It’s Sunday evening, and I’m watching the sunset over the hills from Sv. Duh campsite in Croatia, and already the glorious epic memories from the Sonus Festival feel like a strange and unbelievable dream.
Amongst the fig and olive trees, noisy cicadas and barren hills, legendary German techno party promoters Time Warp presented a spectacular techno and house programme to Croatia’s party beach playground on Zrce beach on Pag Island from some of the world’s best parties and labels, 21 to 25 August 2013.
Despite my wallet getting stolen, moving accommodation three times, an Italian breaking my sunglasses, my tent flooding and ending up in Zagreb with all my belongings wet, sandy and dirty, the fun memories definitely outshine the momentary blips.
Highlights include seeing world-class DJs, securing interviews with DJ/producer and promoters tINI, Enzo Siragusa and Jacob Husley and others, meeting other music journalists, and becoming friends with loads of friendly clubbers from around the world.
The first annual Sonus Festival spanned over two nightclubs on either end of a beach club strip on the island, plus a series of day and night boat parties. Papaya is an awesome multileveled club built about 20 years ago and fitted out with swimming pools, terraced seating and a strong sounding PA on a main stage. On the far end of the strip is Kalypso, an outdoor venue with a medium stage, smaller covered bar areas and several four poster beds (for the much needed disco naps in the early morning hours.)
Although the festival did not have a typical set up, it was clear you were part of an elite party the whole week when you passed the other beach strip clubs pumping out their abysmal fare and entered top quality clubs with even better beats.
Photo: Goran Peresin Gox
Wednesday 21 August 2013
I arrived in Zagreb on Wednesday morning on Easyjet. The festival offered direct shuttle transport from the airports to Novalja, the nearest town to Zrce beach. I shared a pleasant two-hour ride with an Australian and the Croatian driver.
‘Pag is nice,’ the driver told us, ‘but there’s too many Italians. You’ll see what I mean.’
On the ferry to Pag Island, I clocked a topless man wearing a Croatian sailors cap, holding a large beer who looked wrecked. His friends, also topless and wasted, came up shouting.‘I wonder if they’re Italians,’ I said to the Australian. He nodded.
As we wound through the hills to the ferry, it was like approaching a lunar landscape, with dusky stripped down dunes and blue swathes of sea. Novalja is a beach side resort, and it was clear that the town was busy for the festival.
I spent the first three hours in Novalja waiting in a hotel restaurant for my hotel room, surrounded by the event organisers and DJs then went to my Hungarian friends’ campsite on Pag beach.
Sv.Duh, literally meaning ‘Holy Water’, is a quiet secluded beach, about 10 km down the road from the festival and obscured by hills. The campsite is owned by a tall Croatian man with a long ponytail called Anthony. Anthony was born on the land. ‘This is a special place,’ he told us. ‘Many come back here every year.’
The long sandy beaches are testament to why. Straight away, I felt a nice sense of community and thought ‘this is where the festival is.’ My Hungarian friends agreed.
One Londoner said, ‘Sonus is a package clubbing holiday. In a real festival, you’re all staying together and the whole point is that you’re united in a bubble. Right now I feel like anyone can go to the club. It’s a two club week-long party.’
It was dark when we arrived at the clubbing beach strip on Wednesday night on the festival shuttle bus. At night, the strip seemed like a carnival site, with neon whirling lights, oversized novelty drinks and a bungie jump and a hopping beach. The first night was a blow out with a late night hotel move, alcohol blearyness and exhaustion, and I called it a night.
Thursday 22 August 2013
Thursday, however, saw a new day. An alfresco lunch on the seafront, followed by an impromptu party at my hotel with some Austrian DJs and producers set a fresh tone.
That afternoon my Hungarian friends and I explored Papaya and caught Berlin duo Pan-Pot pounding out some top notch house and techno. They played over the swimming pool area, which was awash in neon tops and swimwear.
I spotted three girls wearing ‘I heart Joseph Capriati’ halter tops, while another wore ‘I heart Ibiza’. I wondered if one day people would wear ‘I heart Pag’ T-shirts. One hour in, sound issues were corrected and a loud burst of ‘Do you like motherfucking bass?’ was met with whistles and catcalls, as the party music went progressively deeper. Unfortunately we missed Italian techno legend Joseph Capriati, who was on next, as we had to go chill at the campsite. We knew it was going to be a long night.
Later that evening, I saw German DJ Meat at Kalypso, while at Papaya, DJ Sneak and Loco Dice scooped up the crowds’ awe with their prowess. For the rest of the week, everyone I met went on about Loco Dice. Also, the big debate was, was his name pronounced ‘dice’ or ‘di-ce’? Personally, I loved seeing DJ Sneak who played some nice hip hop based house tunes and who I share a Puerto Rican affinity with.
Photo: Goran Peresin Gox
Sonus Festival attracted a friendly and interesting group of people from around the world.
I met party goers from all over Europe including Scotland, Paris, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and then beyond, to Chile and the US. I heard about underground clubs in Vienna, a trance festival in Hungary (Ozora), and a psy-trance festival up in the Croatian mountains.
The Brits were few and far between and were easy to spot, groups of Afro-British guys with cool moves or pale white guys and university students. Unless they were the organisers, Croatians also seemed few in attendance. Someone mentioned that the cost of the festival ticket was more expensive than most Croatians could afford, and the Croatians I met said that income was pretty low in the country.
Last but not least, the Italians, the ‘dreaded Italians’. One person said, ‘They’re all young, rich and stupid and come over here to annoy us.’ My experience was mixed; the majority of Italians I met were lovely and smiley, while only a few were annoying.
For example – during the Saturday after party, one guy kept shoving the barrier closer to the DJ booth during Sonja Moonear’s set in the torrential rain showers. I shouted at him, ‘You’re not being helpful!’ He shrugged and said, ‘I’m Italian, what do you expect?’ Needless to say, I gave him a piece of my mind.
Friday 23 August 2013
On Friday morning, we watched the sun come up at an after party at Kalypso, which saw German DJ/produer tINI playing a legendary rinse out set back to back with British DJ/producer Enzo Siragusa from 6am to 11am. Like all great after parties, it went on later than scheduled, until midday.
Afterwards, I had the opportunity to interview tINI. I asked Enzo for an interview but he smiled and held up his hand. ‘Mate, I’d be happy to but I’ve been awake for two days straight. I’m afraid I won’t make much sense. Catch me anytime, I’ll be here until Sunday.’ (I interviewed him later – see below)
tINI was lovely and obviously a hardworking DJ who had clearly delighted audiences throughout the night, and it was great to interview her.
On Friday morning, I had about three hours sleep on the beach at the campsite. That evening, a big group of us alternated between the two clubs in equal measures.
Kalypso had on British DJ Scott Bradford and London-based DJs/producers from Wet Yourself!, which has seen 6 glorious years at London’s Fabric so far: Cormac, Peter Pixzel, and Jacob Husley. While at Papaya, we wanted to see Magda and Seth Troxler. Difficult decisions.
While waiting to interview Magda, I met two British photographers from FuturGroov who kept me entertained with their antics.
Together we wandered over to Kalypso for the late night party. German DJ and producer Matthias Tanzmann played from 4am to 7am. He was consistently upbeat during the final hours. Epic.
Saturday 24 August 2013
On Saturday, the final evening of the festival, most people were happy but jaded, with barely 11 hours sleep in the past 3 days – if that. In the afternoon, Parisian and Scottish friends and I had a swim, then I said goodbye to my Hungarian friends.
A group of us went to Papaya to catch Chilean DJ Ricardo Villalobas busting out a mammoth four-hour set from 2pm to 6pm. He was on top form, moving from house to techno to acid house, using only vinyl, and doing his funny wave to the crowds cheers. He played loads of old classics like ‘Shake your body’.
When he finished, I wasn’t sure how the next DJ, Turkish Onur Özer would follow Villalobos, but I can assure you he mopped up the hungry crowds, putting on moody techno followed by bass heavy beats that got the crowd moving and dancing.
Photo: Goran Peresin Gox
Photo: Goran Peresin Gox
After seeing Onur, I was keen to interview him, and went to the back parking lot to lurk with the Sonus organisers.
After waiting 10 minutes, Enzo emerged from the darkness, followed by Jacob Husley from Wet YourSelf! and Enzo’s business partner, who I later found out was his cousin. I called out Enzo’s name. ‘Hey mate!’ he said and hugged me.
‘How about that interview?’ I said.
‘Are you going to ask him his deepest darkest secrets?’ his cousin asked.
I shook my head. ‘Nah, I’ll keep the grilling pretty light.’
We decided to have the interview in the parking lot. After, I explained that I was waiting to interview Onur. Enzo shook his head. ‘I don’t think he’s in much of a state to be interviewed,’ he said with a laugh, then added, ‘Hey what are you doing right now?’
‘Nothing, just going to get some food.’
‘So are we. Come with us.’
So 10 minutes later, I found myself in a van, heading to Novalja, talking shop with the guys.
‘Now you’re going to get the deep dark secrets about Enzo!’ Jacob said and we all laughed.
The guys all decided to stop at a place with three pigs roasting on a spit.
‘Man I fancy that pig!’ Enzo said.
‘Yeah!’ everyone agreed. ‘Let’s do the pig!’
While we waited for the pig to arrive, I had an interesting conversation with Enzo’s cousin, who explained how they’d been developing relationships with the Croatian partners for about 5 years to make this festival happen. It was a real coup, after doing their weekly night in Ibiza.
Later over dinner, we were talking about our own drum n bass and jungle roots, and Jacob busts out with this funny story. My memory is hazy, but I think it’s about some time Grooverrider got pissed off when Fabio didn’t return Grooverider’s text messages (or perhaps vice versa?). Anyways, here’s Jacob telling the story.
Jacob: ‘By the way, Fabio, I’m sorry about the last time with your phone, just like right, I’ve just got to tell you this story. This random girl walks in to buy a phone in Carphone warehouse in Brixton. The phone comes out and this geezer is standing outside saying ‘you want to buy this brand new phone for 50 quid?’ She checks it out and the phone works so she buys the phone. When she switches it on, all these texts just start coming and one is from Bryan Gee, and Bryan Gee was the dad of her son.
Jacob: ‘She calls up Bryan and says ‘Bryan, I just got this text’ and he says ‘ah, that must be Fabio’s phone’. So Fabio buys his phone back for 50 quid. What are the chances of that?
Enzo: ‘That’s ridiculous! What are the chances of that?’
Me: ‘That is so funny!’
Enzo: ‘What are the chances of that?’
Jacob: ‘I know, it’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious.’
After our pig meal, with potatoes and mangold (Croatian spinach) and wine, we went back to the festival. We headed to Kalypso to catch the Club Der Visionare hosted party with Berlin DJ Binh, Sonja Moonear, Margaret Dygas and German DJ Zip.
It was empty when we arrived at 10pm. ‘No one’s here,’ I said.
Enzo’s cousin waved it off. ‘Trust me, in the next half hour, this place is going to be packed. Everyone’s gonna want to be here.’
After about 15 minutes, the outdoor club began to fill, and I watched Binh played a technically tight set. Sometime in the early morning, the rain began to fall hard, and Kalypso got shut down for about an hour.
The final festival after party was due to start at 6am there and there was no end to the rain. I went off to Papaya, who were handing out free rain panchos to clubbers. I became friends with a Croatian during Mirko Loko’s set, had a disco nap in the club, then we returned to Kalypso.
Sunday 25 August 2013
The after party had been moved to the bar area, which was covered with straw beach umbrellas.
Zip did an excellent acid house set. He had the party jumping!
The after party took a sudden turn of events, which incidentally created the real festival highlight. During Sonja Moonear’s set, the rain suddenly came down harder than ever before. Water dripped down the sides of the tarp covering the decks and was threatening to soak the impromptu booth.
The Time Warp promoters went into quick action. Working in relay, they brought in plastic buckets to catch the rain water, then ran outside to dump it.
The crowd crammed into the limited covered shelter, and the vibe intensified as Margaret continued to DJ around the obstacle course and busted out some awesome tunes, smiling, pushing the volume higher and higher. She played for the next couple of hours to the captive crowds, until about noon,when the rain lifted up and the sun came out.
Ricardo Villalobos never turned up – I heard later he’d gone to Italy to DJ but didn’t come back, most likely due to the intense rain, which flooded all of our campsite tents.
That Sunday, I hung out with new Croatian friends and enjoyed a farewell dinner with campsite friends, then onwards to Zagreb. A Sonus Festival ending on a great note.
I look forward to seeing what next year’s Sonus Festival brings, but I also wonder how the promoters will deal with a few issues this year’s festival presented, either real or hypothetical.
1) Popularity. There is speculation that Zrce beach is tipped to be “the next Ibiza”. If this is true, this will mean the popular beach resort will become increasingly expensive, outpricing both locals and your average techno enthusiast, who don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for yet another festival on the increasingly busy festival offer in Europe.
2) General safety and crowd control. Over the week, I heard reports that on Thursday or Friday a man was beaten up and murdered outside one of the Zrce beach clubs – not one of Sonus Festivals – but still a concern for the imminent safety of people coming down to the beach. Someone suggested that it was Italians seeking revenge on another Italian. Although it didn’t happen at a Sonus club, the organisers might want to consider how they protect their audiences from a potentially dangerous environment.
And what about numbers? Already this year there was an issue of overcrowding on the festival’s boat parties. There were six boat parties this year, and I heard from several people that there wasn’t enough room to dance and they thought there were too many people on board. Which is a shame, but something easily mitigated by the festival organisers.
3) Festival’s overall cohesion and togetherness. Several people I talked to complained that anyone could go to the clubs used by festivals, not just the festival-goers, so ‘how was this special?’ A possible solution is to take over the whole Zrce beach club area for the festival and ticket-holders. Or make it all camping? Who knows?
I’m certain Time Warp and Sonus Festival will come back next year stronger and even better prepared to create a new Mediterranean legend.
— Zagreb, 27 August 2013