The annual exodus of sun-starved hedonists and electronic music aficionados to Croatia’s coastline is now a standard in the summer festival calendar. A largely British demographic, disillusioned by wellies and warm pints of cider and empowered by Easyjet, head south in search of beaches, boats, and beats. Once dominated by a few major players, the Croatian scene has recently welcomed a fresh crop of party-starters, and one that made its presence felt last year was Echo Festival.
Leaving its 2012 home of Makarska, Echo tripped 500km up the Adriatic coast for its 2013 instalment, touching down at Kanegra, near the Istrian town of Umag. Cheap tickets and a tastefully curated lineup suggested this would be one for the heads – intimate and easygoing, with an emphasis firmly on the music and vibe.
Despite forecasts of heavy rain in the weeks leading up to the event, arrival at the Kanegra resort was sun-kissed and 25 degrees, a theme that barely wavered over the five days. Location wise the boxes were firmly ticked; a pine forest bordering an idyllic stretch of beach, and basic chalet accommodation that induced flashbacks of Pontins-era Bloc Weekend. Not a bad thing.
Music unfolded each day across three stages. The somewhat neglected Coco Bar stage offered a distraction for the cocktail-sippers and sun-worshippers at the southern stretch of the site, but the main daytime action was to be found at the Beach Stage, providing a reliable afternoon soundtrack of deep house, sleazy disco and boogie and more than a few garage and grime classics. Crystal clear sea, non-existent queues for the bar and a giant inflatable octopus were all welcome additions.
Echo came alive as day turned into night, morphing from lazy beach holiday into festival proper. An uphill stumble from the beach through the woods – a dynamic that was disorientating and magical in equal measures – took you to the Field Stage, where Thursday night was owned by the Well Rounded Records crew. Head honcho Donga led the charge in typical genre-bending fashion, traversing an array of tough 4×4 deviations to the delight of an up for it, wide-eyed crowd. James Fox, Lakosa and xxxY maintained the theme, with Bristol talent Hodge delivering a standout set of bangers.
Friday saw festival headliners David Squillace and Petre Inspirescu keeping the energy levels high on the Field Stage with a driving tech masterclass, but it was the Beach Stage lineup that shone from dusk till dawn. Space Dimension Controller’s cosmic blend of old and new disco preceded the allstar house and techno transitions of Madteo, Redshape and Kassem Mosse, and the entire Adriatic coast woke to the sound of South London Ordnance. His morning techno assault on the remaining beach stragglers was one of the weekend’s highlights.
If Friday was dominated by relative newcomers such as Mosse and SLO, Saturday night belonged to the seasoned pro’s. Detroit veteran Andrés stole the show early on, his scratch-heavy blend of disco, house and funk and the anthemic strains of ‘New 4 U’ giving way to a rough and ready hip-hop shakedown – the perfect antidote to the house/techno monopoly. However, the inclusion of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ over ‘New 4 U’ was plain weird – it seemed the former Slum Village dj was dumbing things down for parts of his headline slot. It was left to two of the older hands of the Berlin scene to finish business on the Field Stage, where Magda’s solidly crafted techno selection paved the way for Ostgut Ton boss Nick Höppner to shut things down with a faultless set of sunrise moments.
Every festival has a handful of defining memories that shine through the fog of sunstroke, booze and heavily cut drugs. Sunday night on the Field Stage at Echo Festival 2013 was one of them. DjRum’s amen-infused evening warmup deserves a mention, but it was after midnight that things turned biblical. As if to smite the run of perfect weather that had blessed us throughout, the heavens opened in merciless fashion as Marcus Intalex, dBridge and SP:MC unleashed a sermon in drums and bass to a steadfast and sodden congregation. The magic deepened when Mancunian bass alchemist Synkro stepped up, closing the festival as the rain cleared and morning appeared with Boards of Canada’s ‘Roygbiv’ – one of those “were you there when…?” moments.
Of course, there were lows. The broken promise of boat parties was a shame – an essential experience in the Croatian festival itinerary and one that would have added an extra dimension to Echo’s daytime program. This was most likely attributed to the general lack of bodies – crowds often felt thin on the ground, a factor at odds with the heavy Policija and security presence, who weren’t shy when it came to laying down the law. There was also a distinct lack of effort on the decor and production front, something that would have elevated the physical appearance of the site from jaded holiday camp to a more cohesive and immersive festival environment. However, these were small blips on an otherwise memorable event; the music, the location, the weather, the vibe – all firmly on point. Special shout to the punters; whilst lacking in numbers, genuinely one of the livest, loveliest festival crowds I’ve been a part of. See you next year.
Photos: Here and Now, Futur Groov