Love International
©Khris Cowley

The best festivals in Croatia this year

From sizzling boat parties and raves in abandoned forts to live music in the heart of Croatia’s historical cities, Croatia has some of the finest festivals in Europe

Written by
Justin McDonnell

The festival boom is set to continue this year with a crop of new contenders and more planeloads of foreigners than ever before. Now a central ingredient of the summer, it’s hard to imagine the first international festival happened in Croatia only twelve years ago. The seminal Garden Festival melded cutting-edge dance music with the littoral magic of the Adriatic, setting a precedent for unfailingly high production standards and lineups of world-conquering DJs. What started life as a small seaside party grew into one of the country’s biggest music events, spawning a wave of promoters who recognised Croatia’s potential as a new festival hub.

The star of the show is the location, of course. Anybody who’s visited the Dalmatian coast can attest to its breathtaking beauty: a dry shrubland dotted with masquis plants and canopies of winding trees, set against the sparkling translucent waters of the Adriatic. The Garden Festival is no more, but the team host a series of festivals in Tisno at a former socialist holiday camp for oil workers. The Tisno site appeals as much to Ibiza veterans (Suncebeat) as it does to warehouse ravers – this year sees London label Hospitality host their first Drum and Bass beachside outing.

The closest you’ll get to the halcyon days of the Garden is Love International. Chief programmer Dave Harvey (of Future Boogie and Bristol’s Love Saves the Day fame) has preserved the original spirit of the festival, while adding a few flourishes of his own. The sunrise sessions are a particular highlight: a Shangri la in a shaded grove where musicians greet the morning with an ambient post-party soundtrack.

The whole spectrum of electronic music is covered in Croatia, where each festival attracts a distinctive tribe and their accruements of glitter, baseball caps and floral headdresses. Forget the stale comparisons to Ibiza: festivals in Croatia have taken on a cultural life of their own.

Ultra, a giant EDM festival set in Split’s Poljud stadium, is the apex of the Croatian festival experience for thousands of young Europeans. Replete with lasers, day-glo and industrial smoke machines, the lineup reads like a best-of genre compilation. Others consider Zrce beach the thumping heart of the festival scene, attracting a young, hedonistic crowd to frenetic four-dayers like Hideout, set across several open-air clubs.

One interesting side-effect of the foreign-run festivals is the way in which organisers increasingly work with local musicians and promoters. Sister festivals Outlook and Dimensions team up with Croatia’s Pozitivan Rhythm label and generate as much of an anticipatory buzz in Pula or Zagreb as they do in Manchester or London.

Away from the foreign-run events, Croatia’s own festival scene has been bubbling up for years now. Most visible is Zagreb’s excellent INmusic, set over three weekdays in June. A harbinger of summer, the event is fun, frenzied mayhem spread across the grassy fields and woodlands of Lake Jarun, just outside the capital.

Fans of smaller alternative festivals will fall in love with Moondance, set in Trogir’s atmospheric fifteenth-century fortress; the event celebrates dark techno by Croatian and Slovenian producers. In Varaždin, Špancirfest is a delightful reminder of just how enjoyable street festivals can be – a boutique affair with a big dollop of Balkan attitude.

The barmy Goulash Disko is the standout festival of the summer, though, with its free-loving crowd, uplifting brassy beats and an unbeatable location on Vis Island. Crowdfunded and sponsor-free, it’s musical theme is dizzyingly diverse; a global mash-up that encapsulates tropical rhythms, Balkan jazz, electro and everything in between – often in the same set. Unlike many of the UK-run big guns, Goulash Disko limits tickets to just one thousand people, keeping performances intimate and ensuring there's plenty of festival magic to go around.

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