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Moroccan Experimental Electronic Music

“We have huge energy and talented people”

Megan Iacobini de Fazio is a Rome-based freelance journalist who writes about music and culture for Bandcamp, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Songlines and others.



 

In Morocco electronic music festivals tend to be a swanky affair: for a pretty penny, you could get yourself a boutique “raving experience” (imagine fancy cocktails,  infinity pools and floating flamingos), or a Game of Thrones themed electronic music event in a UNESCO world heritage listed city. 

 

But away from the limelight and the headline-grabbing events that have turned Morocco into an international festival destination, a small experimental scene is quietly emerging in Casablanca, (and partially in Marrakech), driven forward by a small but active network of artists, independent labels, and art collectives.  Defined more by mindset than genre, these small but connected creative pockets are defined by experimentation, collaboration, and DIY attitude, from self-releasing music to taking care of every aspect of an event — in part because of the lack of established labels, venues, and promoters. 

 

“Morocco as a whole is still in a very preliminary phase in building the stage for an actual electronic music scene” says sound artist and cultural operator Fayçal Lahrouchi. “But everyone is doing their little things, there are some little independent labels, and it’s very collaborative. It’s basically ten or twenty artists who are all friends and know each other, some are DJs, some produce, others do visuals. It’s like a little gang of artists.” 

 

A quick look at the tracklist for Tekchbila Vol 1 provides a great roadmap to this scene. The record was the result of a musical residency organised by L’AMME, an association that promotes and develops electronic music in Morocco while also preserving different currents of Amazigh music. In April 2021 several Amazigh-Souss Musicians and some of Morocco’s most forward-looking producers gathered in Morocco’s southern Souss Massa region. The album they produced is a striking blend of folklore and electronics, combining traditional flutes and footwork rhythms, chopped up and distorted chants, guembri, and psychedelic, glitchy, and club-ready productions. “We were trying to instigate this electronic sound that has a nice Moroccan touch, but at the same time keeping all the very clubby, contemporary, experimental elements'' says Lahrouchi, one of L’AMME’s founders. 

 

But not all artists look to Moroccan tradition for inspiration, and the prevailing feeling is that there is no one way local music should sound. Whether glitch, techno, footwork, ambient, bass, or dubstep, their music is Moroccan by virtue of them being Moroccan, capturing the aesthetics of urban life and drawing inspiration from everyday experiences. Listen to GJ Leath for distorted and saturated vocals over her beats to create incredibly catchy tunes. 

 

3xOJ, aka Othmane Jmad, is a Meknes-raised, Casablanca-based DJ and producer who merges his research into decolonising music theory with his love for contemporary club culture. Having released on labels like the Uganda-based Hakuna Kulala, he knows the importance of viewing artists within their own context, and of shifting the spotlight away from a narrow European context. Together with gbw9 he is the co-founder of raghoul — whose tagline is “From Casablanca to the World” — a “non-hierarchical multi-disciplinary label exploring bass-rooted cultures.” 

 

“With  raghoul we are trying to have a participative approach between the music and visual artists working together. We do believe that artists come first and we work in that way.” explains  3xOJ. So far their releases include a compilation, Crocodile Tears In A Reptilian World,  that shines a spotlight on bass scenes and artists from the Global South, and features both Moroccan and international producers such as 3xOJ, Archidi, and Kemperton from Casablanca, and Makossiri from Kenya, Qetsy from Paraguay and WULFFLUW XCIV from Russia. Their first release was the visceral, raw EP Cycles Of Spleen by P3RY, a massive amalgam of gooey basslines, from morose dubstep to fierce drum & bass.  One of the reasons for founding raghoul was the lack of a developed, independent music industry: “Here in Morocco as producers we don't have a big choice when it comes to labels. That's why also the majority of releases are self released”, says 3xOJ. 

 

To fill this gap several small labels have popped up over the last several years. V.I.V Recs was founded in 2017 by a crew of Casablanca producers and DJs, providing a space for emerging Moroccan artists, DJs, and producers to experiment and present their music to Moroccan audiences. Casa Voyager, named after Casablanca’s railway station, explores the hidden corners of the city’s cultural spaces with its breakbeat, funk, and jungle releases. Experimental label Rhadâb, co-founded by post-punk artist Prophän, seeks to channel “undiscovered frequencies inspired by desolate and noir tinged landscapes feeding off the North-African hypnotic rhythms and Moroccan unique aesthetics”. Casablanca-based Geometric Corruption focuses on industrial, noise, and glitchy sounds, with releases from sound designer and producer Disektor, P3RY, and Archidi

 

Art collectives have also helped bring a sense of structure, entrepreneurship, and collaboration to Morocco’s underground music scene. “The experimental electronic scene in Morocco is quite shy, but I can call it a scene because many people really want to do something, we have huge energy and talented people”says Archidi, a Casablanca-born visual and sound manipulator. He is a member of the experimental industrial rock and electronic band RASKAS, and a founder of  kussuf collective and 907.

 

“The easiest way to describe 907 is that it is not a collective: we are four visual and sound artists who have vowed to create for and to promote the local scene. We want to first of all create space for the local community, whether it's artists or people who pivot around the local scenes” says Archidi. “It's kind of a sum of everything that has been happening locally. We aim to create space for all types of art to coexist and to emerge all together in the most organic way possible.”

 

907 has found a home in Casablanca’s Seamens Club, organising events “where visuals and sound collide and coexist”. The club — which is also where L’AMME had their release party for the Tekchbila album, with performances by the likes of ASKLOU—  has become a beacon for this emerging movement, and a quick look at its event flyers reveals just how small and tight-knit this scene really is, with people like Archidi, 3xOJ, GJ Leath, Kemperton, Disektor,  Imane, and a handful of others at its core. 

 

Spaces like Seamens Club are few and far between, and the lack of adequate venues is one of the major obstacles to the development of the scene. “We have small initiatives with a small impact. But if you don’t have access to a good sound system where you can play your music and see the crowd’s reaction you can't improve” says 3xOJ. “There’s still a huge issue with concert spaces and venues” agrees Lahrouchi. “We had a brief moment where stuff was happening, but Covid then broke everything down. Now we’re starting from scratch.” 

 

But the energy is there and it’s growing. With their grassroots, collaborative approach, labels like raghoul and groups like 907 are slowly paving a way to a more established experimental scene, and creating spaces that allow artists to express themselves outside the bounds of the mainstream. Each event, collective, and label is helping the scene gather momentum and reach new audiences: “There are always people who come and who are pretty eager to hear this type of music and be at these types of events” says Lahrouchi, “and it’s also helping the artists gain confidence and think ‘yes, we can do this!’”

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