"You off to Love?" an excitable raver asks as we sit next to him on our flight from Luton Airport to Split. We are indeed. "Have you been before?" Yep. "What's the site like?" he adds, referring to The Garden in the small town of Tisno. And that's when it really hits. We're heading back to the picturesque party spot, the place we've partied in before for both Love International and Dekmantel Selectors. Stepping on-site for the first time on the Thursday, the love for it all came flooding back. The winding pathways down towards the beach, the shaded Olive Grove, the Beach Stage, the waves splashing against the foundations of the area, people chilling, swimming and dancing and the sheer amount of forestry surrounding the bay. All of this before we get fully stuck in on the Friday.
As it's done since the inaugural year in 2016, Love International crammed its line-up with a tasty house and disco line-up, with a little techno thrown in, too. Down for seven days in the sun were the likes of Move D, Shanti Celeste, Avalon Emerson, Roman Flügel, Palms Trax, Craig Richards, Ben UFO, Saoirse, Octo Octa, Midland, Four Tet and Hunee. All either playing at the main site, on boat parties (aboard The Argonaughty or last year's new, bigger boat The Martina) or the open-air nightclub Barbarella's.
The daytime festival on the main site is way more relaxed, the likes of Rhythm Section boss Bradley Zero catering for the headaches from the night before. It's aboard the day boat parties where the rowdiness is, Shanti Celeste back-to-back Saoirse on the Friday turning Make Me's voyage into a house and garage frenzy despite cloudy skies and a showering of rain. Midland and Octo Octa deliver much of the same on Saturday, this time a 30-degree, tops off scorcher. Even the ageing boatman gets a taste of the action as he jumps on the mic to say something in Croatian.
Come night on the grounds of The Garden, each stage comes to life, shrouded in pink, blue and red lighting, projected in circles thanks to hanging disco balls. It's the likes of Palms Trax, Saoirse, Secretsundaze and Avalon Emerson providing the tunes over the duration of the festival. World Cup fever's also in full swing on Sunday night, as the onsite restaurant shows Croatia's victorious penalty shootout versus Denmark, a room full of Brits celebrating the win as if nogomet dolazi kući (that's 'football's coming home' in Croatian, by the way). The red and white checks of Croatia's national football shirt are everywhere, too.
Coaches are on hand for the 20-odd minute trip to Barbarella's. NYC Downlow's Gideön delivers a bold, bass-kicking house set on Saturday and Craig Richards goes back-to-back with Ben UFO on Sunday, a set Love International regulars tell us is "always unreal." Then it's back to the festival site for a sunrise dub session with Craig Richards, Gideön, Felix Dickinson and more. Cue chillout time on the rocks beneath the trees and a few sleepy faces. Jane Fitz, Hammer and Bicep play at Barbarella's on Monday night and, despite the soundsystem seeming restricted at times, there's enough tunes to keep the weary, near-one-week-of-raving legs moving.
If you're on that plane to Split next year and someone asks 'You off to Love?', we hope this will aid your explanation.
Below are 10 tunes that put smiles on our faces while we were out there.
1 Borai & Denham Audio 'Make Me'
Saoirse, Make Me boat party, Friday
Nothing like a new take on a euphoric, '90s banger, right? That's exactly what Irish Rinse FM DJ Saoirse drew for as her back-to-back set with Shanti Celeste was coming to an end on Make Me's boat party aboard The Argonaughty, the much-loved rave vessel for revellers in Tisno. Borai & Denham Audio's 'Make Me', all breakbeats and jabbing, ravey synths, samples the vocals of Strike's 'U Sure' and was absolutely lethal onboard, causing both screwfaces and wide-eyed smiles. The mischievous Croatian rain had started to pour at this point, too, so Saoirse dropped this one just at the right time to deter any sun-fueled spirits from dampening. DT
2 William & The Young Five 'You Turn Me On' (Jkriv Rework)
Palms Trax, Garden Stage, Friday
Palms Trax and sunny festivals just go hand-in-hand. Even though he's always dropping house in his sets, there will always be cheeky disco and funk edits thrown into the mix, the perfect happy-go-lucky tunes for partying in paradise. Palms stepped up after Saoirse's second set of the day on The Garden Stage, a space softly lit with sporadic strobe projections. The end phase of Saoirse's took in the relentless, thumping bass of Steve Rachmad's mix of Giampiero Mendola's 'Thank You For The Jazz', but Palms stamped a sense of disco calm in The Garden's main stage with Jkriv's rework of 'You Turn Me On' by South African group William & The Young Five. A proper jiver with plenty of funky swagger. DT
3 Zack Toms 'Bring Me Down' (Stanton Warriors Vocal Mix)
Midland, Percolate boat party, Saturday
We knew all along that Midland and Octo Octa were both playing onboard the Martina, Love International's much bigger rave vessel, but there was one question on our lips before we got on: 'Would they be playing back-to-back?' After Krywald & Farrer had warmed up, the answer to our question was yes. They're both Mixmag favourites so the pairing was a real treat for us as ravers passed around bottles of prosecco on both dancefloors, one by the DJ booth and one at the back on the boat. Bottles of bubbly were the drinks of choice at garage raves back in the day and maybe that crossed Midland's mind when he decided to drop the Stanton Warriors Vocal Mix of 'Bring Me Down' by Zack Toms. Cue bouncy, bouncy basslines and the crowd descending into rowdiness in the searing heat. It wasn't all about garage, though. The two switched between old-school house like the D.P edit of Platinum Crew's 'Getting Me Hot' and the Full Intention mix of Duke's 'So In Love With You', with Octo opting for drum 'n' bass duo Total Science towards the end. DT
4 Billy Paul 'Only The Strong Survive'
Joy Orbison, Garden Stage, Saturday
Joy O: another pillar of the British scene (did we mention football’s coming home?) who was lapped up by a dominantly British crowd. Having just come off the boat party it was time to sample the festival proper and one of the first things we realised was how many nooks and crannies were on site to simply go and chat shit or lend someone a lighter. It’s basically a European Butlin’s so, yes, there’s a playground, a mini-golf course and a host of bars to keep people’s thirsts sated. Nowhere is more than a two-minute walk from a refreshing beverage. That’s exactly what we needed when Joy O dropped this slice of hands-in-the-air Philadelphia disco. We realised it would become a motto for the seven-day festival too... LAR
5 Jaydee 'Plastic Dreams'
Avalon Emerson, Beach Stage, Saturday
Tisno really is a place teeming with life, from the grapevines covering every balcony up in the suburban hills to the schools of tiny fish spotted in the crystal waters of the harbour down at the waterfront. Combined with the heat it makes for a magical combination. Love International’s Beach Stage captures this union at its best with trees to the right and the Adriatic sea to the left. We also couldn’t help worrying that this beauty might ever get spoiled permanently. With a lack of rubbish bins down the side of the stage that meets the water, it meant a lot of empty drinks glasses and various waste found its way into the sea. It was a small complaint and once Avalon Emerson took to the stage on Saturday night it was on to other things. Playing a set that included a vocal-less version of ‘Groove Is In The Heart’, the Whities affiliate ripped through two hours and set everyone up for a blinder at Barbarella’s later that night. Thank you Avalon. LAR
6 Robert Reinartz 'Stay With Him'
Gideön, Barbarella’s, Saturday
You know when everything just comes together at a festival? You’ve found all your mates, the fatigue has been chemically overcome and you found a couple extra quid in your back pocket for drinks. That’s basically what Gideön’s set felt like all at once. Laying down a no-holds barred session of chunky, kick-first house pumpers, he upheld the garage house flavours of the Midland/Octo Octa boat party and we were absolutely living for it. LAR
7 Voices Of Life 'The Word Is Love (Say The Word)'
Secretsundaze, Olive Grove, Sunday
Sundays aren't always easy at festivals, especially when it kicked off on the Wednesday before, as Love International did. Times like this call for upbeat, hearty tunes, ones that'll keep your legs moving and your brain fully engaged in the party zone. One selection from London party heads Secretsundaze, aka Giles Smith and James Priestly, that did this for us was Voices Of Life's 'The Word Is Love (Say The Word)', a '98 house classic flowing with jubilance. It's hard not to keep your energy levels up when your singing along with the 'say the word' and 'saaaay, yeah, yeah' vocals. We wonder if the first half of the track title influenced the selection seeing as we were partying at a festival called Love International. Most likely and there was definitely a lot of it going around while they were playing. DT
8 Dan Habarnam 'High Pass Rambo'
Shanti Celeste, Olive Grove, Sunday
Not only were Secretsundaze exceptional but Shanti was so goddamn good on the boat that we knew we had to go back for more at the Olive Grove. But there was to be no idyllic, lute-fuelled singsongs beneath the gorgeous hanging vines that lay over dancing punters. Instead Celeste turned it up a notch from the Friday boat party with some bass-monster rollers like the Dreamscape UK mix of Radio Slave’s ‘Screaming Hands’ and 'High Pass Rambo' by Dan Habarnam on Bristol label Idle Hands. Of course it couldn’t all be screw faces, and S-Tone’s ‘Montego Bay’ was the perfect climactic moment. You are everything in this world to us, Love International. LAR
9 South Shore Commission 'Free Man'
Rub ‘n’ Tug, Beach Stage, Monday
Perched on a giant stone wall and listening to pure disco heat was exactly how we wanted to end our final night at the festival site. Thankfully, legendary New York duo Rub ‘n’ Tug were there to guide us. The pair apparently hadn’t played together for over 10 years (that might be bullshit), but it didn’t show as they weaved their way through disco rarities and groovy house. At one point a man turned to us on the ledge and asked if we like the Arctic Monkeys. “No,” we replied. He looked back and said “OK” but we still felt the love... LAR
10 Shanti Celeste 'Days Like This'
Bicep, Barbarella's, Monday
Monday. Feeling slightly fragile and not much left in the tank. Luckily Jane Fitz's rousing set at Barbarella's injected us with some energy to keep ourselves going before headliners Bicep stepped up. The opening segment of the Belfast duo's set was slower and more steady than we expected, but that's not to say there wasn't some absolute gems in there to soothe some frazzled rave minds. Shanti Celeste's 'Days Like This' was perfect, its crispy snares, carefree pads and schmoozing vocals providing that much-needed musical massage. 'Days like this never end' so the vocal goes, but unfortunately the festival does end at some point. We're just pretty thankful we got to hear this one in such a stunning setting. DT
Dave Turner is Mixmag's Digital News Editor, follow him on Twitter
Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Producer, follow him on Twitter