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Festival Review: 'The Garden Festival' words by Tanja Canning, Photo's & Film by Helen Marshall

The Garden Festival, Petrcane, Croatia, 8 – 15 July

This trip was a beautiful example of the Run Riot family coming together in making things possible. From Jamie’s email to the RR writers about asking if anybody wanted to cover The Garden Festival in Croatia, to Helen Marshall the photographer and film maker emailing me (the Croatian and the Garden Festival ‘veteran’) asking ‘shall we?' we were immediately put in touch with Michael, another RR writer and Garden Festival fan who offered for us to stay at his apartment in Petrcane. This all took a mere few minutes. A beautiful, smooth bit of teamwork there.

But I digress… A bit of a background about the festival. It all started a few years back when Nick, the ex-member of UB40 and his partner Charlotte went on holidays to Zadar, fell in love with the place and saw the potential for setting up a new home and still be involved in the same music vibe. They opened The Garden Bar on top of the city walls, a prime location for sunset watching. They regularly have DJs from England and the rest of Europe and the bar has become a bit of an institution in itself.

A couple of years later their friends Gail and Eddie came to visit and arrived at the same idea. They saw the peninsula in Petrcane with its 70s retro club Barbarellas and thought it would be perfect for a small festival. Thus The Garden Festival was born.

The Garden Festival takes place at the beginning of July. It has now officially been going for 4 years and it’s quickly become one of the most talked about festivals in Europe. It’s easy to see why. The site itself is stunning and small, about 100 square yards, dotted with pine trees and surrounded by crystal clear Adriatic sea. There are beds to chill out on under the trees, the mind-body massage place, the Tiki cocktail bar, the beach stage and the main stage with a mighty sound system and a mini paddle pool. You can dance with your feet in the sea, cocktail in hand, watching a spectacular sunset or you can choose to go on one of the infamous Argonaughty cruises and ‘rave on the wave’ or shake your stuff to some cool funky beats under the beautifully lit pine trees at the main stage. Words like ‘the best festival ever, the best holiday ever, the most beautiful’ were repeated many times by both the punters and the performers.

The Garden Festival has now grown into a two weekender and peninsula holds another five dance music festivals during the summer to suit all electronic tastes: Soundwave, Airbound, Like Minded, Electric Elephant and Disco 3000. The peninsula can comfortably hold about 1500 people and punters are mainly British although this year it was encouraging to see quite a lot of Croatians, especially on Saturday evenings, hopefully a sign that the festival is getting more accessible and is more embraced by the locals.

In terms of music the Garden Festival is an eclectic mixture of acid-jazz, funk, soul, disco, house and reggae. Light, funky and summery springs to mind. Think Norman Jay, Mr Scruff and Giles Peterson, all of which are regulars at the Garden. Music picks up from about midnight on the beach terrace bar and in the Barbarellas nightclub where it turns slightly more clubby and housey while never loosing that summery feel. This sometimes meant that, rather annoyingly, it would start turning all jazzy again just as we were getting into some deep house beat. Rave festival this isn’t. Nor we have heard much electronica or tech-house and techno, although Little Dragon and Henrik Schwarz, which were fantastic, filled that gap a little.

While music is of a mainstream summery kind and the mainly 20-something crowd seems to be generally well behaved, there was still mischief and misbehaviour aplenty.

From our first hand ‘field research’ and second hand gossip the whole thing went something like this: Thunderstorms, Ryanair hell, hen parties, expensive taxi, nice apartment, zombie cocktails with Michael, melon breakfast with Lydie, girls bonding, lazy sun drenched days, crazy hot nights, local brandy, multicoloured cloaks, witches let loose, trippy full moon, heart shapes, midnight feasts, extra salty sea, olive oil garlic medicine, aborigine massage, little dragon surprise, seafood platters, white wine spell, keen Macedonian dyke, nice Scottish giant, macho Croatian men, a silver smile boy, a very naughty hen, old loves lost, new lust gained, dancing barefoot, lost voices, 3 day colds, jumpin to reggae, rushin to schwarz, young people everywhere, pirate ship into the sunset, post-mortem gossip, café moro, gorging on melon, late taxi, ‘touchy’ airport security, Ryanair hell, thunderstorms.

To find out how it was for some of the others we recorded interviews for your listening pleasure with the following (unedited):

INTERVIEW: Thomas - DJ from Rub & Tug (from New York)

INTERVIEW: Douglas from Overproof (part 1)

INTERVIEW: Douglas from Overproof (part 2)

One of the best surprises at the festival were Little Dragon, a 4-piece band from Sweden, with their rolling electronica underlined with gongs and unusual percussions and enveloped in the most beautifully rich voice of half Japanese-half Swedish singer Yukimi. The rhythm stretched from ethereal and gentle to beat&percussion driven and fierce. We caught up with them briefly after the gig. It was their first time at the Garden Festival. They thought the site was beautiful but sadly they were only staying for a day as they are on tour at the moment. Their new album is coming out on 18 Aug. They will be playing at the Royal Opera House on 24 July and Secret Garden Party on the 25 July. Check them out if you can! Here they are live at The Garden Festival:

The Garden Festival – Double Whammy: 3rd – 12th July
Festival ticket: £70 per weekend
Boat parties: £12.50 (twice daily)
Club tickets: £10.00 (open till 5am)
Accommodation – approx £20/night (can book only for a week min in peak season)
Flights: anywhere between £100-300 return, depending when you book.
Taxis: same as London prices
Food: fresh seafood is a must although prices are only a little less than in England
For more detailed info see the website: ...

Book early! Cheap flights, cheap accommodation and boat party tickets are the first to go. Also arrange with the organisers to be picked up from the airport by their minibus. Get on their mailing list so you know exactly when they start selling tickets.
Bring all the money you’ll need! There is no cash point at the site or the village so take out the money you think you will spend for the entire holiday when you arrive at the airport.
Stuff that makes you go wooaahh!, ‘oh dear’ and *jeez, that’s strong*: Prepare yourself. There is not much available apart from alcohol (on site same price as England, elsewhere cheaper) and cigarettes (which are v.cheap at £1.7/pack).
Check out rest of Croatia! There are 3 stunning national parks you can pay a daily visit to from Petrcane or you can visit Zadar, small but beautiful Romanesque city, meander through its cobbled streets and watch the famous sunset at the Garden Bar, place where it all began.


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