By Brian Trott
It was my fourth stay in Morocco, in the fall of 2016. I was on my own, hopping around hostels and couches between Rabat and Casablanca, conducting interviews for my graduate research on the history of punk rock and heavy metal in the country. When I got there the punk scene was in decline, but there were enough participants to qualify a scene. Z.W.M., the patrons of Moroccan punk rock had relocated to Toulouse a few years prior, where they continue to perform and record. W.O.R.M., the first hardcore punk band in the country split up in 2015, as their drummer relocated to Beijing to teach and form bands there. Tachamarod was actively practicing and playing gigs. Riot Stones was on a hiatus, but still present in the punk community. Betweenatna was gaining ever increasing national attention. A bar-venue, B-Rock, had recently shut its doors, but Boultek, L’Uzine, and ABC Cinema continued providing space for alternative musicians to practice and perform. The DIY art and music festival Hardzazate had just concluded its second edition. Punk rock was not flourishing, but it was present and active.
I started listening to punk rock in middle school. After a brief nu-metal and classic rock phase, a combination of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Rockabilia catalogs made me aware of some of the basic punk standards: Dead Kennedys, Black Flack, Bad Religion, and Bad Brains. I quickly immersed myself in the genre, branching off into various subgenres: street punk, crust, fastcore, raw punk, post punk, etc. I began participating in my local scene: playing and booking shows in the Sacramento area with my high school street punk band, and hosting a punk show at the UC-Davis radio station, KDVS.
DJing at KDVS since the age of 15 had convinced me to pursue my bachelor’s degree at UC-Davis. With a growing interest in the history of the Middle East, I began studying Arabic. In 2008, I travelled to Ifrane, Morocco, to spend an academic year learning Arabic at Al Akhawayn University. I was aware of the extent that punk rock had been globalized.
The fact is punk rock has never been huge in Morocco, but extreme sports have always been integral to the extreme music scene there. Skate videos and copies of Thrasher Magazine circulated among friend groups and across cities, which is how a particular five skaters in Rabat were exposed to punk rock. In 2004, these individuals formed Z.W.M., the first Moroccan punk band. Their main musical influence were the bands that were popularly played in skate videos at the time, generally Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords bands: NOFX, Rancid, Satanic Surfers, and Bad Religion. They also integrated elements of local popular music, such as Gnawa, into their brand of skate punk. Unlike other rock bands in the country, Z.W.M. primarily sang in Moroccan dialect Arabic. It was widely accepted up to that point that rock music should only be sung in English or French and the idea of an Arabic singing punk band was met of with some skepticism. After two years of playing sporadic shows, mostly around Rabat, Z.W.M. entered the 2006 Boulevard competition and won. The band gained national recognition, but by 2010 left for France where they continue to play and record. They still periodically return to perform.
Following Z.W.M.’s departure, a second wave of punk bands spread across the country. Casablanca produced W.O.R.M. and Riot Stones, the first two hardcore punk bands in the country. There’s something about Casablanca and Rabat, two coastal cities roughly two hours apart by train, that produces very different artists. Rabat is a relatively quiet and small city in contrast to the aggressive density of Casablanca, and was the town that introduced punk to Morocco in the form of ska infused skate punk. Casablanca introduced hardcore.
Further bands formed in the early 2010s. Coming from the same neighborhood as Z.W.M., Tachamarod played a similar brand of Arabic skate punk. Featuring members of Riot Stones, the Protesters played a blend of ska and street punk. Blast, from Meknes, played politically charged pop punk, and remains one of the only punk bands outside of Rabat and Casablanca. In 2013, Tien An Men 89 Records, released Chaos in Morocco, a compilation LP featuring Z.W.M., W.O.R.M., the Protesters, Riot Stones, and the Casablanca fusion band Hoba Hoba Spirit. Prior to Chaos in Morocco, no Moroccan punk recordings had been released in a physical format.
Betweenatna resides in a musical grey zone. Fusion is one of the most popular genres in Morocco, generally consisting of a blend of popular traditional music, reggae, hip hop, and rock. Betweenatna is essentially a fusion supergroup featuring members of Immortal Spirit, Darga, and Hoba Hoba Spirit. Their brand of fusion blends some traditional genres with punk, metal, and hip hop. While they are essentially a fusion band, their sound leans heavily in the direction of punk and metal. They even perform an Arabic rendition of Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn.” Their narrative driven lyrics generally tell absurd stories of everyday life for youth on the streets of urban Morocco. Their whimsical performances, relatable lyrics, and scene clout has led Betweenatna to be one of the most popular bands in the country at this moment.
In 2016, I attended a Betweenatna show at Boultek. With limited opportunities for DIY shows at informal venues; basements, garages, warehouses, etc; the majority of concerts take place at cultural centers like Boultek. They generally have tight security, only tolerating some light moshing and no drugs or alcohol. Boultek is more lax than other such spaces. The venue is located in an office building in the parking lot of a mall in the California neighborhood of Casablanca, and the performance space connects to a parking garage where kids can sneak off to discreetly drink and smoke hash. The large space was packed with what I would estimate was well over 100 attendees, boys and girls mostly in their late teens and twenties. I saw kids with stick and poke Black Flag tattoos, wearing denim vests patched up with the logos of the Misfits and Ska-P, alongside individuals in Korn and Slipknot hoodies. Betweenatna played a rowdy set and drew an equally rowdy crowd. Moshing was tolerated.
During my last visit in 2018, I found little left of the punk scene I had documented in my graduate research. Betweenatna and Blast were the only remaining punk bands actively playing. My partner and I spent the majority of our time hanging out with Saad, the bassist of Tachamarod. He was hoping to join his bandmate in China, where they would continue to play as Tachamarod, but his visa application was denied, again. He was spending most of his afternoons and evenings hanging out in downtown Rabat with the regular crowd of punks, hippies, and skaters. Unable to find work, Saad had to return to his old gig, flipping used clothes in Rabat’s old medina. When we last talked, Saad was pessimistic about his future.
During the last week of our visit, Saad, my partner, and I took a trip to Casablanca. We hung around the new skatepark outside the old colonial cathedral in downtown. There we met a young skater who told us about the punk band she was forming, Reason of Anarchy. I have yet to hear anything more of that band, but maybe there is a future for punk rock in Morocco. For now, the scene appears to be in semi-hibernation, or maybe it’s dying. As a fanatic of international punk, I would like to see it grow and hear how Moroccan youth continue to grapple with, interpret, and localize punk. But also I’m cynical towards globalized popular culture. The youth of Morocco don’t need punk. Nobody needs punk, but it has long provided an alternative network, community, and performative outlet for young people across the world, myself included. I like watching the international punk scene expand and mutate, but maybe Morocco doesn’t want it and that’s okay. We can only wait and see.
Brian Trott currently performs in the hardcore punk band Curbsitter in Milwaukee, where he resides. For a more detailed account of the punk and metal scenes in Morocco, you can read his graduate thesis online here: goo.gl/mYDZV1. If you have any questions for him, or are in a band and are interested in playing in Morocco, please inquire at email@example.com.