To say that Love International is one of the most successful of all the events taking place in the seasoned festival site at Tisno may leave some with false impressions. Yes, its success means that every ticket is sold, every boat trip full and even every apartment taken in Tisno, but at no point throughout the week does this event ever feel too busy or overcrowded. The vibe bubbles between relaxed and celebratory, smiles a constant adornment.
The reason for this? Well, perhaps it's Love International's unique program of events, which take place 24 hours a day enabling festival goers to dip in and out of the music as easily as they choose to dip and out of the glistening, warm Adriatic. No other festival on this site, from Suncebeat and Defected to Dekmantel or Soundwave, offers this 24 hour calendar.
The music explored between 6am and Midday on the Beach Stage is probably the most mellow you'll find at any Croatian festival, these sunrise sessions, performed before a spectacular and ever changing vista of the sun's arrival and ascent, offering a real glimpse of why Croatia has often been mentioned as the new, unspoiled Ibiza.
Several Manchester-associated DJs including James Holroyd (playing live under his Begin alias), Jason Boardman and Balearic Mike (who plays in conjunction with Kelvin Andrews as Down To The Sea And Back at this festival) hold responsibility for some of these early morning sessions and they are well chosen hands in which to start each day or, for some, end each night. Nobody likes being told when to go to bed, especially when on holiday, and the relaxed and varied Balearic beats of these maestros make a welcome suggestion to some, to others they herald a new day of partying.
Afternoons at Love International are spent relaxing by the beach, swimming in the sea or meandering through the nearby town, with the music at the Beach Stage or Olive Grove gradually building momentum into full on party mode. There is however no gradual build of momentum on the boat parties which, at the peak of the festival, occur at a rate of two in the afternoon and two of an evening. These four hour sojourns shift straight into top gear from the off, the exuberant partying prompted by DJs who wisely ignore the rules of warming up a crowd gradually.
Each boat is themed with a special DJ crew put together and highlights this year included sessions from Manchester label Ruf Kutz on which label head Ruf Dug is joined by Glowing Palms, the Futureboogie boat with Neil Diablo, Crazy P's Jim Baron and festival founder Dave Harvey and the last ever Warm party with special guest Gerd Janson.
The Gottwood Festival residents boat with special guest Leon Vynehall exceeds expectations, despite the DJ's high regard. The Gottwood residents really show they know their stuff, airing 1998 Chicago finery in the form of Boo Williams's 'Mortal Trance', a couple of lesser known Pepe Bradock tracks including 'Atom Funk', diggers delight 'Magic' by Recloose, the Phil Asher mix of Peven Everett's 'Stuck' and 'Visions Of Paradise' by Bob Sinclair while one of Vynehall's highlight's was FCL 'Lets' Go'.
The return of the boats to shore can drop several hundred peak time revellers back on site within minutes. They're rarely in the mood to slow down so spontaneous full on raving can erupt around 18.00 or 23.00 on any given day. One such occasion happens when a boat carry Midland draws into harbour and several hundred smilers immediately descend on Honey Soundsystem's deep and driving house session.
Depending on what you like, it's arguable that Love International is the best programmed festival of its size in Croatia and so evenings bring a difficult choice. Friday, for instance, offers a clash between Leon Vynehall on the Main Stage, Palms Trax on the Beach Stage and Axel Boman in the Olive Grove.
On Sunday, a similar clash between Midland on the Main Stage, Prosumer on the Beach Stage and Optimo in the Olive Grove occurs. Midland's set there is a back to back with Job Jobse in which Midland reveals the new release on his Regraded label. As the imprint's last outing was 2016's all conquering 'Final Credits', the new track has a lot to live up to. Luckily it does. 'Surrender', produced by Gerd Janson & Shan is one of the festivals anthems and you should expect to hear its disco sample echoing long past summer.
Prosumer's set is full of vintage deep house which, despite a technical hitch or two, hits the spot as ever. Optimo meanwhile are covering all bases in much the same vein as they might have during their infamous Sub Club residency days, also held on a Sunday (in the same space on Monday night, things get so carried away during an excellent set by Moscoman, which erupts when he drops OMD, that the set overruns by a full two hours!). Just how do you choose between temptations as good as that? Luckily each of these stages lie within a comfortable few moments walk of each other so it's easy to wander between them until you find the groove that's right for you.
The tougher choice perhaps is whether to take the coach to the stunning Barbarella's club and party until 6am under the gargantuan glitter ball that adorns the beautiful open air club this year.
It really isn't possible to visit every session, but with attractions like The Black Madonna (whose string and piano led 'He Is The Voice I Hear' is heard several times throughout the week), Horse Meat Disco, an Electric Chair session with guest Maurice Fulton, plus stand out evenings with the aforementioned Gerd Janson and Midland (who played a deep and tech edged back to back session with Ryan Elliott), you may wish at more time than any other that you could clone yourself to be able to take it all in.
Horse Meat Disco's session in particular is a wonderfully varied affair with each of their four residents playing to the best of their abilities, especially Luke Howard who plays 'Sell My Soul' by Sylvester. They end by playing their newly released debut single, produced by Luke Solomon, 'Waiting For You To Call'.
If you've heard a lot about festivals in Croatia, but haven't yet made it to one and if the DJs mentioned in this review are the ones you like, book your tickets for Love International 2018. This really is the one for you.