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The Croatian Infatuation

It’s no secret that Croatia has become one of the biggest party destinations in the world, but with so many new festivals emerging Becca Frankland asks, is the country’s original magic sustainable?

Becca Frankland

Date published: 28th Jun 2015

Image: (Here & Now)

As the sun sets over The Garden site in Tisno, the pale sand and subtle teal waters make their transition to the darker end of the colour spectrum, and midnight blues engulf the stretch as the tempo picks up.

The beach stage’s disco ball reflects neon shades of magenta, blue and turquoise onto the glistening sea as revellers congregate on the water’s edge, with the bright hues and attendees dancing in harmony. The soundtrack is house music, laced with disco, and the atmosphere is equally as idyllic as the surroundings.

This effortless shift from day time relaxation to bustling festival is where Croatia has found its calling, and this small coastal site in particular is the epitome of what has made this European country so insanely popular with music enthusiasts from across the globe.

The unspoiled beauty and intimate vibe alongside a zero compromise on music quality has been enough to carry the festival through word of mouth as thousands of sun-seeking revellers decide to dedicate a segment of their summer to an environment where they are encompassed by like-minded souls.

Nine years ago there was just one electronic music gathering that occupied the Adriatic coast and harvested all the beguiling attributes that it had to offer, The Garden Festival. This summer that same festival is set to put on its last ever event at the site in Tisno. It was the spark that created a fire for burgeoning scene that now includes over twenty festivals positioned in various points around Croatia, offering an abundance of music policies from bass to techno, EDM to hip-hop.

As with all things related to the music industry, the influence of cash is visible at certain festivals in Dalmatia, but it was never the case with The Garden Festival, whose debut was occupied by just 300 people. Naturally, the festival evolved, but in 2009 they capped the amount of attendees back to 2,500 after 3,500 turned up for the festival, spoiling the vibe they had so carefully curated.

“The people who run The Garden Festival, their heart is in the right place musically,” says Greg Wilson, who has played a DJ set at every single one since 2007, “they could have cashed in on it after a couple of years but they kept it how it was and they developed that and hopefully that will enable some sort of legacy to move forward.”

Their choice to keep it as a modest affair would undoubtedly limit the amount of money they could make, but it would be a decision that would secure the festival’s reputation as a family and friends orientated gathering.

“It’s fair to say we are now veterans at the game and always wanted to ensure we go out on a high,” says Eddie O’Callaghan, one of the soiree’s creators, “and ten events is a good innings in our opinion. It’s been a wild and wonderful ride but we are happy to be handing over the baton to the next generation.

“There was no master plan but yes we are proud that so many people have had the time of their lives here because we were brave or foolish enough to take the risk, but to be honest it just seemed like the natural thing for us to do at the time. It’s fulfilling knowing we have left a really good legacy here for future generations of festivals in Tisno and across the Adriatic region.”

It might be the end for the pioneering festival, but across the country and its sister islands, the events keep building, the crowds keep pouring in and the line ups are extending. But as the scene expands with an abundance of new festivals starting up, does Croatia run a risk of becoming saturated and losing the sparkle that so many people have fallen head over heels in love with?

Rewind back two decades ago and the high intensity Croatian War of Independence put the country on the bones of its beautiful arse as it separated from Yugoslavia. Although the country was victorious in gaining independence in the war, the economy was wrecked, infrastructure was destroyed and morale was sparse.

Greg explained, “What you've got to remember is that in Croatia, the people there were detached from the music scene during the war, so they are discovering themselves all the time as the scene is growing."

Despite the looming reality and the adversity, the country itself had a willingness to move forward. For many years, the charm was overshadowed by the conflict, but it was not long before the clubbing world went Croatia crazy.  

For many people clutching at comparisons, they have likened Croatia to Ibiza in its early days, and then compared the prices to its Mediterranean counterpart. The Croatian holiday experience costs substantially less than the likes of the Balearic party mecca, and increased flights to the local airports on budget airlines and broadening music policies at these festivals mean that the accessibility and popularity are only on the rise, and the big dogs recognise this.

Greg Wilson agrees, “It's only a matter of time before the bigger companies move in on these things and start to take them over, you do hope that they retain the vibe of where they came from. But I mean, you hoped that with Ibiza but it sort of grew out of its Balearic spirit.”

Meanwhile, larger scale festivals like Outlook and Dimensions are managing to adopt and develop the Croatian spirit of partying despite having a 12,000 capacity. “Funnily enough Outlook is only two years younger than The Garden Festival,” says Noah Ball, the owner of the two festivals,  “we're heading in to our 8th year this summer, but Dimensions is still relatively new and both events have a lot of life left in them yet.”

Image: Dimensions (Dan Medhurst)

Like all things considered ‘cool’, it takes next to no time before it reaches an undesired crowd, but Noah believes that there are enough festivals to separate the distinguishable crowds. “Generally our events are a bit too niche to ever attract the sort of crowd that flood in when things become cool,” he says.

“There are other events in Croatia that cater to the more mainstream house, muscles and vests-type crowds, and the super commercial dance side of things. Ibiza is just one island and over time it has been damaged by becoming cool then overly commercialised, thankfully Croatia is a whole country with a thousand islands and there is plenty of space. People don’t have to mix with crowds that they don't wish to.”

Like Noah, The Garden Festival’s Eddie believes that despite the volume of events starting up, there is enough of the country to sustain the growing festival scene. “Like anywhere new events will start, some good and some bad,” he explains, “but I think in general the first crop of festivals here have set a very high musical standard and that is set to continue and grow. The Dalmatian coast has magic to spare, believe me - and that’s not set to change over the decades to come.”

So many stones are yet to be turned in Croatia and hidden gems that are just waiting to be uncovered by the right creative minds. It is a blank canvas yet to be fully unearthed by promoters and tourists alike. Organisers just need to remember, money makes the world go round, but it’s good vibes that power these parties. 

Like this? Try The Garden Festival boat parties review: Crazy P & KiNK

Or Croatia Insider's Guide with Damo Jones