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Croatia's Garden Festival Kicks Off In Stunning Style

Alex Hibbert pays a visit to Croatia's first boutique festival Garden in Tisno.

Where to start a review of Croatia's Garden Festival? Considering that it is, after all, a music festival, you might have thought that the music is where to start. But really, Garden is not all about the music. Sure it's there, played steadily throughout the day and roaring to life at night and on boat parties as they straddle out to sea while mobbed with dizzy ravers. But the music is not the only thing that makes Garden special.
The site then? A decidedly winsome holiday camp nestled just outside picturesque Tisno, a striking little town that offers an escape when the seven days Garden goes on for gets that bit too much. A site that houses all of the festival's dance floors, a cheap shop, nice bars, an absolute haven of a beach and, just for good measure, a pretty stonkingly fine restaurant. The site isn't it either. Not the start.
Let's instead start with a man nestled atop a rocky beach stage outcrop at some point in the early hours of the morning about half way through the week the festival goes on for. Lights and lasers gesticulate wildly around him as he looks up to the stars, smiling, and dances on his own to a set of disco tunes for more than half an hour. This man, perched on his seemingly exultant ledge, is, if not the start, a better representation than I could put into words of what Garden is all about.
So let's start with its ethos. Glitter, lobster tans, cheap beer, new friends and a festival that throws a holiday in to boot; Garden is resoundingly brilliant. At seven days it can feel long, but it doesn't really feel like a slog. Epic, for sure. But partied too hard? Sleep on the beach. Taken it easy? Get on it, grab a jet ski or get a massage. Take a trip to the waterfalls at Krka National Park about half an hour away (a taxi will cost you less than a tenner) or walk round and chat to the people you've no doubt by now made firm friends with. And when the festival proper shuts down at 2am those that feel like they want to keep going can take the short taxi or coach ride to Barbarella's Discothèque, which hosts the after parties till 6am. It's not much to look at, but it's the perfect place to expend any energy you might just still have, and if you don't feel like dancing there's enough comfy seats splayed around where you can chat meaningfully about nothing.
And the music? Here let's start at the start, which is two stand out sets from Greg Wilson, casting off the Argonaughty boat Pool Party on a relatively early feeling Thursday afternoon with a set which just reeks of his irrepressible 80's electro style, and another on the main arena on Friday night which kicks the stage off perfectly (it's closed until then). Tunes he drops include, in no order than I could ever muster had I bothered with notepad and pen, The Gap Band's 'Oops Upside Your Head', Soulclap's mix of Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams', his own mix of Amerie's 'One Thing', Fingerman's take on Steely Dan's 'Peg', Todd Terje's 'Inspector Norse' and 'You Got the Love'. That roster, that scintillating canon, says it all really, doesn't it?
Crazy P Soundsystem love the Garden Festival, we know this because throughout their set on the main stage on Sunday they tell us. A lot. In fact not only does the inimitable Danielle Moore whoop her satisfaction with the festival at every turn, James and Chris actually work it into their introductory numbers, a recurring “we love you garden” pulsing through their sinuous disco beats.
Bicep probably love Garden Festival too now, based on the reaction they get after their headline set on the main stage right after Crazy P. Expecting some tunes interspersed with some quite heavy techno, they basically decide to just lay on the tunes with a little bit of techno for good measure. They drop Prince's '1999' and Sister Sledge's 'Lost in Music', everyone goes wild.
Soulclap's Monday set on the Beach Stage starts off pretty resoundingly brilliantly. It's no secret any more that they play the cheesy tracks you secretly love, and generally they don't disappoint. But as the set peters out towards the end we head off to catch the end of Theo Parrish casting himself as his alter ego Teddy and stripping things back completely with his band to bring Monday to an amazingly satisfying soul climax.
By Tuesday you think people would be dropping like flies, but Justin Martin's set on the Sunset Sound System Boat Party transforms what should be an ailing crowd into what is, essentially, a raft full of neon clad gurners. Granted, watching the sun set atop a boat on a beautiful azure coastline isn't likely to disappoint, but Martin deserves credit nonetheless.
Founded in 2006, Garden was one of the very first festivals to set up in Croatia, but even after nine years it still has that boutique feel. It only welcomes a couple of thousand people a year, so it's not difficult to find your way round, find your friends or establish friendships with the predominantly ace punters you don't yet know. It throws up aural delights throughout, but its best moments are those spent with a group of friends all submersing themselves in its delights. We'll be back next year, and would recommend you do the same. “The Garden Festival celebrates its 10
th anniversary next year, 1
th July 2015, check