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Dancing in the Desert

“Dance somewhere different,” the Oasis Festival beckons on a website teaser. Well, it doesn’t get much more different —or much more exotic — than the Northwest tip of Africa’s Sahara Desert, where the ancient Moroccan city of Marrakech lies. Known as the city of entertainment, it’s where the Oasis Festival held its first edition in September of 2015 and is ready to go again.

The festival spun to life at the boutique Fellah Hotel, a 27-acre enclave set next to the Atlas mountains and landscaped with cacti, palms and giant agave. The event then moved to The Source, a private resort and spa with inviting stage-side swimming pools, intimate dancefloors, an atmospheric amphitheater, plush gardens and stunning views of the nearby Atlas Mountains. Guy Gerber and DJ Harvey were among 2015’s headliners; the lineup, split across two stages, also featured such names as Derrick Carter, Ellen Allien, Adriatique, Carl Craig, DJ Tennis and Axel Boman. Back-to-back sessions paired Gerber with Matthew Dear, Cassy and iINI, Chloé and Fairmont, Kali.G with Secret 47 and, in a three-way, Unes with Mar1 and Artunique.

Inspired By the Desert

Festival founder Marjana Jaidi, who is half Moroccan and had visited Marrakech often as a child, said her first inclination was to create something along the lines of Miami’s Winter Music Conference and Ultra. But a return trip to Morocco changed her mind. She realized she wanted Oasis to reflect the uniqueness and rich culture of the location in which it occurs. She also wanted a lineup richer in emerging and cutting-edge artists than simply big names.

“Darren James Thomas curated the line-up here and he did an amazing job,” Jaidi told “We wanted it to be an intelligent, forward-thinking line-up that isn’t super commercial.”

Those handpicked artists dropped needles in a laid-back setting Afar described as a merger of “Moroccan culture and hipster design aesthetic.” The main Desert Oasis booth overlooks the expansive pool, which basically turns the affair into a giant pool party. The Bamboo Arena second stage is set amid stands of tall bamboo trees. Cabana-like arrangements of ottomans, pillows and chaise lounges are tucked into the landscape, so revelers literally can lie back as they listen, taking in the work of street artists creating on-the-spot masterpieces or henna artists decorating bodies.

Yoga, massage and other refreshers are part of the experience, and an on-site spa allows festival-goers to sneak away for some pampering.

When the sun sinks, the scene takes on a luminous glow as artful lighting washes buildings and plants in mood-enhancing colors. The vibe, according befits its name. One reviewed relayed, “The scene resembled an after party in Ibiza, and the atmosphere was nearly always relaxed and cheery.”

Exotica All Around

The mix of ultra-hip and ancient culture found at The Source extends to the city itself, where dance clubs start pulsing around midnight and go 'til dawn. But the biggest attraction within the maze of alleys and alcoves inside Marrakech’s walled medina is the teeming Djemaa el Fna marketplace, which buzzes like a cacophonous beehive with musicians, dancers, acrobats, storytellers, comedians and other street performers, and market stalls proffering crafts, spices and enticing local dishes.

The festival’s Secret Souk, or marketplace, was created to bring Morocco’s colorful culture straight to festival-goers. With authentic food offerings and local wares, visitors could get a sense of place even without venturing away from the music. The hotel also has a restaurant that serves food raised on its own educational farm, where guests can help with goat-milking, egg-collecting and other earthy experiences. It also maintains a library and arts center (with artists in residence), and grown-up kid attractions such as a tree house.

The Source's rooms are reserved for festival staff and talent, but several nearby hotels offer packages that include tickets, accommodations, festival shuttles and often, breakfast or other extras.

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