EXIT Festival 2009

Novi Sad, Serbia

9th-12th July 2009

EXIT festival was formed in the heat of a revolutionary situation and, a decade later, the event held in the citadel overlooking the Serbian town of Novi Sad has an enviable reputation as one of the edgiest and best music festivals in Europe.

EXIT isn’t easy to get to from the UK, and Serbia is a country still getting over the war of ten years ago. But this does add to the sense of adventure, you really do feel like your reaching the edge of our Safe European Home.

There’s an array of big-name, mostly UK acts, on the bill. The Manic Street Preachers play a sterling set featuring songs from throughout their career and Patti Smith also plays all the best from her back catalogue with a passion and verve that betrays her age.

Kraftwerk have stunning visuals, and it’s great to see them work through classics like ‘Computer Love’ and ‘The Model’. You have to ask though, with their trademark clinical stage presence, why not just get the DVD?

Away from the main arena, the stages are mostly quite small and unimpressive affairs. The Dance Arena, however, is something altogether better. With raking that goes right up the side of the castle walls, it’s a great place to dance on till the sun rises.

And the sun does rise. EXIT is an event for late nighters. There’s no music till after 7pm, and some stages keep on going till 9am. After which, there’s no option but return to your accommodation or campsite.

Ah the campsite. It is a LONG walk from the main entrance. That said, the facilities are good and it does have a lively festival feeling in the day, which I would assume just isn’t there for the large number of EXIT punters who choose to stay in hotels or rented accommodation.

Prodigy top the bill on the final night, and it seems like every young person in Serbia have come to see them. We’re less impressed, they just seem to lack to mind-blowing OOMPH they had at their peak.

They’re aren’t a patch on final main stage act, Chase and Status, whose constant pounding DnB energy keeps us going that little bit longer than we otherwise might.

EXIT is a great festival, but it isn’t perfect. It’s not nearly as radical or intense as its reputation would make out, navigating the site is awkward and the difficulty in getting to the site from the UK is painful.

If you want to experience some big name acts in a location that’s a little bit out there, then head for the EXIT. If not, there are many other European festivals were you get a similar fix with a lot less grief.

By Kenn Taylor

Garden Festival 2009

Garden Festival

Petrčane, Croatia

3rd-5th July 2009

Many factors go into what makes a great festival great. There are the acts playing of course, the facilities, the people you go with, the location.

With Garden Festival, held in the grounds of a hotel in the Croatian holiday village of Petrčane, it’s the location that is everything.

Sure, if you just want dance in the sun you can go to Ibiza or any number of other places, but nothing really compares to this small but well equipped little village in a country that, perhaps accurately, sells itself as ‘the Mediterranean like it used to be.’

The Croatian coast, this area around Zadar included, is simply beautiful. It’s touristy enough for you to be able to get pretty much all the supplies you might want and not have to worry too much about not speaking the native language. Yet, equally, it isn’t over-developed and retains a ‘paradise’ like atmosphere.

When you’re sitting on the beach with some old skool tunes playing behind you, a couple of smiling dancers keeping the rhythm going and a lot of sunbathers just lounging about, all the many problems of today’s world slowly drift away.

It’s hot, but you can just jump in the water at pretty much any point. Mind the sea urchins though, DiS had to learn the hard way (It’s like getting lots of tiny wood splinters in your foot.). Swimming in the morning in the beautiful blue Adriatic is also the best hangover cure ever invented bar none.

Don’t worry though, it isn’t all boring bliss. As soon as it gets dark the party really starts. There’s a main stage in the courtyard, complete with a paddling pool in the middle that makes it better than any foam party. Then there’s the ‘beach stage’ a raised podium over the sands which, despite not having the biggest DJs, was where the best atmosphere was often at to be found as the merry splashed in the water and swung from overhanging trees.

The killer aspect of Garden though, is the boat parties. DiS had some advice from previous attendees to buy some boat party tickets in advance, and not to miss out. They were not wrong.

Our first party on the ‘Argonaut’, renamed ‘Argonaughty’ for the proceedings, is ‘Electric Mind’ featuring Dolan Bergin, Yam Who? and Ilija Rudman.

Onboard, things are subdued for a while. It’s ridiculously hot and the boat takes a while to leave dock. There’s also a terrible queue for the bar, caused by the ‘Funny Money’ system that the festival employs. You have to exchange you Croatian Kuna for receipts which you then take to the bar staff. Unfortunately, whether on the boat or the festival site, there are not enough cash takers – the organisers have had a lot of thieving go on in the past apparently – and this all makes for a very slow and frustrating system.

The solution, though, is to buy a lot of drinks at once. Which people do and, as the boat picks up speed and cruises swiftly up the coast in the brilliant sunshine, everything changes. With the waves lapping at the sides and the music kicking off, tops are removed, people get up and start dancing on benches, stand on the prow or grab onto the mast.

The party gets bigger and bigger to the point DiS can’t actually believe that this is all actually happening. The nearest thing we can equate it to is like being in the video to ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran, except without the Brummies in dodgy suits.

The beats and the sun and the party go on for hours, no one wants it to stop, but there’s another party waiting to board, and at 6:00pm everyone tumbles back onto the dock having experienced something that is genuinely ecstatically mind-blowing. There is no matching it. It was even worth the queue for the bar.

There are various accommodation options in Petrčane; hotels, guest houses, apartments and camping, though you should book early to get the best. The same goes for flights, there aren’t many and they fill up quickly. But even if you have to travel quite some distance to get the festival from wherever your flight lands, the scenery is likely to be beautiful and the times good.

DiS opted for traditional camping. There are two sites in the village. Both well appointed. ‘Autocamp Punica’ was ours, a little further from the festival site, but still a nice twelve-minute walk and right next to where you get onboard the boat parties. There are half-decent facilities and Maria, the owner, is lovely. It’s also the cheapest option. That said, it gets very hot very quickly of a morning, and there a lot of very funky looking (but harmless) insects knocking about, so if you’re very into your creature comforts, another option might be best.

Dancing carries on long into the night on all three days. The action in the arena is added to by the boat parties that leave at 2pm and 6pm every day, while Late-nighters can also carry on till 5am in the original 1970s Barberella’s Discothèque in the hotel. though that’ll cost ya extra.

Daytimes are usually spent either on boat parties, chilling or dancing to a few tunes on the beach. It’s all bliss, and it’s only when the music really begins to kick off that you feel inclined to do anything at all beyond just being there. It’s so blissful we almost considered not telling people ‘The Beach’ style lest it all be ruined. But we’re informed that after expanding the capacity of the festival to 3,000 people last year, this year they’ve put it back down to 2,000 to retain the intimate atmosphere and that’s the way they plan to keep it.

This year Garden is operating over two weekends to cope with its popularity, though this did have an effect on the line up. It looks like in order to drum up interest in the second weekend, that they got most of the big names.

Highlights of our weekend though, included Faze Action, whose disco-dominated set also featured a live band and a brilliant vocalist who we meet again later when she does an impromptu performance on the Argonaughty, and Norman Jay, who plays a great mix of quality tunes and crowd pleasers.

But, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter who’s playing. The music is good. The sun is high. The waters are blue. The people are cool and the boat is leaving for another party in an hour. Who the fuck needs Tiesto? Garden Festival is an amazing event for festival lovers, dance lovers and beach lovers. As the festival expands to have an event every weekend of the summer, we have no hesitation in recommending that you find the event best suited to your tastes and get the next flight to Croatia. Just don’t tell anyone else.

By Kenn Taylor

Creamfields 2008

Daresbury Estate, Halton, Cheshire

Despite this being the 10th anniversary of Cream in a field, the event is still only just finding its feet as a festival, and has made several big leaps for this show. Moving to this new site on the Daresbury estate, taking the event from 24 hours to three-days and providing space for camping have together transformed Creamfields from an all-night rave to full-blown festival.

The Daresbury estate is a fairly isolated site outside the Liverpool boundary between Runcorn and Warrington. It’s a long-march from the station and motorway for those without cars, but The Fly is lucky to have motor transport for once, and thus manages to arrive on site in the sunshine, and nice and early.

For all the big names playing at this event, the campsite is still relatively small compared to some of the events we have been too. It seems as if the clubbers can’t quite get as used to getting muddy as the emos, punks and rockers, and many of those who are staying over it seems opted for the ready-made boutique camping available on the other side of the event. But no 5-star hotels or even luxury tepees for Fly staffers, we’re in the no-mark dome-tent for one with the rest of the normal-camping punters.

The police and security presence on entrance to both the campsite and arena is strong but not intrusive, and necessary due to the fact that past Creamfields events have attracted attention for violent incidents. There was, thankfully, very little of that this year, helped no doubt by the security measures, but also by the planning which saw the site more isolated and controlled, and the two-day programme meaning there was less of a demand to get totally destroyed in a short space of time.

Saturday though, remains the big night to party. Simian Mobile Disco are the first big act to play, and what big beats for such little fellahs. They’re even more non-descript looking in the flesh than the Chemical Brothers, but the Simian duo still manage to cut something of a dash as they run around the humongous main stage frantically plugging in leads.

It’s the audience though that’s the real visual stimulus, and this increases tenfold when SMD are followed by Pendulum. The Aussies full-band set up, sound and presence finds it easier to fill the main stage as they battle through their battle anthems.

By the evening though, we’ve had enough with such whippersnappers. On a more traditional Creamfields note, Paul Van Dyk throws in a popular local reference with his remix of The Wombats’ ‘Moving To New York’ and ends his set in spectacular style with signature tune ‘For An Angel’, which he debuted at Creamfields first event ten years ago.

Despite Creamfields sometimes fearsome reputation, the crowd are by-and-large jovial, even if few meatheads had clearly never been allowed out of their small towns before. That said, this still probably isn’t the kind of festival for you if you enjoy wearing plaid shirts and listening to The Shins makes you cry. Creamfields remains an event for the electronic music hardcore to do what they do best, get messed up and give it their all on something resembling a dancefloor.

Sunday arrives and we’re forced to consider the difficulty with an event such as this: After a long night on the house and techno, you’re usually not that keen on hearing it again the morning after.

However, The Fly is quickly re-invigorated by a set from local-boy James Rand on the Radio 1 bus. Winner of the recent Babycream DJ competition, he plays hard electronica, glitcy and deep. The lad clearly loves what he is doing, keeps a big, knackered crowd happy, and will no doubt go far. Sander van Doorn also keeps things going daytime wise in the Cream tent with his big, bold and deep sounds. The aforementioned tent is an immense structure, the biggest we’ve seen, and actually better than Cream’s home venue, Nation, in our humble opinion.

Headliners for the Sunday are Kasabian, who Creamfields main man James Barton has been trying to land for several years. This fact has clearly gone to the cheeky monkey’s heads as, despite providing some thumping tunes and a stellar light show, they seem intent on mocking their own audience throughout their set. This is perhaps because the audience thankfully seem to care more about music and good times than inflating the ego of some hairy lads from the East Midlands.

Showing them how it’s done is Underworld. Remarkably un-packed due to the spitting of the final set crowd between Tiesto, Kasabian and these lads, Underworld’s sheer performance energy, Karl Hyde is a dynamo in a gold-lame suit, coupled with their unquestionable back catalogue, make them hard to beat, and it will be this set – an hour and a half burned in the blink of an eye and the step of a beat, which will be our enduring memory of this momentous event. Cream seem to be learning how to make this event a festival proper, and Creamfields will hopefully continue to grow.

By Kenn Taylor