Review: Suncébeat 6 @ The Garden, Tisno
Suncébeat takes place in the lush, green environs of The Garden, a quaint coastal site twenty minutes walk from the center of Tisno, a small fishing village connecting mainland Croatia to the island of Murter. Coined as the ‘spiritual home’ of The Garden Festival, the event which paved the way for Croatia’s burgeoning festival scene back in 2006, the part-beach part-forest location has become a well established destination for party people from all across Europe and beyond. Soundwave, StopMakingSense and Electric Elephant all now host events there and with The Garden bringing its decade-long run to an end this July, the site has come to take on a somewhat spiritual symbolism for its visitors.
Given Suncébeat’s ethos of keeping things low-key and plumping for an unashamedly familial vibe, this little haven off the Adriatic plays a big part in keeping the experience balanced – somewhere between Dalmatian holiday-making and laissez-fair mash-up.
Daytime was a largely laid-back affair that mainly involved picking up the pieces from the night before down on the pebbled beach, languishing in the topaz-blue water to stave off the searing heat and, inevitably, cracking back on to the bevies. With three bars in close proximity of the beachfront and a few food stalls nearby, we didn’t have to trek very far in order to attend to thirst or hunger.
The focal point during the day was the Beach Stage, an eye-catching wooden platform which juts out into the bay and hosts a weighty Funktion One system overhead. One of the most refreshing features of Suncébeat is that most of the lineup are booked for at least two or three sets, usually in completely different times and places, and the Beach Stage provided a serene setting for DJs to delve deeper into their collections. Standout sets from Southport residents Gavin Kendrick and Kev Beadle, spanning cool jazz, atmospheric electronica and smooth soul, perfectly soundtracked the blissful scene, while notorious crate digger Motor City Drum Ensemble took the chance to deliver a strictly 45s set from the peripheries of bossa nova and rare groove.
It’s perhaps a shame though that more of the DJs didn’t opt for the same route during the days, to explore their less conventional penchants in front of a receptive crowd, instead defaulting to soulful club tunes when it seemed most weren’t particularly interested in cutting shapes. Although the age-old combo of flawless sunshine and good vibes house music is so often a perfect match, at times it felt like a trick missed.
Down by the beach at after-party spot Vortex
Boat parties are a major feature of every event on the Croatian circuit, but nowhere is that more true than at The Garden with the infamous Argonaughty. A sizable double decker vessel, twice a day it takes around 200 excitable sea-ravers out for a spin on the staggeringly beautiful Adriatic Sea.
For the first of our two excursions, we set sail on the Disco Nights Picnic Boat for a sunset cruise in the esteemed company of Souldynamic, Late Nite Tuff Guy and Rich Medina, the latter spinning everything from First Choice and Loose Joints, all the way down to Earth, Wind & Fire in a purefire disco classics set.
Making a midway stop-off for dinner at a picturesque beachside restaurant brought a classy vibe to the whole affair and allowed everyone to mingle and regain their sea legs, as the DJs delved deeper into more club-oriented territory. With everyone fed and increasingly watered, the journey back continued in that vein as Aussie edit king LNTG got into his stride, peaking with renditions of his “I Get Deeper” and “Hold Tight” edits.
We eventually docked back at the main site two hours later than planned, meaning the outing had taken seven hours in total, which was, in truth, a little lengthy. Some logistical refinements still to be made perhaps, but nonetheless all in, it was one of the most wholesome experiences of the week.
Osunlade took care of proceedings for our second voyage, this time in the full sweltering gaze of the sun, and brought a few Yoruba Records cohorts with him. A rare set, for us Londoners anyway, from Marlow of Freiburg collective Rainer Trüby gave the boat an extra special air, as he went toe to toe with Croatian stalwart Eddy Ramich and Osunlade himself in a deep, driving and tribal foray through some of the label’s biggest hits to date.
Heading up the main stage on an intensely balmy Saturday night was the legendary Roy Ayres Ubiquity. Needless to say, the floor was heaving to receive the 74 year old crooner and his posse. Half an hour late, but well worth the wait, Ayres opened with ‘Running Away’ before weaving his way between other funk classics such as ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ and ‘We Live in Brooklyn Baby’. Although it was sometimes hard to clock Ayres’ voice, he definitely made up for it by peeling off into some pristine percussive solos on his infamous vibraphone. On a similar tip, Acid Jazz maestros The Brand New Heavies brought their distinctive brand of sultry goodness to the main stage the following day.
Elsewhere, the spirited enclosure of The Soul Tent offered up a heady selection of vintage funk, soul and R&B classics throughout the day, most notably when Edinburgh collective Ladies On Rotation effectively tore the roof off the intimate dome on the Friday afternoon.
By night, the site was transformed into a visual masterpiece, with simple yet elucidating lighting that reflected off the still surface of the sea. The beach area, again, took center stage and played host to high-octane selections from the lineup’s more club-ready impresarios, peaking with sets from MCDE – spinning everything from afrobeat to some much-welcome techno, again a real highlight – and DJ Spen – spinning a heady collection of soulful house on both occasions we saw him.
But with the main site winding down at 2am each night, those in search of more dancing were required to undertake the now heralded journey by coach or cab 15 minutes down the road for The Garden site’s secret weapon: Barbarellas.
After being discovered in a ramshackle state by The Garden Festival’s founders after they shipped the event down to Tisno from Petrčane, Barbarellas Discotheque is now revered as one of Europe’s most legendary clubs by partygoers from across the continent. A visit to Barbarellas is a true game-changer, in a more ways than one. First off, it’s only accessible by coach, cab, or if you fancy it Bond-style, taxi-boat.
Arriving at the club at night is slightly disorientating which just adds to the buzz, not really knowing where on Earth you’re partying certainly ups the ante on the debauchery tip. Sauntering into the venue gives you a pretty vivid comparison to the Ibiza of yesteryear. The terrace layout and DIY feel definitely chimes with the White Isle before inflated prices and plastic club nights. Inside, the open air dance floor is rigged with a thunderous Funktion One sound system and there’s a very relaxed chill out area peppered with futons that’s ideal for when legs start to flag. Multiple bars and a BBQ mean that you can stay watered and fed throughout.
The nights we voyaged down to Barbarellas were unashamedly hedonistic. Musically, there was a handful of standout sets that would’ve blown the roof off the party – if there was one. Black Coffee’s stint was a masterstroke in selection and technique. The South African’s technical ability behind the decks is peerless, his flawless set was a deep affair as he took to stamping acappellas for some of his trademark tracks (“Turn Me On”, “Superman”) over the top of tech and afro house. In terms of crowd engagement and sheer energy, Djeff Afrozilla laid down an hour and a half of belters with an unfaltering smile plastered across his face – DJ Spinna’s rework of SPW favourite Shaun Escoffery’s “Days Like This” one of the many highlights.
Considering Southport Weekender’s heralded reputation for diversity, the range of music on offer wasn’t quite as apparent at Suncébeat. There’s no denying the famed family vibe was in full effect but after seven days, it was unmistakeably apparent that Suncébeat is a house music festival before anything else. There’s no denying the popularity of house in 2015 – but over the years has SPW been just as easily definable?
Sandy Rivera closing his Barbarellas set in the early hours with two true classics – Hall & Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go For That’ and The Jones Girls’ ‘Nights Over Egypt’ – after playing a rolling but otherwise comfortable set of polished 4×4 was indicative of this. Given the crowd, perhaps such tracks from the styles which came to influence house deserved a more prominent platform. But perhaps that was never the point of Suncébeat, and it may be unfair to inherently compare the offspring to its parent.
That said, that’s the one and only gripe we had during what was an otherwise top-class week of dancing, debauchery and tranquility. Considering the musical riches we were spoilt with during the SPW days, this all-encompassing aesthetic is sure to even out as the festival’s stock continues to grow. Every year creates new converts with word making its way back to London, Manchester, Edinburgh and the rest of the UK that Suncebeat’s revellers have just had the best week of their lives.