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Every year, week-long Croatian festival Love International (formally The Garden Festival) culminates with the Secret Island Party. Two boats – The Argonaughty and The Martina, used for boat parties throughout the week – set sail along the Adriatic coast, docking later on a secret (ish) island (again, ish) for an afternoon of escapist partying with an eye-watering view over rocky outcrops and turquoise waters.
Love International isn’t short of hedonistic moments, nor captivating vistas, and this year, one such moment came at the Secret Island Party courtesy of Axel Boman, as he sent the spine-tingling chords of his own ‘ABBA 002’ chiming out across the sea.
Love International takes place at The Garden, a former holiday-camp-turned-festival hotspot in Tisno, midway down the Croatian coastline. With a capacity limited to 2500 despite the site being able to host twice that, and with many punters returning year-on-year, Team Love have built a festival with a real sense of community, precious in the face of potential decision paralysis each time summer rolls around. It became a running joke that you were never more than 200 metres away from a (likely barefoot) Midland. Many of the artists on the bill stay to enjoy the duration of the festival, and the site is intimate enough that you’ll bump into the same new friends time and time again.
Save for a couple of organisational issues (one of the boat parties was over-capacity meaning some ticket holders weren’t able to board, and the Secret Island Party barbecue suffered from painful queues), and the fact that the festival works out to be pretty expensive (the after-parties and boat parties are all ticketed separately, and drinks are not dissimilar to London prices), Love International is a surreal and intoxicating week that’s as much of a holiday as it is a festival.
It’s impossible not to disconnect from life back home. The holiday mindset means that much of the daytime programming on site is sparsely attended, and the festival could benefit from slimming down the programme to ensure the artists get the attendance they deserve. Take Kala, for example, who from their first to their sophomore year chose to cut back on daytime stages, bettering the vibe early on for both punters and artists.
The music is spread over three stages; Olive Grove, Beach Stage and Garden Stage. The sound was strong site-wide, with production kept simple and effective. The decor really came into play during the Sunrise Sessions, for which the back of the Beach Stage booth would open up for the likes of Powder and Heidi Lawden to play to last night’s blissed-out stragglers, sprawled out on the rocks by the water’s edge, gazing up at gold lanterns hanging from the trees.
The Idle Hands b2b2b (Hodge, Peverelist and Chris Farrell) at Olive Grove on the penultimate night was a highlight. The crowd was especially loose, blithely spinning a parasol above our heads as the Bristol crew dropped everything from ‘Tru’, Hodge’s own track with Laurel Halo, to The Streets (‘Weak Become Heroes’), Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’ and N-Joi’s euphoric ‘Anthem’.
Over on Garden Stage, where we danced under a huge disco ball, Paranoid London made their intentions clear on the Saturday night as the vocalist took to the stage, saying: “We’ve been waiting all day to fuck you bitches up!” With their blistering formula of acid, electro, thumping house and a bucket load of attitude, they delivered one of the most high-energy performances of the week, the crowd reaching fever pitch during live renditions of album cuts ‘Paris Dub 1’ and ‘Eating Glue’.
But it’s Barbarella’s (or Barbs, as it’s affectionately known), an open-air club about 20 minutes drive from the festival site, that’s the jewel in Love International’s crown. “This is the best club in the world!”, a friend screeched during DJ Harvey’s six-hour set on Friday night, with “You going to Barbs?” quickly becoming the question on everyone’s lips. Visit the club’s Facebook page and the first review reads: ‘Spiritual experiences come pretty easy in this magical place.’
Barbarella’s is, perhaps, the closest my generation will get to ’70s and ’80s Balearic clubbing. There’s a crisp sound system, that impressed as much for Call Super’s wiggy techno interlude as it did for Horse Meat Disco’s glittering palette of records like Jackie Moore’s ‘This Time Baby’, a landscaped garden beyond the dancefloor that reminds me of Ibiza’s Underground (aka Mick Jagger’s old White Isle pad), and beach club-style white beds under a huge canvas awning. And the best part of all? You’re dancing under the stars. The dance floor is surrounded by trees lit up in reds and blues, and at around 4.30am, beyond the branches, the sky starts to turn milky, touching on all shades of pastel before brightening completely.
Without being too hyperbolic, sunrise at Barbs is a genuinely sublime clubbing experience, one which all the DJs played up to with huge success. Eris Drew, one of the week’s highlights, moved from stomping rave anthems (Porn Kings – ‘Up To No Good (DJ Quicksilver Remix)’, Size 9 – ‘I’m Ready’) through to garage, before ending up at Patrice Rushen’s ‘Haven’t You Heard’, later mixing breezy house with her signature recordings of birdsong – the perfect dawn soundtrack.
The festival wound down around 2am on Wednesday morning, with Hospitality On The Beach taking over The Garden that afternoon (someone said it was the quickest changeover the resort has actioned to date). During PBR Streetgang’s closing set, as I clutched a beer can now stamped with the Hospitality ‘H’, a couple of perplexed looking ravers asked me which festival I was here for. A while later, as we exited The Garden for the final time, I heard ‘Timewarp’ from Sub Focus’s decade-old debut album blaring from one of the on-site apartments. Love International was definitely over.
Next year’s Love International will take place from Wednesday 15th to Tuesday 21st July 2020.