- After years spending New Year’s in New York City at bar crawls, house parties, and underground raves, I was determined to find a New Year’s Eve party while visiting Morocco that would blow the bash in Times Square out of the water.
- I scoured the internet and found out there was an all-night dance party arranged by Moroccan electronic-music partiers RAK Electronik in the Agafay Desert, a lunar landscape just an hour outside of Marrakech. I bought tickets.
- With just 130 attendees and music blasting all night amid a stunning landscape, this New Year’s Eve bash was one I won’t soon forget.
Every year, I scramble for something to do come New Year’s Eve. Living in New York City, as I have for the last seven years, can be a bit exhausting around that time of year.
There’s the huge expectation that you want to do something cool and the crushing realisation that all the bars cost hundreds of dollars a person. Some years, I’ve pushed myself to do a bar crawl at the few free bars in Brooklyn or, when I’ve gotten lucky, some far-out underground party. But most of the time, New Year’s means having a few friends over and watching the ball drop in Times Square on the television.
This year, I wanted to go big. I had plans to be in Morocco, and I figured there must be something interesting happening. Cue a montage of me frantically scouring the internet.
On Resident Advisor, every raver’s favourite website, I found out that Moroccan electronic-music outfit RAK Electronik had arranged an all-night dance party at a luxury camp in the Agafay Desert, a lunar landscape just an hour outside of Marrakech. A few friends and I bought tickets.
It blew all of my New Year’s Eves in New York City out of the water. Here’s what it was like:
The party was held in the Agafay Desert, a hilly, lunar landscape about an hour outside of Marrakech. It’s a popular spot for Moroccans to head to on the weekends for horseback riding, riding ATVs, or just staring at the stars.
There are a number of camps you can stay at in the area, but the RAK Electronik party was being held at the Agafay Desert Luxury Camp. It seemed to be farther into the desert than most camps. You could see the stunning Atlas Mountains in the distance.
Tickets to the event weren’t cheap at $US80 and up, depending on your tent setup. But I’m used to paying through the nose to stand in a crowded bar in New York City for the same amount of money or more. And don’t get me started on Times Square.
RAK Electronik is a party outfit started by Diego Lasou Ugarte, a French-Chilean DJ based in Marrakech. Lasou Ugarte and his team organise intimate electronic-music events in far-out places like the top of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, the beach on Tafedna Bay, and at Ouzoud Falls. The New Year’s event at Agafay was for only 130 attendees.
We got there early at about 5 p.m., so we could set up in our tent and make sure there was enough time to see the sunset.
While Agafay had its own snazzy luxury tents for its guests, the tents for the festival attendees were a bit more hippy chic, if you know what I mean. This is what ours looked like.
Here’s the inside of the tent. We booked a four-person tent, which ended up costing about $US125 a person.
After setting up our stuff in the tent and putting on a few more layers — it was chilly even before nightfall — we walked around the camp and took a peek into some of the other tents.
This is what the two-person tent looked like. It cost about $US166 a person.
The music was already kicking by the time we arrived. It was an eclectic mix of electronica, soul, nu-disco, downtempo, and a bunch of other genres I can’t remember the name of. Benny, an electronic-music collective from Casablanca, got the night started.
The tents for the actual guests of the luxury camp were more elaborate than ours. They even had patios to relax on. But, don’t envy them too much. As I found out later, many of the camp guests weren’t told there was an all-night rave happening during their quiet New Year’s Eve. One American family was so incensed that they had the camp pay for a taxi to take them back to Marrakech.
The festival area was small, but well-designed. There was this large tent to hang out in behind the dance floor.
About half of the festival attendees were served dinner in this tent. It was decorated in Moroccan rugs, rough-hewn wooden tables, and lots of cool knickknacks.
There was a side area with a pool, a couple of tables, and a pagoda-like tent. We labelled it the “VIP section.” It was not actually the VIP section.
The water was freezing. If I didn’t make it clear already, Morocco is cold in the winter. I’ll be honest, I did not expect that and packed as if it were still summer. I was already layering up with as many T-shirts as I could wear.
The bathrooms started out clean. Within about an hour, they no longer looked usable. I never thought I would be wistful for a real port-a-potty.
The sinks outside the bathrooms were Instagram-worthy.
The event had a cash bar, but thankfully you could bring your own alcohol as well. I stocked up on vodka and wine at the duty-free shop in the airport.
Around 6 p.m., the official RAK Electronik shuttle showed up to bring the party people. But people were trickling in via taxi all evening.
With the sun starting to go down, a dozen people or so got the dancing started. The crowd seemed to consist of mostly French people, Germans, and Belgians, with a few Moroccans sprinkled in.
We decided to do a short hike up to the top of the hill overlooking the camp. I wanted to catch a good view before the sun set completely on 2018.
I wasn’t the only one. And, boy, was it worth it. The clouds were as cotton-candy purple and blue as they look in the photo.
I mean, come on. What a way to cap off 2018. Beats standing in Times Square in the freezing, pouring rain …
This is what the festival setup looked like from above. It was an intimate gathering. But that just meant it was easier to make friends with fellow revelers.
The camp was set up with small lamps along the paths so you didn’t fall into the ditches and crevasses between the desert hills.
I ordered some traditional Moroccan mint tea to enjoy with my friends in the “VIP section.”
After enjoying the tea and popping our bottle of wine, it was time for dinner. We headed up to the big tent at the top of the camp where dinner was served. We weren’t the only ones looking to fill their stomachs before the festivities really kicked in.
Thankfully, the camp had a fireplace built into the tent. Once this fire was burning, the tent got nice and toasty.
In full Fyre Festival fashion, the buffet line for dinner got pretty competitive. People were piling food onto their plates and making sure they got their share. I was not alone. Despite how much of a mishmash this looks like, there was a delicious mix of Moroccan tagines and vegetarian side dishes.
Then it was time to dance …
… or hang out around the fire pit that was directly behind the dance floor. The temperature was close to freezing by the time the clock got close to midnight.
As 2019 descended upon us, I cracked open a bottle of prosecco to celebrate. I would’ve gotten Champagne, but the duty-free shop had only Veuve Clicquot. Too rich for my blood.
There were some paper lanterns to let off into the starry night sky. Unfortunately, I don’t think they were particularly well-made because a couple of them started drifting toward the other tents. One nearly lit a bathroom tent on fire.
There was a projector behind the dance floor with some visuals. This “Happy New Year” message may be tame, but the rest of the night was trippy cartoon psychedelia.
The dance floor heated up after midnight. The lineup included DJs from Morocco, Norway, Belgium, and France. I headed off to bed around 4 a.m., although sleep is a relative term. The tents were directly behind the DJ booth, which meant that you heard the booming bass all night long.
A little bit after 7 a.m., I gave up on trying to go to sleep. The air was so cold I could see my breath in front of me, and the thumping electro music never stopped.
I was not the only one who had long since given up on using the bathroom tents and moved to going to the bathroom au naturale.
There were still a few embers in the fire by the dance floor, but it had long since stopped giving off any heart.
But about a dozen diehards were still dancing strong into the morning.
Breakfast was simple: coffee, orange juice, croissants, hard-boiled eggs, and muffins. Supposedly, there were scrambled eggs, too, but I never saw them.
Some people had brought out blankets to dance in. Now that’s what I call a winter rave outfit.
But I had a pounding headache (thanks, prosecco) and was determined to get as far away from the music as possible. The best place to go? The top of the hill above the camp.
The added bonus was that I got to see the first sunrise of 2019. I had figured that I had woken up too late to see the sunrise, but the Atlas Mountains in the distance had extended it.
There was no going back to sleep after sunrise. Once the sun got high in the sky, it warmed the tents so that they got too hot to sleep in. It didn’t matter, the music was cranked even higher after 9 a.m., calling any sleepy partiers back to the dance floor.
As the French say, the best way to get rid of a hangover is to dance. (Note: I don’t know if French people say this).
After a bit more dancing, I went back up to the tent at the top of the camp. While I am not in this photo, you can be sure I was laying in the exact same position as these two hungover dudes holding their heads. I ended up with a migraine for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I cannot bounce back like I did at age 21 anymore.
The music kept going until nearly 1 p.m. Lasou Ugarte closed out his own party with some dynamite tunes.
That was it for RAK Electronik’s 2019 New Year’s bash. While there were a few hiccups, they mostly put on a great, intimate party. I never imagined that I would spend New Year’s partying in the Moroccan desert. The next time I’m in Morocco, I’ll be sure to check out what they’ve got cooking up. Maybe next time it will be in an even more picturesque place. The Sahara Desert anyone?
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