Venturing Rovinj for the Unknown Festival

When Svanapaper got invited to Unknown Festival, the latest newcomer to the Croatia summer festival circuit and a collaboration between the producers of the well established and commercially successful Warehouse Project, Field Day, and Hideout Festivals, we knew we were in for a polished production. Impeccable publicity, great credentials and the option to have every aspect of the trip taken care of. Beka Hawkins hitchhiked from Holland investigate…

Drawing the same crowd as and combining the successful formulas of Manchester’s Warehouse Project, London’s Field Day, and Hideout Festival also in Croatia, Unknown was bound to be a commercial and popular success. A world-class line-up, though perhaps favoring appeal to a UK market over diversity of sound and genre, striking a good balance of DJs with live acts. Featuring internationally acclaimed DJs interspersed with ones less established on the scene, a formula used to great commercial success by the Warehouse Project, it also combined the indie and dance acts popular with the hipster Field Day crowd from London. With the exotic location, themed stages and art installations that have made Hideout Festival a must on the European festival calendar, there was little to fault with the organization bar the odd debutante hiccup. Professional presentation, excellent facilities making the £12/night camping ticket almost worth it, and the opportunity to dance the night away to world-class acts against a backdrop of the Dalmatian/Atlantic coast.

One crucial element was missing though; initially there was a sense that a genuine festival vibe was lacking. The atmosphere during the day was not what you would expect from a music festival; no wandering friend-makers weaving their way through the campsite, no groups sitting around playing or listening to their own music, no sense of the camaraderie and free flowing vibes that generally characterise the more relaxed hours of a festival day – the camping area was pretty much dead.

On the first day I made my way down to the beach to check out the various stages lining the coast, and found out why. The image-conscious, butane-inhaling party kids from Manchester and London were soaking up the last of the Croatian Summer by tanning on the beach or partying by the pool, Spring Break style.

A DJ played chilled out tunes on the terrace bar overlooking the pool stage, which by day was the social hub of the festival. The onsite restaurant, street food vendors and outdoor seating in close proximity to the large, resort-style pool looking out on the ocean made this the place to be. The main stage a short walk past the merchandise tent and the jetty where the boat parties would leave each day, and the layout of the site meant easy access between stages.

The art installations surrounding the stages lent an organic look to the festival by day and at night lit up in a mesmerizing, every-changing array of colours that heightened the atmosphere created by the music at each stage.

This effect was slightly diminished when all hell broke loose on the second day in the form of a giant storm, wrecking much of the site and disrupting Jessie Ware’s otherwise powerful and crowd-pleasing set. Yet at that point Unknown began to look and feel like a real festival. Mud everywhere, tents collapsed and a sense of having gone through something together.

And as the sun went down over the Adriatic each subsequent night, a chill would settle over the festival site, leaving only one thing to do; dance. Dance with wild abandon wherever there was music, in front of the stages, on the beach, on the paths between stages as sounds from all directions blurred into one all-consuming, pulsating rhythm.

Some sets did stand out from this flurry of similar sounding electro and indie beats: The world first exclusive Boiler Room Island featuring Craig Richards and a Jackmaster Optimo B2B on the last day was a personal favourite, while John Talabot’s Forest Stage set later that night was popular with the crowd. Whether it was the quality of music, the effects of the storm or just a desire to let loose one last time before heading back to the cold North, it was one hell of a party.

Boat parties and sunset cruises were also on offer to punters looking get even more out of the dying embers of the Croatian summer, while the town of Rovinj itself provided a pleasant diversion by day for those staying in offsite accommodation.

There could have been greater diversity of sound, improvements on the technical side with the smaller stages, and more to do during the day than lie on the beach and participate in the tokenistic games on offer.

Not geared towards serious music lovers as much as anyone looking to party away the last of the European Summer, the organizers of Unknown have picked their audience well from the start, creating a festival that delivers on all its expectations and looks to only get more successful each year. [Text: Beka / Photo: Webster]