Moroccan Label Head Driss Bennis on How the Country's Emerging Electronic Scene Is 'Subconsciously Influenced by Our Roots'

Courtesy of Casa Voyager
Driss Bennis

There's always been electronic music in Morocco, from '70s dance clubs spinning disco classics like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" to residents trekking to desert trance parties in the '00s, to the Internet breaking open electronic music culture in the northwest African country throughout the last two decades.  

But homegrown Moroccan electronic music remains in development, with the country's burgeoning scene taking shape at clubs and parties from Rabat to Casablanca to Marrakech. This weekend, the latter city hosts the fifth annual Oasis festival, featuring performances by international luminaries including Four Tet, Ame, Dixon, Jayda G and Loco Dice.

 

Tucked amongst this lineup is a showcase by Moroccan label Casa Voyager, a Casablanca-based endeavor that released its first record in July, 2017. Named after Casablanca's major train station, the label has become an internationally renowned tastemaker on the power of the techno and electro it's delivered across its myriad releases -- which have made noise throughout the country and beyond. Co-founded by Driss Bennis, the label features music from Moroccan artists like Kosh, Polyswitch, OCB and more. 

"It feels a bit like an adventure where we don't really know where we are going to end up," Bennis says of the scene his label is helping evolve, "[as we try] to fulfill purposes greater than any individual." Here, he discusses how Moroccan traditions influence a very modern genre and more. 

How do Morocco's percussion-based music traditions like gnaoua affect the electronic music being made in the country? 

Well, I think Moroccan percussion is linked to electronic music. The interesting thing here is that the polyrhythms found in traditional music are fundamentally different than the general 4/4 beat of Western music. Nevertheless, especially in gnaoua music, the repetitive rhythm structure based on binary or ternary patterns is quite hypnotic and leads to a transcendental state that can totally be linked to what's happening in an electronic music club.

I truly believe that the Moroccan scene output is influenced by our roots, but only on a subconscious level, as the new generation has always been inspired by Western culture, where it finds its role models. This plurality of both conscious and unconscious influences give birth to artists that look like patchworks; they reflect and express the poetry of the somewhat schizophrenically bicultural Moroccan society in a universal language that everybody can relate to.

What are the primary hubs for the scene in Morocco -- from cities, to parties to people to labels such as yours? 

I would say Casablanca for its music, Rabat for its party scene and Marrakech for the festivals. There are a lot of new initiatives, and you can feel it’s getting bigger every day. For instance in Casablanca, we have People’s Choice, a new record shop run by Mehdi Ayoub or Astrofever, a new label, more focused on the house music spectrum, run by Polyswitch, one of Casa voyager artists.

There are also many DJs starting their own parties -- like the folks from Alternative in Casablanca or Sqnc in Rabat, who are really trying to book international acts along with locals. If you dig a bit more, you may end at Le Vertigo, a Casablanca bar where the most obscure electronic music can be played. As with everywhere in the world, you can, and you will mostly, find more commercial nightlife places, largely because we still do not have cultural spaces dedicated electronic music. There is a lot now, from labels to festivals, but we still lack a proper club to take these opportunities to the next level, mostly due to persistent and heavy legal obstacles.

With the popularity of Oasis throughout the last five years, are you seeing an influx of foreigners to the scene? 

Yes for sure, there are now way more people interested in what is happening here. I was very lucky to travel and live in Europe, but this is not the case for everyone. So when Oasis is booking great artists, such as Moodyman or DMX Krew for example, they grant a passionate Moroccan crowd the opportunity to either hear their legends play or get in touch with that sound.

Also, in another perspective, some of the best Moroccan artists that can't travel abroad -- maybe due to visa obstacles -- are able to show their work to a more experienced crowd. This is positive both because it boosts their self confidence as artists and shows them that on the global electronic music scene, there is a chance to make a professional life out of their passion. Moreover, I believe reciprocal cultural exchanges can only be a good thing!

Do you feel that Morocco is, or is emerging as, a world hub for electronic music? 

Yes, it definitely is. I think we are witnessing some evolution in the global electronic music landscape, which takes the form of a growing interest for the newer scenes rather than the classic London/Berlin/Paris. As we discussed before about Oasis, this interest is stimulating for the Moroccan scene. Still, we are still at an early stage. 

Is there a distinct Moroccan electronic sound? 

I wish! I think for now it's a bit too soon to tell if there's a particular Moroccan sound, as there isn't enough output. But I definitely believe that there is a common touch that Moroccan artists share, something in between feeling and funk, and not only in the music scene but in arts in general including fashion design, photography, cinema -- it just doesn't have a name yet.

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