Marko Kutlesa witnessed the work of some dance music greats plus lots more at the festival in Croatia.
Last updated: 30th May 2017. Originally published: 29th May 2017
Image: Paul Kalkbrenner
The inaugural Sea Star Festival is the latest venture from the organisers of Serbia's award winning Exit Festival and joins their Sea Dance Festival, held in Budva, Montenegro, as part of their efforts to establish events in neighbouring countries that were also once part of Yugoslavia. It's an ambitious aim, some of these countries having been on opposing sides of a war less than 25 years ago.
But where borders and nationalism divides, the organisers of Exit Festival actively seek to unite through music and culture. With their reputation, earned over 17 years of successful editions of Exit, it's understandable that authorities in Umag should have approached these veterans for help in setting up a music event that mirrors the accomplishments of the ATP Croatia Open in putting the city on the map. It's clearly been a wise choice.
Where some festivals in Croatia struggle to attract 2000 to their debuts, over 10, 000 tickets have been issued for this first event, which takes place within and beside the Stella Maris stadium (also the venue for the aforementioned tennis tournament). And despite the surprising popularity, thanks to the experience of Exit Festival, the event is impeccably well organised.
Cooperation of local authorities has clearly facilitated the success as the festival is open air and the echoing electronic beats stretch long into the morning, The city's reward is every hotel room having been taken and Umag has immediately joined the first league of Croatian festival destinations. Wandering around the festival site it's obvious that the make up of Sea Star's attendees is different from many festivals you may have attended in Croatia.
Umag is the westernmost city in Croatia, located in the north west of the Istrian peninsula, very close to Italy and with the border of Slovenia. Many Italians, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs are in attendance with some German visitors too, but it's incredibly rare that you hear any English spoken among the revellers. One place that English is spoken is the stage, with The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Pendulum and Modestep among the events headliners.
Following the relatively calm opening party on Thursday 25th, at which popular Serbian alternative rock band S.A.R.S. play, the festival begins proper on Friday 26th. Similarly popular regional band Dubioza Kolektiv warm up the main stage incredibly well with their mix of uptempo hip hop, reggae, rock and songs extolling marijuana.
They are the perfect bounce around primer for The Prodigy who follow with a spectacular and aggressive assault. The Prodigy have a long association with Exit Festival, having been amongst the first major live headliners to visit the festival and their appeal appears undiminished in the quarter of a century they've been around. Many day tickets are sold to those wishing to see The Prodigy alone, among them heavy metal kids in Rammstein t shirts alongside the more expected ravers.
The audience is not disappointed by a set that includes 'Everybody In The Place', 'Voodoo People', 'Firestarter' and 'Smack My Bitch Up', each song slightly updated in its construction and sonics but none lacking the key elements, the crunching breakbeats and apocalyptical effects.
Keith Flint doesn't dance as energetically as he did a decade ago, but his distorted vocals are as thrilling as ever. Maxim looms over the crowd, addressing them as his “warriors” and the dedication within the bouncing mosh pit is so thorough no doubt he could incite them to violence were he of a mind to do so.
Thankfully The Prodigy's aggression is a release rather than a catalyst or precursor and energies are channelled only towards dancing once the band leave the stage with Slovenian DJ Umek and the live show of Modestep being two of the key beneficiaries.
On Saturday afternoon three separate boat parties take some festival goers for a DJ soundtracked tour of neighbouring waters, while in the evening Fatboy Slim's midnight set is heralded by an impressive firework display that showers the site. Unlike Keith Flint, the dancing of Norman Cook has lost none of its enthusiasm and energy over recent years and he bounds through a breakdown laden and highly contemporary set that is accompanied by an impressive video backdrop.
Towards the end he sends the crowd ecstatic by airing reworked versions of 'The Rockafeller Skank' and 'Praise You' before the crowd choose between enjoying a special Back To The Future set presented by Paul Kalkbrenner or DJ sets by Pendulum or trusted Exit favourite Petar Dundov. Sunday 28th's closing party with Turkish DJ/producer Mahmut Orhan is a low key affair in comparison but serves as a great send off to this new festival from which we should expect equally big things in the future.