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Croatia: Going overground

Could the scene that kicked off a decade ago lose its soul?

  • Simon Doherty
  • 23 October 2015
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Croatian festivals seem to be split into two camps these days, with tight-knit, small-scale, underground events – which first announced the country as a dance music destination – now joined by festival behemoths like Ultra Europe, which hosted almost 150,000 people over three days in July. There, the focus of the action was a football stadium in Split, rather than an abandoned fort in some idyllic coastal corner of the country, and had likes of Alesso and Afrojack topping the bill.

But isn't this what happens anywhere that, thanks to enterprising and creative young promoters, artists, DJs or musicians, gets brushed with the veneer of cool? Compare Shoreditch now with what it was like 15 years ago when a thriving creative scene had just begun to revive the area; compare today's Ibiza, all VIP culture and high-rise, high-price hotels, with the island Oakenfold and Rampling first visited over 25 years ago. While it's inevitable that the money men and less desirable clientele will move in, what's surely key is that people keep the original spirit of the place alive.

And in Croatia there are plenty of people doing just that. Tom Paine, co-director of the now finished Garden Festival and forthcoming Love International, speaks of the importance of growing an event organically to maintain that element of magic that attracted people in the first place.

"Traditionally (for Garden Festival) there was not a lot of promotion, not a lot of big acts. If people liked it they came back the next year with a couple of mates. It grew like that; that's the way your clientele stays on-point in terms of everyone being on the same vibe and having the same attitude."

The same goes for Johnny Scratchley, creative director of Outlook and Dimensions, who says the line-up and marketing are key to attracting a diverse international crowd. "We have to find those people through the small club nights that happen all over the world, like the two hundred people in an underground venue in Prague. If we can get ten thousand of them together in one place, the atmosphere will be electric."

It's not all been lost to the sick-on-their-shoes brigade yet – but promoters need to stay vigilant.