Documenting Morocco’s Underground Heavy Metal Scene

Joseph Ouechen captures North Africa’s little-known subculture

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It’s never easy to admit that you’ve once looked at your own culture through a coloniser’s eye. That’s exactly what Joseph Ouechen had done early in his career, but despite the difficulty in confronting the truth, he’s come to admit it. 

Not only that, but his latest series is proof that he’s overcome it. Ouechen is doing so by looking into the pockets of Moroccan culture known only to locals, and documenting them.

The series, entitled ‘Moroccan Heavy Metal,’ reveals a small group of Moroccan youth who are defying norms through the music they listen to, their haircuts, and their sartorial choices. Though still relatively small, the North African country is experiencing a heavy metal revival, years after a group of fans were trialed in Moroccan court for ‘satanism’and ‘endangering the Muslim faith’. 

Rather than feeding into clichés about Morocco, Ouechen’s goal is to “give a platform for the youth.” According to him, the prosecution of heavy metal fans was just one example of the limits the youth used to face in expressing themselves. 

“I couldn’t even wear skinny jeans a few years ago without people looking at me weird,” he explains. But thanks to festivals like Casablanca’s ‘L’Boulevard’ a small change has shifted.

The festival now draws in hundreds of thousands of people over the course of six days, giving way to not only heavy metal fans, but also integrating genres like rap and gnawa as well. 

We caught up with the photographer to talk about his series, and how Morocco is changing for the better. 

You live in Casablanca. What is it about the city that inspires you so much?
It’s a crazy city. I have travelled to many cities around the world, there’s a certain order in cities in Europe for example, but Casablanca is full of chaos. You have to figure out your own way in this chaos. If you’re a visitor you’re not going to know how to navigate the city. Casablanca doesn’t anticipate strangers; it cherishes its natives.

Your work captures many different subcultures in Morocco, why did you decide to focus on that?
When I started out as a photographer, I looked at Morocco through an exotic lens. Then I realised that it doesn’t make sense, I am Moroccan. I know the everyday life and struggle that people face. I didn’t want to keep taking photographs of the mosque or a traditional neighbourhood. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to show a different perspective that counteracts the exoticism Morocco suffers from. I want to change the presentation of morocco in terms of imagery, I want to bring things that are real and raw – not the clichés. 

Let’s talk about the heavy metal scene that you photographed at the Boulevard Des Jeunes Musiciens Festival.
I want to show what’s happening, a new picture that opposes what we typically see. The festival gives a platform for many different people. You couldn’t play metal or rap music until Boulevard came along. We needed a place like that where people can feel safe, where they can be themselves without being judged.

Is the heavy metal scene big in Morocco yet?
The heavy metal community is still a minority. There was a year where they accused metal musicians of satanism and some people actually went to jail, but people are more relaxed about it now, it’s okay for people to play and listen to that kind of music.

After what happened with some people going to jail for “Satanism”, I know it’s become a bit more relaxed in Morocco. What’s changed exactly?
We are a young country. The population is young. Morocco is opening up to the world. It’s slow but it’s changing.

josephouechen.com

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