For a whole decade, the trailblazing annual event that was The Garden Festival (TGF) managed to reign supreme over the Croatian summer clubbing landscape which they created. They defined an increasing cultural shift in clubland from the white isles of Ibiza to the Adriatic and they bossed it; never sold out, never got too big and retained a seriously on-point flock of revellers. As the years rolled on people in the industry began to observe the success that TGP had achieved since their first event in 2005 which boasted only a modest 300 attendees. Other festivals in the Eastern European country soon followed; some got it right, others unbelievably wrong.
Last year TGF announced that their tenth birthday would be their last sun-drenched, Disco-infused affair and they enjoyed a raucous goodbye at their flagship site The Garden, Tisno. It was described by CRACK magazine as a “glorious bow out”. But all was not lost in Discoland; for it was soon announced that its successor was to induce even more ripples of excitement.
Love International, brought to us by Team Love (who put on Love Saves The Day in Bristol) and the Futureboogie label, was announced and the event couldn’t have come at a better time. Britain was reeling from Brexit and many were keen to escape the hyperactive Facebook updates, gloomy economic chaos and general negativity that it had left in its wake. Plus, some people needed to drown their sorrows after failing to change their currency the day before they were leaving i.e. the day of Brexit when sterling crashed as hard as a Mike Tyson opponent. Yep, that person was me – not my finest hour.
The Garden, Tisno is the perfect place for a small festival. You have everything you could ever need for a week-long bout of escapism: the blazing hot sun, house, funk, disco and Balearic beats, easy-going sunset parties, outrageous sunrise sessions, more Funktion-One systems than you could shake a pinger at, round-the-clock drinking, and getting hot and sweaty on a boat going around and around in circles just off the Adriatic coast. They’ve even got their own brewery spewing out delectable pale and session ales for an extremely reasonable price, for God’s sake.
The intimate, bespoke site essentially consisted of three main stages: the Main Stage (where it kicked off in the evening; a steel structure with a gigantic disco ball and some trippy lights on the nearby trees), the Beach Bar (a stage set up to the side of the beach encroaching onto the picturesque sea which is the go-to place during the day), and the Olive Grove (think ribbons, chill-out dens and glitter ball excess). Oh, and there was also the Terrace – a courtyard next to a restaurant – which featured some surprisingly engrossing sets from emerging talent such as Gate Five.
Once the music on the main site was discontinued for the night, the antics moved swiftly to the nearby, open-air Barbarella's Discotheque (known affectionately as ‘Barbs’) which, as anyone who’s been there will know, is probably one of the wildest nightspots in Europe right now. It is located in the hills, about a 20 min drive from the festival site, and the tunes went on well into the morning. Interesting note about this club: They don’t check the site thoroughly when they shut which can lead to people waking up there the next day with absolutely no staff in sight. Or so I’m told...
The demographic of this festival was really a different experience to other events that I have frequented in Croatia, which was another reason it was so great. Brits did make up the bulk of the muddle, but there was more than a quiver of the French, Belgians, Germans and Americans and a few pockets of Aussies. The whole mix allowed the dance floors to become a multi-cultural, eclectic mishmash and allowed for a fair few insightful conversations comparing ‘back home’ club scenes.
And with the perfect site and the perfect rabble contained within it came the musicians spinning the perfect tunes. Too many to mention them all, but here’s a breakdown of my favourite moments...
THURSDAY NIGHT, MAIN STAGE
On Thursday evening the sun was setting, painting the stratosphere red like a football flare, and Texan band Khruangbin were providing the optimum soundtrack. Their dreamy, wistful and pensive soul accompanied by their lethargic funk set the tone for the week ahead.
As the day transformed into night PBR Streetgang, who were on main stage closing duties, delivered a fitting set. Tunes such as ‘Love Honey’ by Sugardaddy and ‘Make it Hot (Mixed by Yousef)’ by DJ Buck yielded insane, bouncy crowd reactions.
FRIDAY NIGHT, BARBARELLA’S
Motor City Drum Ensemble and Young Marco treated us to a vigorous four-hour tirade of slick disco beats. Feeding off the crowd’s unyielding energy and playing on for a good 20 minutes after the scheduled set it wasn’t a set that will be forgotten in a while. Tunes like ‘Love Life (original Mix)’ by Max Lake and Gay Marvine’s ‘I Wish We All Were Nude’ sent the atmosphere into hyperdrive and confirmed these lads as a solid, crowd-pleasing booking. Disco is an ideal genre to be playing out in a holiday-meets-festival situation; I didn’t see anyone without a smile plastered across their face and people were dancing – like actual dancing, not a night club with 800 robots wearing the same clothes and fist pumping in identical manners. We need more of this, please.
Young Marco definitely seems like someone to watch out for. He earned the roaring seal of approval on the Trouble Vision boat party earlier that day after dropping the likes of ‘Baianá’ by Barbatuques. Solid Gold b2b with Park Ranger also smashed it with notable drops including ‘Lady Bug (I Just Wanna Be Your Lady Bug; 12” Version)’ by Bumblebee Unlimited and ‘Final Credits’ by Midland.
SATURDAY NIGHT, MAIN STAGE
After an easy-going Saturday spent unwinding in the sea by the Beach Bar, dodging urchins (those spiky little buggers) whilst sipping IPAs, and relaxing to the sounds of Eats Everything and Luke Solomon it was onto the Main Stage where Joy Orbison was closing. I was starting to get the hang of this place.
What proceeded can only be described as an onslaught of wide-ranging, genre-discarding bangers; from his signature four-to-the-floor to funk, soul, hip-hop and beyond. Tunes such as Farley Jackmaster Funk And Jessie Saunders’ Love Can't Turn Around Remix (Houseapella) had Joy playing with the punters throughout.
MONDAY NIGHT, MAIN STAGE
Monday night shaped up to be another frantic evening with a live show from Crazy P Soundsystem who were representing a renaissance in disco culture coming out of New York, underneath the fitting jumbo disco ball at the main stage. It’d be difficult to have an event pioneering disco-house and not book them.
After that it was time for Jackmaster, the Glaswegian electronic powerhouse with a notorious reputation for chaos-inducing selecting. He took us through a master class of crowd control and mood-enhancement including remixes of New Order and Whitney Houston. The trippy visuals projected onto a screen behind the decks were accompanied nicely by the twinkling disco ball projecting lights onto the trees in the locality.
It’s easy to see why more and more people are opting to spend part of their summers in Croatia. It’s simple really: A blissful combination of the fact it’s hot, not unbearably crowded, and you get much better value than other popular destinations. This has marked Croatia out as one of the best places to go on a clubbing holiday. After all, you don’t want to have to remortgage your house to spend a couple of weeks drinking, dancing and splashing untold amounts of cash on some of the most expensive bottled water in the world at night (looking at you, Ibiza). That seems to be where Croatia comes in these days, and it does it well.
After attending this event I can see how TGF managed to grow so organically throughout its decade-long reign, earning themselves a cult following; not loads and loads and loads of followers but a good number of quality ones. Probably isn’t much point in spending a pretty penny on a marketing budget if you know for a fact that a lot of the punters are going to go home and tell their mates how sick it was. One of, if not the, best festivals I’ve been to since I started attending such events a decade ago; a daydream masquerading as a music event.
Dave Harvey and Tom Paine (of Team Love) have gracefully managed to achieve what many could only dream of. They’ve harnessed the legacy left behind from a decade of success and used it as a vehicle for bolstering a new venture whilst keeping the whole thing fresh. Quite a remarkable achievement I reckon.