It’s the May Bank Holiday which means it’s time to go on a little adventure. Whilst you are spoilt for choice here in the UK, increasing numbers of you are looking to get away into Europe for a couple of days of festiculture. Whether it’s to see some of your favourite acts, dance till whenever and watch the sun rise on the Adriatic Sea or to walk around the old town, eat the catch of the day whilst drinking pina coladas…Sea Star Festival should definitely be a contender on the bucket list!
This year marked the debut of EXIT’s Sea Star Festival located around the idyllic lagoon of the Stella Maris Resort in Umag, Croatia 25th – 28th May. It is also the first festival in EXIT’s Summer of Love series which includes Revolution Festival in Timisoara, Romania from June 1st – 3rd, EXIT Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia from July 5th – 9th, and Sea Dance Festival in Budva, Montenegro from July 13th – 15th.
EXIT was founded in 2000 with an aim to protest the Serbian government and bring social and political issues to the attention of Serbia’s youth. 17 years later the movement and themes of unity/social responsibility are as strong as ever: Sea Star Festival brought together 50,000 visitors from 70 different countries over 4 days; The EXIT Foundation was in charge of the winning campaign for Novi Sad to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021; Dušan Kovačević, one of EXIT’s founders, feels that we are now living in an age which has many similarities to the Summer of Love in 1967. Although there is not the Vietnam War which inspired the emergence of the hippie movement 50 years ago,
‘There is an awakening happening, the intensity of which the world has not seen since the Renaissance. And, most importantly, it is happening all across the planet. And those people, organisations and institutions that are waking up are resolute in the desire to unite and save their children’s future. And we will join our strength with theirs to create a different and better order on our planet’
It really depends on how you like to fest out. Accommodation-wise there is everything from the camp site which, in my opinion, is the best way to meet people at festivals, to private villas facing the seafront, each with their own outdoor jacuzzis and hammocks (I kid you not!). During the day you have a variety of things to do. The Stella Maris Resort has a Sea Sports Centre where you can choose to do a spot of diving, jet-skiing or parasailing. There’s even tennis/volleyball courts, football pitches and an outdoor paintballing arena if it tickles your fancy. For the more slug-orientated amongst you, you can cure your hangover by swimming in and sunbathing by the lagoon all day. Listening to sounds floating from the Zion and Exotic Laguna stages, whilst floating on my back in the middle of the lagoon, a million miles away, couldn’t have been more soothing if it tried. Grab a Long Island Ice Tea from the Goldfish Bar when you need hydrating.
If you’re feeling adventurous try some Rakija, Croatia’s most popular spirit. If you want to get away from the resort then the town of Umag is a short walk along the coastline. It is a small town housing 15,000 residents and you can walk from one side to the other in 10 minutes. I’d recommend trying out one of the restaurants along the seafront. Book yourself in at around 6/7pm so you can watch the sunset and make it back in time for the start of the festival. The whole event was run slickly, in partnership with the local authorities, by the experienced EXIT team. Even the interviews I carried out with Marko Nastić, Aney F, Modestep, Marina Karamarko, Umek and Petar Dundov ran on a schedule, and on time which I found mildly surprising. Even paying for things was organised. No fumbling around, looking for Kuna at the bar, in an inebriated state. Top up your card, touch in, drink out and back to the dancing. This certainly appeased my time-efficient, dipsomaniac’s brain.
The music program has a strong emphasis on artists from the Baltic states which, without a doubt, held their own alongside the international headliners in terms of energy and vibe. Bosnian band Dubioza Kolektiv, got the crowd energy levels to an unprecedented level with their eclectic mixture of ska, reggae and punk. Although not something that I would usually listen to I couldn’t stop myself from bouncing when the live sax came through hook line and sinker.
If you’re going to see Prodigy once in your life then it should definitely be here. They have been regular performers at EXIT since it’s inception and built up a strong connection with the crowd during this time. This year at Sea Star Festival, to put it lightly, was insane. Never have I seen the entire front of a festival main stage, which included several hundred people, in a giant mosh pit all going in. How many artists are there that carry that iconic rock star attitude and blend it perfectly with electronic undertones? They opened their show with ‘Omen’ and even now my brain has ‘Writings On The Wall’ firmly etched into it.
Having been a fan of Slovenian Umek’s Behind The Iron Curtain podcast for a long time it was great to finally see him in person at the main arena. Coming through with his trademark stomping, relentless techno I genuinely felt that if he went any harder or faster the stadium might collapse at any moment (if only). His ‘Shadow Tactics’ did the damage one would expect on a rough and ready crowd.
Fatboy Slim’s live show was feel good, fist pumping and felicitous just like the man himself. The visuals accompanying the show were unbelievable, surmounting my imagination drastically. His rendition of Armand Van Helden’s ‘The Bronx UFO’ was orgasmic in nature and watching it being released on the 20,000ish crowd was breathtaking; an aesthetic delight all round.
Finally Paul Kalkbrenner. This was my second time seeing him live and easily my highlight of the whole festival. His new live show ‘Back To The Future’ is an homage to Berlin Techno between the years of 1986 and 1993. Resulting from 18 months of searching for music from that era which he then stitched into a modern day masterpiece. I found his edits of Format – Dance, S.P.Q.R – Tribal Experience and Lhasa – The Attic to be particularly mind blowing as I’m sure those in attendance would agree. Watching the sun rise to this monumental soundtrack is something you must meltdown to and well worth flying out to see this Summer if you can. One of the best live shows I have ever seen. Catch him at Exit Festival’s Dance Arena on 9th July. Unmissable.
Sea Star Festival was a roaring success and smashed its first year run. Staying true to EXIT’s roots, whilst delivering a music program that not only showcased 70+ of the best up and coming artists from the region but also a diverse range of international headliners that literally blew its attendees away. The festival sold out its packages well in advance, tripled its initially announced capacity and eventually even doubled the number of festival zones due to demand. Everyone I spoke to in the team had this great energy that I’ve come to associate with people who are doing work that makes a difference in people’s lives. Personally, I feel very safe and excited to see what they bring in the future both through music and activism!