Delicious music, culinary delights, more than a dollop of cultcha and an escape to the far-flung deserts of Morroco at the end of miserable March?? I didn’t need much persuading to ‘buy the ticket and take the ride’ to the innaugral Beat Hotel festival, in Marrakech.
The Beat Hotel was already well known to me for their big venue near Glastonbury’s pyramid stage – but apart from a few showers of rain over the weekend, this offering, couldn’t have been much further from its Pilton partner…
Those Festival Facts
What? Beat Hotel Marrakech “A long weekend of live music, DJs, one-off culinary collaborations and a talks programme featuring some of today’s great minds and voices.” Inspired by the ‘Beat Generation’ of poets and authors.
Where? The Fellah Hotel, a 20-minute drive outside of Marrakech in Morrocco…. my first festival in Africa! (ticked that off the bucket list!)
When? This year it was the last weekend of March – 2020 festival not confirmed yet. It ran Thursday through Sunday with music and wellness programming from 9am – 4am.
Who? Organisers are Brits and the audience (in my experience!) were mainly from the UK with a smattering of locals and attendees from across the globe to make up the neat 2000 capacity.
Set in the Fellah Hotel, a 25 minute drive from the outside central Marrakech, the festival site was a resort made up of winding paths lined with rosemary and cactuses, cosy bedouin tents decorated with golden lamps and opulent Moroccan textiles, shimmering swimming pools and hidden indoor rooms. Within this paradise, the programming blended together the worlds of art, literature, wellness, and music.
“Follow your inner moonlight”
Undoubtedly ’boutique’ (whatever that even means any more!), this isn’t a trait I’d usually be mega keen on but here it came with the territory, a festival held in a 5-star resort is gonna have a 5-star feel! The resort setting reminded me a little of beach festivals I’ve been to in India like Sunsplash but 20 times more lavish…
What was best about this boutique-ness was the size. Apparently, a compact 2000 revellers attended Beat Hotel, which was super intimate compared to Oasis, a techno festival on the same site which has a cool 8000 guests! Whilst having the classic where have we met before / have we met before? chat with a fellow dancer on the first night…. he hit the nail on the head when he said it was the best festival he’d been to in years because it recaptured a feeling “like someone had put on a party for you and your mates”.
Thursday Opening Concert
After a day of taking in the gardens and museums of the festival’s culture-rich neighbouring city (stay tuned for my Marrakech itinerary!) we headed for our first evening at the Beat Hotel site just in time for the magnificent red and pink clad Deep Throat Choir in the ‘Interzone’, a beautifully dressed clear marquee that served as the festival’s main stage.
I’d wanted to catch them for ages after seeing their live session video from Greenman festival… the combined raw power of their amazing voices singing original material and choice covers like Little Dragon’s Ritual Union was such a perfect opening to the festival.
In homage to the festival’s home, The Master Magicians of Jajouka were next… which was an experience. They are a legendary family from rural Morocco who play some of the oldest musical styles still preserved on the planet! At first we thought the complex rhythms and the loud wail of their instruments (imagine the sound of 20 bagpipes, if they were Morrocan?!?) was a pretty strange choice for a 2 – hour – booking when this was the only stage open….!
BUT we decided to get stuck in at the front of the crowd and actually it was amazing… to punctuate the 4000-year-old music a small man in a fur-covered costume came onto the stage (basically their hype man) and had us totally transfixed. apparently, he was the fertility goat and everyone he hit with his stick in the crowd would soon be with child!!! Queue side eyes for two of our mates who got a solid smack…
Closing was Awesome Tapes from Africa – and he did not lie, they were awesome tapes! If you have never heard of this selector and label owner, he mixes only on cassette and has a huge collection of rare tapes that he has found from all over Africa ranging from traditional music to African disco and pop, which were all blended seamlessly and left us at the end of the night with sore feet and raucous shouts of “one more cassette, one more cassette!”
Friday Photo Tour
On Friday I headed into the medina for a tour with “conscious creative collective”; Patternity. I’m not usually one for guided tours, preferring to get to know a place myself, but with limited time for exploration this was actually a perfect opportunity to be spoon fed a speedy introduction to the city and connect with the area we were in before fully submerging ourselves into festival fun… and a nice chance to meet fellow festival goers!
We met at a beautiful palace turned museum for some tile goodness, wandered around souks, got a tour of a carpet shop, gathered on rooftops for mint tea and enjoyed a demonstration of Moroccan tinctures in an apothecary… Anna from Patternity was a wonderful host and it was definitely one of the best decisions I made on the trip – all festival should have a local tour on the first day!
We finished up with cocktails on the rooftop of some fancy riad and then I hopped in a taxi to site with some girls I met on the tour just in time for sunset over the pool…
The Friday headliners were Maribou State who were extreme levels of lush as always, a more intimate version of the magical first time I saw them, dragged to the front row of the main stage at Secret Garden Party…
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Later on, we headed through the winding paths to a tucked away stretch tent that housed the second stage ‘San Remo’ which was absolutely bouncing for Andrew Weatherall. We drank ‘Ballantines Moroccan mules’ from the sponsored bar next to the stage – there were plenty of brand partners on site but luckily it was done in a classy not overbearing way (reminding me a bit of Magnetic Fields festival actually).
Closed the night dancing to Hunee from the pyramid stacked next to the main stage, reminiscent of the Glastonbury Beat Hotel… Made it home and had an impromptu house party (riad party?) with a group of our lovely neighbours.
Saturday evening started with some torrential downpour and classically getting to the festival later than we meant to meant we missed a talk from Irvine Welsh (the Irvine Welsh!!) and ‘disco naps yoga’ in the wellness area Spiritlab which sounded like just what I needed tbh…
Luckily we hadn’t missed all of the non-musical entertainment and popped in to listen to a bit of a talk in the Speaker’s Corner from Scottish writer John Niven and a lounge on the luscious Morrocan rugs in the space…
The skies cleared so we headed to the San Reo for some reggae by the pool… Shout out to the best food on site, the Berber and Q stall by the San Remo bar, I had a DELICIOUS mezze plate which was 1 zillion times more amazing than the photo shows… plus top marks and bonus points for silver plates and real cutlery – the rest on site is plastic, unfortunately.
Full of food and heavy with last night’s excesses we sheltered again in the Speakers Corner for a really interesting discussion on “Music, Fiction and Mythology” from another Scottish Author (the theme of the day!?) David Keenan and last night’s best DJ Andrew Weatherall.
As the lamps were lit and the sun went down the rain came back with a vengeance (go to Morrocco for your holiday they said!) and Friday night was still taking its toll so I went for dinner #2, a veeery delish lentil, beetroot and goats cheese salad with sautéed potatoes… and then just as everyone was discussing calling it a night I decided to book a tarot card reading for 1.30am…!!
San Remo closed due to the rain and the terrain so all of the programming was moved into the pool / bar building to make a club-esque setting. As some of our pals went home we stayed for an amazing night of dancing at the Ransom Note takeover, punctuated by a couple of intense tarot card readings with David Keenan – our third Scottish from earlier!
The last dance
Got to site late again… the problems of having your own super luxurious riad and a fridge full of food and booze!
I would have loved to have caught the writing and drawing workshops in Speaker’s Corner – but that is my constant refrain at all festivals… I always wanna do all the workshops in the morning but unfortunately, I also wanna party all night and these things don’t always go hand in hand! We got there just in time for an incredible, intense set from Young Fathers who totally blew me away.
With San Remo back in action, we danced to whoever the excellent Dj was there around midnight and settled into the best night of the festival…
Me and my friend Amie stumbled on the secret room, which was above the pool bar – but apparently had moved from underneath the San Remo building into the pool bar when it rained which was originally where the cinema had originally been (wrap yer head around that)…
My favourite set of the festival was from another unknown DJ in the secret room who opened with Bronski Beat and later played a timely Prodigy track to a wild crowd (of about 30) and two tracks of the drum n bass I’d been hoping for all weekend… someone put a star sticker on my face, someone else gave me a branch of rosemary to brandish like a shaman… it was so great.
The rest of the evening included a lot of cocktails, rolling around on the beds beside the pool and disappearing for an hour because I was learning Arabic and chatting football with the medical staff…
Amie in her Duvet Days halter
We found the full crew at the main stage for the close and danced for the rest of the night (to Gerd Jansen? Maybe? There’s a theme here…) The night ended in a stage invasion and us enveloping each other into a giant group hug – bringing that proper festival flavour I have mainly only experienced in UK fields 💖
It was wonderful… so smooth for an inaugural year in a very culturally different country. They obviously cared about their audience, all the staff were lovely – for example, there were plenty on hand at the end of each night checking if people could get home okay. You could tell they’ve done festivals before, accreditation was soo smooth, the info point was informative, it rained but the stages were all undercover and any hiccups that came along (unavoidable in a festival first year) were dealt with really well.
More toilets would have been great – and compost loos would be even better, I would have liked it if they had booked a few more females across the programming… and I would have liked to have dipped my toe in some more of the wellness and Speaker’s Corner, but that might be my own fault for not getting out of bed sooner! Attention to detail like secret rooms and offsite activities meant it was so much more than just a music festival…. can’t wait to relive it at the Glastonbury version in a couple of months!!
Getting to the Beat Hotel
There are loads of reasonably priced flights into the local airport Marrakech (RAK) – I flew from Stanstead and then returned to Bristol. Getting from the airport to your accommodation might not be quite as easy though – we’re pretty sure everyone in our group got separately mugged off for our taxi fare… to top it off, we didn’t even have the right address for our riad, doh! Our driver did give us oranges and play some bangin Arabic tunes in the taxi though so all was forgiven…
Where to stay in Marrakech
So, we booked a couple of months in advance as we were out there for a mate’s 30th… we struck gold on our accommodation and had an incredible riad, 11 of us with a huge pool, massive kitchen and a gorgeous rooftop overlooking the Atlas mountains! And it was just over £100 each for 6 nights… If you’re in a big group I would highly recommend hunting on Airbnb to see what comes up. Most of the accommodation in town wasn’t as private as this was so it was worth being a bit out of town – it was about half an hour drive South of the city but only 10 minutes South of the festival site.
If you’re on your own or in a pair it would probably make more sense to stay in town because of traveling into the festival each day, which leads me on to…
Getting around in Marrakech
This bit is important! We struck gold with our riad location and the fact that it came with a driver. We got one free return ride into town / the festival a day and then could book later pick-ups with our legendary taxi driver Ismael.
Top tips for getting around the city and getting to the festival:
- Do a bit of research on how you’re gonna get in and out of the festival, see if your accommodation can recommend your transport.
- Make friends with people staying close to you and buddy up to make it cheaper. It could be a pain in the butt and really sting you for cash if you haven’t organised it properly.
- The festival did put on a shuttle which you could buy a wristband for – I didn’t get it myself so can’t really feedback but speaking to people it was apparently quite sporadic and only stopped at a few places so depending where you were staying you’d probably have to find a taxi to get you through the middle of town.
- Getting around town itself whilst sightseeing is pretty easy as long as you know the names of the places you’re going.
- Make sure you haggle with your taxi!
- Taxis can’t go down most of the winding souks and streets (but watch out for mopeds!) so download Marrakech onto the HERE we go app and mark all your landmarks on it before you’re out of wifi – this top tip courtesy of Sophie from Saints on a Plane!!
I had a couple of experiences when I was stopped in taxis from the city by a police blockade at the end of the road to the festival – the driver was made to get out and once I was… Still not entirely sure what it was all about and it felt really sketchy.
What to bring and what to wear
Weather-wise you can expect temperatures in the 20s but dropping down to about 10 at night so come prepared for both! If you’re unlucky like us it could also be a wee bit rainy…
I packed one small sized cabin bag for the duration of the trip and brought the following stuff to Beat Hotel:
- Modest clothes for exploring the city – Morrocco is a Muslim country so keep your legs, shoulders etc covered when wandering the city.
- But less modest clothes/bikinis etc. totally acceptable for the festival site, like Lannah’s Kokomo ‘Sunset Boulevard’ perspex dress above!
- Light jacket for the evening – I brought a denim jacket which was enough to keep me warm in the chillier nights but I could have done with a scarf too.
- Bumbag for the festival – I brought my trusty tasseled Beksies Boutique Bum Bag.
What to Eat and drink
The food offering is not mega veggie friendly but there were a few good options which I’ve mentioned above! The stalls were run by the popular Marrakech restaurants Nomad, Cafe De Espices & Le Jardin and there was also the Berber & Q stall running int the day time. You should expect to pay UK festival prices for meals. As well as the stalls Beat Hotel also curated a series of pre-bookable banquets but at £80 a pop these were a bit out of our price range.
The Beat Hotel bars were plentiful but did run out of stock a few times and the cocktail bar staff had noooo idea what was going on for the first few days!! Was kiiind of funny being brought the wrong drinks three times in a row until I remembered I was paying a tenner a go… you aren’t allowed to bring your own supplies in so we spent a lot on the bar…
Also worth noting that Morrocco is a Muslim country so there aren’t a huge amount of places in town that serve alcohol. As we were in self-catered accommodation we bought all our food and drink from a local Carrefour which did serve booze.
Money! What to bring and what you can expect to spend…
The festival is totally cashless, my first experience with RFID wristbands! It was actually really smooth and pretty nifty but I did spend a lot, especially considering I was having most of my meals and drinks back at our accommodation. I topped up on site but the wristbands could be pre-loaded before the festival which meant you got a bonus and the chance for a refund.
£1 = 80 dirham
It’s a closed currency in Morroco so your best bet is just to get your ‘dirham’ for the ciy and taxis etc. from an ATM when you get to the airport – bring emergency cash to exchange in case your card doesn’t work or that ATM’s at the airport are out of use!
As with all other festival travel – be extra careful if you’re indulging, keep your passport, spare money etc. safe at your accommodation. A good idea is to whatsapp your friends a scan of your passport and your flight ticket details and make sure you get travel insurance!!
Some specific advice to Beat Hotel Marrakech:
- As explained above, get your taxis sorted, watch out for getting scammed – haggling is a part of life here don’t be shy to walk away if you don’t think the price is good, it will usually be agreed to if it looks like you’re leaving!
- Cover up – there were a lot of similarities between the covered streets of the souks to the winding markets of India, but in India it’s just never-ending staring, in Marrakech it was lewd words muttered by most men we passed and swear words shouted at us down the street when I glared at them… not pleasant!
- Be careful in the Medina at night time – I only went in the day and I don’t think I’d be comfortable on my own at night at all.
- Similar to the urchins at Love International festival… this time watch out for the spiky cactuses!! If you do get some in your leg/arm/butt just pop into the lovely friendly guys in the well equipped medical room, they’ll have it out in a jiffy and if you’re lucky like me they might give you an Arabic lesson in the meantime!
Some more general Marrakech tips coming soon in a separate post… you can find more festivals around the world here! xx