Image: Love International Credit: Here & Now
It’s very easy to put a finger on what makes The Garden so appealing, for all of those who fly over to Croatia every year to make the winding journey to the quiet fishing village of Tisno.
Of course there’s the weather, but drop a wonderful festival with a close family atmosphere, faultless music policy and enviable boat party schedule into an untouched corner of sun-kissed Europe, and you’ve got a summer destination that’s as irresistible as it gets.
To a lot of people Tisno will be an unknown quantity, but to those in the know it has many magical qualities which unconvinced friends are probably fed up of hearing about. The lazy days with cooling swims in the crystal-clear waters, the unashamedly hectic nights at open-air club Barbarellas, and the sunrise sessions which blend seamlessly into unforgettable mornings. Let's not forget the wild parties on the two celebrated vessels - the Argonaughty and Martina.
Even though 2015 saw the final Garden Festival, there was no need to fret. This year, despite a re-brand as Love International, nothing much changed at all in regards to the good stuff — why alter the recipe of a musical cocktail that’s often listed as one of Europe’s best musical festivals?
Things carried on almost exactly where they left off, the only major differences being the revamped Olive Grove, the absence of Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space crew, the sale of the Garden Brewery’s own pale ales and a few more techno-focused artists on the programme.
Despite the minor tweaks there were plenty of familiar faces — including DJs who make a yearly holiday of it — back for the same week-long knees up that’s been taking place in Dalmatia since TGF kickstarted the trend of taking British electronic music festivals to Croatia a decade ago.
The week began slowly, they always do. Taxis drop off visitors who, adjusting to the heat, hand over their Kuna and then wheel their bags along the seafront to their respective accommodation. You can, if you like, stay on the festival site, although there are plenty of comfy hotels and unique Airbnb places a short walk away if you fancy some downtime from the 24/7 on-site soundtrack.
Life at the festival is not just about music and dancing, village life is also a huge attraction. Tisno, on the mainland, stretches over to the island of Murter. The island is connected to the mainland by a raising bridge, while the busy harbour is filled with hundreds of boats which slice through the glistening waters under constant blue skies. Words can’t really do it justice.
Visitors are treated to a variety of good-value restaurants serving locally-caught seafood and typical Croatian dishes of meat with accompanying local wines. There’s also the 24-hour bakery, and ice-cream parlours serving everything from Kinder Bueno to Facebook flavour — honestly they do, at Valentino’s just across the bridge to the right.
Musically, the first real draw was Bristolian Shanti Celeste playing at the Beach Bar, a stage that DJs clamour over to get behind the decks. For good reason too, its waterside location turns from a suntrap during the day to a faultless club that every DJ, however well-known or unknown they are, wants to play.
She brought African and house vibes to a small crowd before Love International’s very first Barbarellas night with Running Back label owner Gerd Janson and Cheshire’s own Fort Romeau, who went back-to-back under the stars until 6am. That's when the sun, which it always does, flooded into the venue as night turned into morning and when, for each day of the festival, a new chapter begins.
Back on the festival site the next day, Peckham-based label Rhythm Section took over the new Olive Grove. Organisers had branched out with production in areas like this, now, glittery decorations shimmered in the wind while an assortment of cushions and wooden hangout dens — new to 2016 — were available to relax in and find shade.
Next it was time to party with Janson again, this time alongside Californian producer Solar on the festival’s first boat party. The afternoon shindig, hosted by Sunset Soundsystem on the Argonaughty, provided appropriate vibes with Madonna and Depeche Mode edits, the latter being a running theme throughout the week.
Friday brought a flavour of Berlin to Tisno with Ostgut Ton’s Tama Sumo playing the Ransom Note vs. Dance Tunnel boat party. Her partner Lakuti played shortly after on the Beach Stage. Lakuti’s set was a highlight, with seductive vocals under a dousing of the stage’s red and purple light. Her sounds swirled around the festival’s rocky cove with gorgeous piano melodies and soulful deep-house cuts.
After, on the main stage, Red Axes bucked the general trend and performed with live instruments — a rarity at The Garden, however, if you managed to catch Khruangbin perform (twice) you’re a luckier man than me. Red Axes, a duo from Tel Aviv, performed hypnotic material as the crowd swelled from just a few numbers to a rapture of flailing arms, right before festival-favourite Eats Everything headlined.
The shimmering water around the natural bay which The Garden forms is at its most striking in the early hours when the Beach Bar is in full flow. The Amsterdam-based eclectic selector Hunee — who played to the biggest Beach Bar crowd we've ever seen — and the aforementioned Lakuti are tailor-made for the outside club with their own signature styles, while the more straight-up techno acts such as Joy Orbison and Roman Flugel stick to the bigger main stage.
Sunday daytime was much more relaxed, with everything headed towards a Studio Barnhus takeover, and Axel Boman and his label mate Hungarian Kornel Kovacs’ bringing the boogie to the Beach late on. Kovac’s own production ‘Szirka’ and Todd Terje’s summer anthem ‘Snooze For Love’ raised the heat before a cheesier last salvo of ‘Born Slippy’ and a corny Boyz II Men track to close.
The latter was an unexpected curveball and perhaps a hint that everyone should scarper and head to Barbarellas for Craig Richards and Ben UFO where four-person totem poles commenced to a soundtrack that included a rousing reaction to Midland’s disco infused groover 'Final Credits'
A trip to Tisno isn’t complete without a day out at the pristine Krka National Park. After five days of partying with minimal sleep, a 40-minute taxi drive to Skradin where you can catch a short boat trip to the Krka Waterfalls, is ideal for a refreshing and revitalising afternoon. Visitors can bathe under the tumbling and turquoise waters of the beautiful waterfall which is amongst the most-visited attractions in Croatia.
Fully revitalised after a day of swimming, we spent the our evening with Horse Meat Disco at Barbarella's, which was perhaps the most entertaining late-night party of the week. The open air venue has the ability to transform depending on who’s manning the decks.
In stark contrast to the sounds and feelings evoked by Dixon et al a few nights earlier, playing all night long the London ensemble seemingly armed with, amongst other records, an essential copy of Private Wax Vol. 2, dropped killer funk, disco, soul and endless dabble of enjoyable house.
It was that night when everyone’s favourite, the one and only fabulous strutting sensation Michael Peacock, draped in his rainbow flag and not much else, was hoisted into the in the air on someone's shoulders. Those scenes, in one of the world’s most-acclaimed clubs, generated the week’s biggest cheer which rose into the early-morning sky above Barbarellas before the party kicked on another level.
In that beautiful moment the festival atmosphere was encapsulated perfectly. Organisers have, through their meticulous planning, perfect music policy and subtle marketing, conceived an incomparable festival where anything goes. Where else can you sit down for a meal while listening to Prosumer play Brian Prothero, Diana Ross and Black Sabbath records, before setting off for a four-hour boat trip soundtracked by your favourite DJs?
The whole thing just works so effortlessly. Anyone can mix and boogie together at Love International — a warm atmosphere and a safe, pristine environment tailor-made for an indulgent holiday in the company of best friends, new friends, and the very best DJs around.
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