In less than a decade, Croatia has become the global hotspot for music festivals. Some 16 electronic music festivals take place here each summer – the majority of them split between the same three sites, Tisno – home of The Garden Festival, Novalja home of Hideout and Fort Punta Christo, home of Outlook festival. The system works- between them, these hotspots attract a few hundred thousand visitors per year, all arriving on purpose built sites that year on year are just that bit slicker.
That aside, change is good. At least, that would appear to be the mantra behind the promoters behind Hideout. Having convincingly put Novalja’s Zrce Beach on the global techno-tourism map and set the bar for new Croatian festivals going forward as far as daytime programming is concerned, for new offshoot Unknown, the promoters informed DT in an earlier interview they were actively looking to create a “British themed field festival”. Croatia’s already arguably a Brit-shaped place as far as it comes to festivals – with 11 of the 16 international festivals here run by Brit promoters, featuring heavily Brit line-ups, but Unknown is a step further on. Set in an entirely new greenfield site up in Croatia’s Rovinj, 2014 saw the fledgling festival step up for a second year. So what exactly does a ‘British themed festival’ look like when set on the shores of the Adriatic? Pretty good actually…
It’s all on site
Unknown’s campsite is on-site. That’s a first for a Croatian festival (discounting the handful of podpads at The Garden Festival). The result being a much sought after effect for many a promoter – a consistent vibe. Whilst most events start kicking off later and later as hangovers become that bit harder to shake and all day drinking starts to take it’s toll, here, from 7am-7am all day, every day, bodies were milling about, warming up, cooling down, having a big one tonight, taking it easy tonight, it all happened on site, which gave the whole experience a sense of constant rolling inertia.
Why aren’t more Croatian festivals set up like this? Well, in part because Unknown has another element working to it’s advantage…
Croatia mid-summer is hot. Like camera-melting (for real) hot. Like don’t sit outside for too long hot. Even this summer, where it rained more than it did in the UK, in between the thunderstorms, it was still reassuringly beach-tastic. Unknown is simply cooler. This would appear to have a tangible effect on the crowd. Not only is there the obligatory bonding sessions over ponchos (because when it rains, it is pretty freezing by now…) but there’s a different atmosphere by Autumn. People came here to use their last week of leave, or to have a semi-holiday, semi-session before hitting up winter in the UK – making the place all in all, that bit more mellow.
There’s was a serious lean toward live acts on this one. Like many a Croatian festival, there was also a heavy Brit presence with SMD, Disclosure, Jackmaster, Eats Everything amongst the usual suspects but the place felt built around the live acts – and sure enough it was these that rammed the stages the most: Chic with Nile Rodgers, Moderat, Chvrches, London Grammar or unsung festival favourite Henrik Schwarz hauled in the hardest night on night.
Were British. In fact, were mostly Scottish. Everywhere DT went we were bumped into by cold-proof friendly nuts asking where the nearest bar / independence referendum was. Interestingly it was a youngish festival too – early 20’s probably being around the median age on the site proper, whilst the off-site villas and boat parties were mostly populated by slightly more festival-ed crowd. Amongst it all though, there was a serious feel here of a straight up, non-pretentious, committed-to-this vibe.
With no superclubs or permanent podiums, Unknown had to build its stages from scratch. These were executed almost perfectly. A vast mainstage set against a beach, where Moderat haunted or Chic teased, an enclosed mid-stage, Atlantis wrapped by lights and chill out tents where Eats Everything brought it up and SMD brought it down on the final night, the Mad Ferret stage in the forest which played a bizarrely eclectic mix of everything from super-cheesy 80s remixes to driving tech house and Unknown’s crowd favourite: the Forest stage. Found by venturing deep into the Croatian forest, Adriatic sea on one side, multi-colour, lit trees on the other, bodies pack into a tight, two level space, strobes, smoke and steam cutting through trees as DJ Harvey, Disclosure and Henrik Schwarz moved some 3,000 packed bodies bathed in red light into action.
Unknown’s new, but, like it’s older sister Hideout, ambitious. There were island parties and a slew of boat parties. The site felt like serious work had gone to it – installations, light displays, lit up trees, hammocks between stages, food and bars everywhere, there was a level of detail here that made the whole place feel together.
It’s a surefire challenge of any niche festival – how do you retain that original, seminal sense of cool, of different, without changing beyond recognition? Some festivals manage by refusing to change anything at all – a proven, but surely short term tactic. Others venture down their chosen niche, but often that route can be a dead end – how do you get even more specialised, even more underground without losing appeal? It’s here where Unknown surely has set itself on the right path. By declaring itself a proponent of the Brit field festival theme, there’s so much scope here. The site’s enormous, new stages could easily be built. The island parties could become a far bigger piece of the event. With a live act leaning, Unknown could even start doing stuff away from straight up electronic music – offering a diversity previously unseen in Croatia by foreign promoters. 2014 was Unknown’s second year. Going on the promoter’s opening lines, it would appear they’ve nailed their own goals. We’re already excited to see what 2015 has to offer.
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