chaim, Blond:ish, Matthew Dekay, Oxia, Yokoo and Satori. As well as these standout artists, MOGA Festival also have a bonafide house music legend in Kenny Dope performing at the 3-day festival and for anybody that has caught the highly influential American spin, he is not to be missed regardless of what sub-genre of house music you are into. The music only tells part of the story for this lush weekender, this festival is as much about enjoying the fruits of the region, fantastic food, customary service, lavish surroundings and of course the welcoming people of Morocco will make you wonder why on earth you have not visited sooner and when you will be coming back.

    Rhadoo @ Sqnc.

    In order for a scene to arrive at holding such an event the local scene needs to mature to a point that it can sustain such events and leading the charge in Morocco is a collection of promoters, artists and ravers that identify with the European parties and are looking to make long-lasting changes to their domestic scene. One such promoter that is heavily active within the Moroccan minimal sphere is Sqnc. Their parties in Rabat and further afield have attracted the likes of Cabanne, Vlada, Spacetravel, Rhadoo and later this month they have instore tINI. Speaking with M’hamed Kadiri aka Adam Dirk’heim co-founder of Synq. it was clear that there was not much of a scene for the music that they wanted to bring to Morocco, “It was more what was not found in Morocco that pushed me to start Sqnc, because it was hard for us to get gigs and none of the music that we played had a face here. Me and my friend (Jilaa) who launched Sqnc are just 2 DJ’s who wanted to have some gigs with some of the DJ’s that we liked and admired”. M’hamed also explains where his love for music came from, “When I was fifteen or sixteen I have started to get interested in electronic music through my brother, when I went to France to study I traveled a lot in Europe also, so for 4 years I experienced a lot of parties and festivals.” Taking elements from parties found in Europe and influencing the scene in Morocco with the Sqnc parties it was important to strike a right balance and not lose their individual identity.

    Sound of Mint

    As well as there being a need for promoters to pick up the baton in putting on top events, it is also the responsibility of the venues and hotels in Morocco to ensure that promoters and dancers have a place to go to express themselves and one such venue is The Source in Marrakesh. Having played host to a wide cross-section of promoters, events, and artists over the years and is currently gearing up to welcome to the greenery lined pool Back To The Source between Friday, November 1st and Sunday, November 3rd. A Collaboration between Laurent Cohen (The Source Marrakech Owner), Housework, Fadel Lahlou & Joel Pellegrini (Sound of Mint) & Ali Kazmi, this brand-new event for 2019 is produced by Chicago based Workflow Agency.

    Housework @iboat, Bordeaux

    Speaking with Mehdi aka Chicago DJ/Producer Housework he gave us the lowdown on his journey to his Back To The Source event, “I am originally from Morocco and I have been organizing underground events in Chicago and a few events last year in Bordeaux, France. After a few trips back to Morocco in recent years I have discovered an emerging underground scene.” Mehdi continues, “The idea of Back To The Source came from me and a friend Ali Kazmi (Ali2) who’s a Chicago promoter, wanting to recreate the events we make but this time in Morocco: the same underground vibe in a different setting with electronic music workshops and production masterclasses to allow the Moroccan electronic music lovers to discover the culture first hand.

    Mehdi then explained how this exciting project came together on the ground, “I then spoke to Fadel (Fadel Lahlou, Sound of Mint) about the idea and he introduced me Laurent Cohen (owner of the source) who was very interested. I have contacted some of my artist friends such as the legendary Roy Davis Jr. and Paul Johnson and they were all about the idea as it will be their first time playing in Africa. The line-up is a mix of raw classic Chicago sound and the new sophisticated minimal sound.

    The result is a 48 hour / 360-degree electronic music event featuring production masterclasses, panel discussions and of course a hot selection of artists including Roy Davis Jr., Paul Johnson, D’Julz, DeWalta, and Chad Andrews as well as a clutch of local artists including Housework and Sound of Mint live show.

    Another party that also calls The Source home is the nomadic Rhytmics crew. Having just welcomed Christian AB at the tail end of July they have in the past also hosted Yoyaku star Audio Werner, DoubtingThomas and Domencio Rosa earlier in the year. Speaking with Jade Benzakour he gave us the lowdown on where his parties came from, “We are 6 promoters of which 3dj’s so we have many influences. When Chaou.B created Rhytmics he was really influenced by tINI’s parties and a bit after by Yay events. For my part my main influence is a collective from Nantes called Voiceless, this is where I did my studies. In terms of bookings but also in terms of values, they are discreet and humble and like them, we never have backstages at our parties.” Jade explains that when the Rhytmics story began the only main promoter that was running events on any sort of scale was Amine K’s Moroko Loko events, “While these parties did not hold the same values, or promote the same style of music their influence on the Moroccan club scene was very important for those that came later. While crews tend to throw big parties, we tend to keep our parties friendly and intimate.”

    Also, actively contributing to Morocco’s minimal and microhouse scene is Plug-in Souls. Having been bringing the underground sound of New York, Romania and London for the past 3-4 years James Myngheer gave us an insight in to the origins of his party and place in the local music scene, “For a crew like us it is hard to make events during September and October due to the big festivals, but the rest of the year we are free to organise parties. The public for rominimal and all the “underground grooves” is very small but people are always curious of new things.” James expands on this by explaining there is now more to Morocco’s music scene, “Morocco nightlife is very bling bing, but we have a small community that is interested in this scene but a very good one. The majority of the youth are open-minded to what’s happens in the world.”

    This means that the musically diverse events that Plug-In Souls puts on strike a chord with both the young music community as well as the venues that are needed in order to provide the right standard of events that feature the likes of Traumer, East End Dubs and S.A.M. What is interesting is that all the main promoters of this type of music all work together to strengthen their scene and that there is no competition between each party. As a result of the Plug-In Souls much loved events and clear musical knowledge they have also been given carte blanche to curate the musical direction at Marrakech only house music venue – L’envers. This musical prowess has already stretched further than the domestic scene in Morocco as James is currently working on an exciting new project with the Carpet and Snares team in Portugal that will begin in October, keep your eyes and ears peeled for more information coming on that soon.

    Completing the line-up of promoters working tirelessly in the Moroccan underground scene is RAK Electronik, a party that prides fun and musical expression above all else. Founding member Diego Lasou Ugarte explains what he found when he arrived back in Morocco after his time in Europe, “Since I came back in 2016 I see many new collectives, sometimes they only do few events and then they disappear but everybody wants to do something. Electronic music in Morocco is still a music for the high social class, when you check the price of the entrance for an event like Oasis Festival (€200 for a weekend ticket), but most of peoples here are working a month for €300.” He continues to explain, “Electronic music is growing every year but the Moroccan people that you find in this kind of events are in general from the high society, so we try to make our events for everybody.

    Jorge Caiado @ RAK Electronik

    With regards to the financial aspect of parties in Morocco Diego was hopeful, “I hope this is gonna change, as we are not a business we only want to cover our charges in our case we try to do the best to integrate more crowd and more peoples in our events. For example, we are organizing an event with MOGA Festival in October with an entrance at only €5 in order to introduce more people to our party and our sound. We also sometimes we do free events (last year was at the central market of Marrakech and also the main square Jemaa el Fna). Only for fun. It’s always good and we are always happy to see peoples dancing in djellabas (traditional clothes of Morocco). Fellow founding member Julien Piette was also upbeat about the electronic music scene in Morocco, “As a DJ, I’m happy to have met in Morocco fans of electronic music and even better in my favourite style, we were able to exchange ideas and build friendships. The first vinyl shop has recently opened in Casablana by People’s Choice and it is a very good thing because it is very expensive to be able to get vinyl records in Morocco (customs fees, transport, time) by e-shop. I hope other record shops will open in other cities!”

    In order to project a coherent domestic sound, it is also important for producers to have an outlet for their music and Adil Hiani owner of Cosmo Records and first-generation Moroccan artist gave us a brief history of the early years of the Moroccan underground, “We launched Cosmo records in 2009 and started promoting parties to promote an electronic music side that was totally unknown in the region. Before this, it was about commercial EDM and PsyTrance only. Until maybe 2013, then we started to see small promoters here and there. Adil goes on to explain how far the minimal and micro community has come in that time, “Now, I feel really confident about the minimal scene. I used to run a party called Alternative that I just left late 2018. This was one of my last projects where I really felt that the minimal scene has really grown up. All our events were packed with a quality crowd.”

    As well as playing a big part in the development of the Moroccan scene Adil is also quick to give kudos to those still making it happen for Morocco, both home and abroad, “I see for example new parties like Sqnc who invited Rhadoo, so I am happy. There is also a new exciting label called Casa Voyager, one of the guys behind the label is Kosh. He is a killer producer based in Casablanca. I also like the work of Bassam (Distrikt Paris), he is based in Paris but from Casablanca. A label from Polyswitch has also just launched – Astrofever, I am proud and happy to see how Cosmo influenced a new but rising generation.” Adil is still very much a part of the Morocco club scene and regularly invites DJ’s to the Cosmo Records studio for live sessions, also his FMR Experience events invite the crème de la crème to rock his parties. Names such as San Proper, Dandy Jack, Julietta, Oshana and Mr Tophat have all starred alongside Adil around Morocco’s best venues. His regular hook-ups with Alternative and Nathabes are also contributing major bookings in the minimal and micro sphere with names such as Sammy Dee, Cesar Merveille and Lamache joining the family at every turn.

    As with any healthy electronic music scene there will be music of all genres on offer, but the main take away here is that Morocco now has a viable scene complete with bars and dedicated venues, several well-established record labels, a record store, and a booming festival scene. This is all topped off with Marrakesh being a recent stop off for super brand Boiler Room only last month where local heroes such as Polyswitch and Driss Bennis helped to cement Morocco’s place on the world stage. Often emerging markets for electronic music try to run before they can walk but with the pinnacle of the electronic scene – the 3-day MOGA Festival domestic artists now have a platform big enough to launch careers from. Keep an eye on Morocco as it continues to flourish in these unsettled and trying times for electronic music as a whole, not just minimal and micro house.

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