“THE BEST analogy I can think of is fishing,’ says superstar DJ Pete Tong. ‘You put some hooks out into the crowd and see what they respond to.”
We are sitting on a sunny rooftop terrace of the exotic Riad Lotus Ambre in Marrakech, having a lamb tagine lunch and discussing his set at Pacha that finished a few hours ago.
“I didn’t know what to expect here – I brought lots of tracks with an Arab beat but didn’t use any of them in the end. It’s a very international crowd and a great club.” Tong is making his first visit to Marrakech to celebrate the first anniversary of Pacha here.
Looming from the flat desert landscape, on a boulevard of blush-pink villas, the walls of the Pacha complex remind you of some romantic Foreign Legion fort. A pathway lined with candles leads us around to the entrance of the Moroccan-style Jana, one of two world-class restaurants on site.
Further inside the complex is Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse’s Crystal, sitting by a swimming pool surrounded by screened four-poster beds and comfortable loungers. The rambling scale of this place takes some time to sink in for those used to the cramped spaces of London. The dance floor itself is surprisingly intimate, almost dwarfed by the largest sound system in Africa (an earnumbing 50,000 watts) and what look like the largest mirror balls in Africa, too. Pacha can hold up to 3,000 people but, when all the terraces and lounges are open, it will swallow that number easily.
For this first birthday, there are about 1,000 clubbers and, with several areas closed off, the atmosphere is perfect: enough of a crowd for a buzz but enough room to find a quiet spot to yourself. We stumble out of this fantasy into reality – and a few hustlers try to part us from our loose change in return for a fez-wearing photo opportunity. It’s unpleasant to be reminded of this notorious aspect of Morocco.
The good news is that, after a day spent bargaining in the Medina, I saw no other sign of it. The country realised its reputation was suffering and has cracked down. Tourist police now respond actively to reports from visitors of misbehaviour. The end result is that shopping is now pure pleasure.
The Medina is a narrow maze of alleyways, full of light and shade, ancient craft and modern trinkets, with moped-riders roaring past at homicidal speeds and delivery men trying to force their way through the throng. There are women in full purdah, others in shorts, children playing, elders reciting verses from the scriptures.
Out in the main Djemaa El Fna square, stalls sell fresh orange juice, snake charmers and tooth-pullers ply their trade for tourists, while modern Marrakech gets on with the business of providing computers, banking and mobile phones.
At the handicraft stalls, I realise I’ve discovered the secret to bargaining. Post-Pacha, I am so brain-dead that I’m incapable of haggling. So seeing something I like, I decide how much I want to pay and stick to it. Well, apart from one place where the shopkeeper grumbled that my offers were going down, not up. Oops! Must. Get. More. Sleep.