The founders of Hideout, London’s Field Day, and Manchester’s Warehouse Project did a pretty sterling job in popping their Croatian festival cherry, despite spectacular thunderstorms and monsoon-like downpours that wreaked havoc during the week
We, however, had the luxury of staying in cosy apartments situated above a 400 year old antique shop in the beautiful sleepy old town of Rovinj. Speaking to countless poor campers whose tents were washed away in the rain, I don’t doubt our accommodation made a big positive difference to my overall festival experience and I wouldn’t hesitate in booking apartments or a hotel over camping if I were to do Unknown again.
Staying off-site, we relied on a free shuttle bus service to take us 10 minutes to take us from the old port to the main site. Bus timings were punctual and ran on the hour during the day, and every 30 minutes after 6pm all throughout the night meaning we never missed out on any of the action. Most of the music didn’t start until the afternoon anyway, and was scattered across 6 stages from the seafront and into the woods.
Aesthetically the site looked great when the weather was good. The concept of Unknown came into it’s own with curious neon art installations drawing you into the woods, glowing hammocks inviting you to take time out, and quirky cut-out characters of the Unit 44 and Kid Acne stage looming over their wooded arena. However when the weather was bad, the muddy site made night time adventures slightly hazardous! This combined with narrow paths, uneven terrain, and random rock formations jutting out on the ascent to some of the stages resulted in a few slips and stumbles from wonky revelers and several thousand pairs of ruined kicks. Better lighting would definitely have helped, something hopefully the organisers will be mindful of for next year.
The Main Stage was set just back from the seafront, which made for a great location for those artists playing the sunset set. Soulful popster Jessie Ware managed to keep spirits high despite a torrential downpour intruding half way through her set, maintaining a playful spirit throughout and keeping the vibe upbeat with the likes of “Sweet Talk” and “If You’re Never Gonna Move”. Arriving back from one of the boat parties a lot of the crowd were wearing nothing but bikinis and shorts, and unfortunately felt the full force of the drop in temperature as well as suffering from a total drenching. Still, the crowd danced on and she did well entertaining the masses with a flawless performance, saving “Wildest Moments” until last.
Four Tet was one Main Stage artist who stole the show for me, delivering a formidable live set packed with the full spectrum of genre-defying miscellanea. We were treated to everything from dub step to house to afrobeat and every pulsating electronic beat in-between. An unbelievable show that was a true assault on the senses.
Personal favourite and Mercury nominee Jon Hopkins was on the receiving end of much audience love with another immense live set. His relentless tapping and concentrated mixing took revelers on a complete emotional journey; breaking boundaries with intricate layers building into beautiful soundscapes that at times felt like we were thrust into the middle of a dark fairytale, and others took us crashing and clashing through fractured structures. As darkness fell, so too did his tempo. All of a sudden his electronic waves came smashing down to a bottomless pit of hefty baseline punches, I was left pretty speechless and in awe and always smiling at the way he gives the crowd a big wave and bow of gratitude at the end of his performance – a true professional!
I got a great techno-fix from Richie Hawtin who continued the journey into the Unknown shrouded by darkness and striking strobes, as did The Horrors with their haunting eeriness, both very fitting additions to the line up. Another Main stage act worthy of mention are London-based quartet Django Django. Great entertainers with an energetic stage presence, they gave the crowd a colourful fizz-doused set of acoustic zest and catchy choruses.
The Pool Arena hosted the likes of electronic mastermind Tiga, whipping up a frenzy when dropping his much-loved “Plush”. Tale of Us and house guru and Fabric resident Craig Richards also played well, Craig’s set was swapped with Nina Kraviz who turned up two hours late and proceeded to have a nightmare towards the end of her set. It was clear she was for some reason off-par throughout, and when her mixing went to pot during the last few tracks she looked as though she’d well and truly had enough which was a shame as so many fans had been waiting so long to see her without explanation of her lateness. Despite this she patiently signed autographs back stage before being hurried off to her next destination.
The big highlight for me was the Secretsundaze boat party on Thursday. We were extremely lucky with the weather, given the boat party the day before was brought to a premature end when the heavens opened and the crowd simply couldn’t handle the extreme conditions. The sun shone strongly for head honchos Giles Smith and James Priestley, and together with San Soda they kept the house blissful and punters extremely happy. The scene could not have been more idyllic; there we were afloat off the Adriatic coast surrounded by azure crystal clear waters, bouncing off a warm vibe from a great crowd and some of the very best DJs house music has to offer. Picking this party was a no-brainer, it was a pretty special afternoon that set the bar high for the rest of the festival.
The soiree continued after sunset at the Forest Stage, in front of which was a dipped area which packed out after dark. The same stage welcomed Subb-An on the Friday, who’s hypnotic deep house and techy beats were unfortunately only greeted by a handful of people probably due to the early time of day he played. Personally I think his music would have been more suited to a later set time, however those that were there seemed to enjoy themselves and he played an excellent set.
To conclude I might be compelled to return if the line up was good enough, and if there was more going on during the day. That said staying in the old town helped, however if I were camping or staying on site it may have been a different story.
Pros included site layout – everything was easy to reach in terms of distance and it took a maximum of 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The line-up was good but not as strong as some of the other European festivals I’ve seen, although the eclecticism was great and varied enough to keep things interesting. Organisation was good, shuttle buses, airport transfers, and finding accommodation was easy via the website although I always resent the fact you have to book through the festival in order to gain access onto the site. The festival in general never felt busy despite the fact it was a sell-out. Beautiful location and nice visual touches throughout, and when the weather was good the vibe was generally pretty chilled.
Cons were general lack of lighting around the site and tricky logistics when navigating your way after dark. The food on offer wasn’t brilliant and although the top-up card system seemed to work when buying drinks, it was a painfully slow process trying to get the deposit and remaining credit back at the end of the festival.
All-in-all a very decent first attempt breaking into the European festival market from Unknown, and one which will certainly tempt me into checking out the line up for next year!
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