Atlas Electronic landed for its inaugural year on September 1st 2016. The pioneering music and arts festival was organised by Director Karim Mrabti and Triphouse Rotterdam. Their ambition was to combine high end Western electronic music with local Arabic influences; creating a unique experience with freedom for artistic expression. With the help from a number of respected industry partners, this ideology became a reality. As with all festivals, location is key. Villa Janna was a charming eco-complex situated 20 minutes outside of Marrakech. The space had three stages - An Amphitheatre, Pool Stage and Red Light Radio Rooftop. The following review will outline the overall experience of Atlas Electronic whilst highlighting some choice sets from the weekend.
James Holden and Maalem Houssam Guinia - Amphitheatre - 21:30 - 23:00 - Thursday
Intrigued attendees entered Villa Janna’s walls for the opening concert of Atlas Electronic - 001. Hundreds of candles lit the pathway to a huge stone amphitheatre which had been lined with rich red Moroccan carpet. Four spotlights beamed into the night sky, signalling the awakening of the festival. Headline acts James Holden and Maalem Houssam Guinia were the stars of the show. Last year James recorded an EP with Houssam Guinia’s father, the late Mahmoud Guinia. The performance was a moving celebration and tribute to the Moroccan musician’s life and work.
The collective opened with - Maalem Mahmoud Guinia & Floating Points - Mimoun Marhaba. As the set developed so too did the energy of the crowd. At one point the Moroccan band came off the stage and onto the amphitheatre floor. An immersive experience for all involved. Spectators enjoyed a live showcase of the Marhaba EP as well as creative free styles and artist solos. A fine blend of traditional Moroccan percussion with Western hypnotic synths and modular tones. Accompanying the concert was some of the most captivating visuals I have ever experienced. Developed and executed by Swiss based team – SuperMafia VJ’s. They look to maximise viewer experience with minimal design. Taking inspiration from 3D thinking, the images were semi-improvised during the performance. The show started in darkness, with the light being manipulated from small circles to larger geometric patterns. The final transfiguration came in the form of a persuasively textured moon. It was truly mesmerising.
“Hey Toro Toro Torko Lila, Oh Toro Toro Torka Lila”
Optimo - Pool Stage - 21:00 - 23:00 - Friday
Fridays Pool Stage was hosted by Cartel Amsterdam. The Dutch outfit have become a household name in the scene by hosting a range of events across the capital. Their ethos has always been to combine both new and established DJs. A stand out set from the days’ curation came from Optimo. The DJ pairing were famed for running the legendary Optimo night in Glasgow from 1997 - 2010.
True to the Glaswegian’s reputation, the set was an eclectic mix of genres with a strong House and Techno grounding. Performing to an intimate crowd, the Optimo representative faded in and out the 1984 Synth-Pop Classic – Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy. Another choice track was Omar S - The Shit Baby - a Detroit House release with soulful piano keys over drum kicks and high hats. Atlas Electronic provides numerous areas to enjoy the musical experience. The Pool Stage had a long wooden dance floor, a picturesque swimming pool and a cushioned corner where you could indulge in a flavoured shisha pipe. Whichever area you chose, Optimo’s performance was a fantastic demonstration of mixing across a broad range of genres. The DJ closed with Bob Marley - Could You Be Loved.
“Love would never leave us alone. A-yin the darkness there must come out to light”
Philou Louzolo - Red Light Radio Rooftop - 23:00 - 00:00 - Saturday
One of the key partners of the festival was Red Light Radio. The Amsterdam based station has been running since 2010, broadcasting daily shows as well as hosting parties and festival collaborations. An exceptional set came on Saturday from DJ and Producer Philou Louzolo. The artist’s goal is to make African culture more approachable. Building his sound from Congolese, Nigerian and Sierra Leonean heritage, a musical style he calls Afrifuturism.
Wearing a tribal shirt and beaming smile, Philou started with a number of brass and drum heavy vocal tracks. Initially playing to a crowd of 30, selections included Jimi Bazzouka - So So Ye. The set was a masterclass of African and world music. Sound and word quickly spread as more attendees made their way to the rooftop. The increase in crowd only intensified the vibe. Philou turned up the heat with - Sister Pearl - Bang The Drum (Jose Marquez Remix). There was a general feeling of liberation and electricity in the air. The hour came to a close with sultry African folk release - Super Mama Djombo - Pansau Na Isna. Catching up with Philou the next morning; he mentioned a feeling of freedom to express himself and truly play the records he wanted, something unique to the Atlas Electronic environment. The mix was a demonstration of why Philou is one of the best current DJs coming out of the Rotterdam scene.
“We sing along and say oh ha, oh ha. We bang the drum and say oh ha, oh ha"
Mino Abadier - Pool Stage - 12:00 - 14:00 - Sunday
Saturday night saw Gerd and Serge play an hour over scheduling; such is the relaxed vibe of the festival. A select few attendees were able to find peaceful corners around the complex to rest their eyes and minds. Waking up to sunshine and an empty pool was the perfect start to the day and another example of how Atlas often felt like a private villa party.
First on Sunday was up and coming DJ - Mino Abadier. Another of the Rotterdam representatives, Mino believes in building his mixes with ambient music. A perfect example of this was Suzanne Kraft – Flatiron - a melodic guitar led track on the Talk From Home LP. The relaxing sounds could be enjoyed whilst drifting on the water; a slightly more sophisticated take on an afternoon pool party. Mino Touched on Funk, Soul and International genres. Vocal selection – Leroy Hutson – Paradise – was able to encapsulate the venue with its lyrics. Villa Janna is a bubble of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech’s souks and side streets. The organisers have discovered a unique and opulent setting to host a music and arts festival.
“Wont you take me to your paradise”
Rashid Zagora and Lightpainting – Arts and Culture
Atlas Electronic also brought in local and international artists for the occasion. A stones’ throw from the Red Light Radio rooftop you could find Moroccan and Parisian painter Rashid Zagora. An ‘in the moment’ artist who enjoys working with his hands, something he believes is necessary for true expressionism. Many of his live paintings had a focus on female silhouettes. Rashid also created all the sculptures for the festival. He looked to signify the human anatomy in an abstract style. The sculptures could be seen dotted throughout the complex, further adding to the sensory experience of the event.
Further down the walkway to the Amphitheatre and Pool Stage were the Lightpainters. Appearing at night, this art form is an innovative balance between software and creation. The software allows the visual observers to see the movement of light in real time. Cisco, the Parisian Artist completes the work free hand on a large screen in front of a projector. Taking inspiration from Moroccan Art, Cisco used a range of colours and artistic styles; a common theme throughout was Geometric shapes and patterns. A novel blend between art and technology.
Atlas Electronic was a pioneering event looking to build a new concept – Create the ultimate festival with interaction between music, arts, celebration and wellness. Organisers Karim, Triphouse Rotterdam and the family of partners successfully brought underground electronic music to Morocco. Being the first edition, the festival had a raw feel. It largely undersold, but everyone there was treated to an exclusive and unique experience. The Atlas concept is a spearhead in developing the Moroccan music scene. The blend between Western and Arabic culture was innovative and beautiful; 2017 is the time to be part of the movement as it develops on the African Continent. When the sun had set on the first year, all involved came to the realisation they were part of something special. The overall environment was expressive, inspiring and free.