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Hideout 2014: The Croatia comparison

Spotlight sends an emissary to Croatia to see what all the Ibiza/Croatia parallels amount to…

There I was, the palest person in the airport, with all the Zoo Project party-goers on their way home. As a selection of flamingos, parrots, zebras and leopards congregated at the watering hole/Burger King I knew I was leaving the madness of the White Isle behind for yet another paradise which has recently been dubbed in many articles and travel blogs as “The New Ibiza”.

Hosting a plethora of festivals throughout the summer along its idyllic coast and traditional inland, Croatia is pitching a firm fight as a contender in global music's gladiator arena. There's Umag in the North and Hvar in the South, there's Echo igniting the summer in June and Unknown and Dimensions blowing the fuse in September.

But one of Croatia's most dangerous weapons is Hideout Festival, which completed its fourth sell out yearearlier this month (Monday 30th June – Thursday 3rd July.) The Island of Pag welcomed dance music giants like Disclosure, Rudimental, Loco Dice, Solomun and Sasha to its Zrce beach with their sets sandwiched between the pre-parties before the festival and the renowned after party that drew Hideout to its close after a total of six days. As these festivities gain more momentum year after year, it's only natural that one will look to form a comparison with an older, more established music residence. Same thing happened with Lady Gaga and Madonna… kind of. So although both islands play host to similar DJs and both are partial to the bearded, tattooed or super-slick-gym-going man-bag wearer and the girls in their chokers and bindis, how much is really comparative?

I asked one half of Hideout's founders Dan Blackledge why he thought people were relating the two: “I think people are saying that because it's another destination that's getting increasingly popular and has electronic music but, in my opinion, it is completely different to Ibiza. It's new, it's fresh, and you can dance outside, all day until 6 in the morning under the stars, next to the sea, next to the mountains and forests. I don't know anywhere in Ibiza that you can do that anymore.”

Interestingly, Blackledge describes what was once the defining feature of Ibiza - partying under the stars in beautiful coastal surrounds. There was a recent period in Ibiza's history when the government cracked down, and during the 'put a roof on it' phase its party scene became confined to the indoors. However, over the last few years the island has seen a sharp turnaround on this point, and open air venues and longer licenses are multiplying rapidly. Ibiza is returning to its roots and is all about partying outdoors once more. We may not have free reign until 6am at the moment, but Ibiza's sun soaked outdoor coastal fiestas are doing the island proud.

Over the pond in Croatia, my initial expectations of small tented venues were dashed when I arrived on the stony Zrce bay looking up to the row of bars that lay ahead. For me, the word ‘festival' drums up connotations of marquees, muddy crowds and swiftly darting from one end to the other between acts. Yet this is Croatia and Hideout's setting is more like a holiday strip (but without the cheesy Geordie Shore club appearances obviously). Dan Blackledge says keeping Hideout's size down is key to its success, “Originally it was for fifteen hundred people. For the last couple of years it has been ten thousand but we want to be really careful with the capacity, not to increase it by too much, to keep it intimate, and keep that nice intimate feel.”

Yes, Ibiza does also have a strip where West End Warriors can get turnt on minimal euros and mad drink offers but, for the most part, that's not what entices the clubbers there like moths to a flame. Ibiza's natural beauty and history aside, the decision for this destination is often due to the vast array of ‘superclubs' on the White Isle. The sheer size of the clubs in Ibiza is jaw-dropping; add elaborate stage production and a chest-pounding sound system and you've got one unforgettable clubbing experience. Its clubs have developed unique identities over decades to become the most iconic dance floors in the world. If you've found yourself at Amnesia Terrace in the morning, for example, you'll know that the atmosphere cannot be replicated anywhere. Ibiza is the Holy Grail that music savvy fans flock to around the world, the place to be to party with dance music titans. As impressive as the indoor venues are, Ibiza's outdoor stages are also something to shout about. There's Ushuaïa, which boasts a large ground that bottle-noses to a domed stage at the rear, - think Ultra Music Festival style, there's Destino atop the cliffs of Cap Martinet, an outdoor poolside arena with views you'd sell your grandmother for. A proper outdoor daytime clubbing space in San Antonio is the famous Ocean Beach, where ravers can enjoy anything from day to night time pool parties, plus the most incredible collection of beach bars which manage to bag the top level DJs and promoters like Cova Santa, Amanté or Sands.

Over on the other side of the continent, Croatia-hosted festivals are not about clubs on a grand scale or international DJ superstars. The main four clubs Aquarius, Euphoria, Kalypso and Papaya all possess stage-like platforms where the DJ booths sit, no roof overhead and of course a swimming pool of some description which draws obvious comparisons to the white isle. Treating us to a pool rave this year was the likes of Kerri Chandler, Jamie Jones, Route 94 and Skream, just to, you know, name a few. With their gigantic Cosmopolitan jugs in hand, only a handful of revellers splashed around in the pools but one hundred percent of the crowd was enjoying themselves.

Ordering in kunas to your local post office is advised as I had a particular nightmare trying to get my hands on the official Croatian currency. The notorious gigantic cocktail jugs started off at around 100 kunas but before you gasp in horror please realise that is roughly about ten pounds…bargain! Across the pond in Ibiza, you can grab a standard drink at a local bar for as little as a couple of euros, but in the super clubs prices can reach the dizzy heights of fifteen euros for a beer. I spoke to one clubber who said she had been coming to Hideout for the last couple of years now and while she agreed it was becoming more popular she hoped that the prices wouldn't rise to Ibiza level.

However I personally felt in comparison to Ibiza's tourist-saturated streets and beaches, Novalja was still clawing to maintain its leisurely, simple and traditional lifestyle. In our villa and on the tables in restaurants were clusters of leaflets indicating the rules to abide by. Maybe this is more similar to the firmer policies of some of Ibiza's more residential districts, but I couldn't help feeling like the locals see pack upon pack of festival-goers descending on their quaint little island, drinking and littering in the street, with no volume or mute button after hours. Croatia is in its infancy as a tourist destination, but it's easy to see it is already susceptible to the same issues Ibiza has dealt with thanks to an influx of youthful tourism.

The key point to remember is that Hideout was a creation, an idea born and now an infant in its fourth, albeit very successful, year. It was a light bulb moment for the duo Mark Newton and Dan Blackledge who toiled and strived and pulled the strings together to make it work, double knotting them tightly. When asked how Hideout came to be Blackledge said “We were promoters doing club events in the UK and club events in Ibiza. We always wanted to work on bigger events and festivals. Me and my partner Mark were doing a second season in Ibiza in 2010 and we were discussing a destination. When we got offered this one [Zrce Beach], we fell in love with it straight away.”

It's a similar scenario for all the festivals that are hosted under Croatia's Mediterranean sun; starting out as a notion for a group of promoters, mostly Brits, then propelled to become an event no longer than a week. Another story tells of how, in 2003, music producer Nick Colgan and UB40 drummer James Brown opened a lounge bar called The Garden in Zadar, the north of Croatia's Dalmatian coast. Three years later their first festival followed and, in 2007, an intimate on-site club where outside DJ action closes down at 2am.

In comparison, Ibiza is enriched with dance history; it's cultivated, grown and evolved in to what you see and experience today, with many international DJ royalty looking back with nostalgic eyes at the first time they played on the island. It's classed as the dance music mecca but still caters for the Indie reveller with some major names in the form of Lily Allen, Jake Bugg, Bombay Bicycle Club and even hip-hop tastemaker Nas hitting Ibiza Rocks this summer. Croatia simply does not hold this degree of music scene sentiment because it's primarily the festivals and their promoters that are bringing in the raver's revenue with a distinct UK stamp. There may be a variety in the festivals but for the most part each festival is pigeon-holed to only one essence of music and you only need to stay a few more days after they have scorched to feel the change in temperature and atmosphere.

With that point been made, the flip side is that as a clubber arriving on the pebbly shore in Zrce (or to any of the twenty other festivals) there is a time bomb in our ears, all ticking to the same tock, as ultimately the festival ends for everyone at the same time, no matter how many days you choose to stay after. Day one and we are all geared up; Louis Vutton man-purse slung over the shoulder or jelly heels strapped to two-stepping toes. Fast forward four days and there's an unspoken lull in the air. “The after party is quite epic.” Blackledge explains “Everyone's had their festival, everyone's all on the same level; we've all had the week together.” In Ibiza, clubbers come and go, arrive and depart and that energy is never lost but it also never builds towards the universal anti-climax that occurs at the tail end of festivals. Ibiza closing parties mark the end of the summer, but are about as climactic and exciting as you can get, with no feeling of 'winding down' until you're well and truly off the island.

Croatia scores highly thanks to the cheap cocktail bars, boats with bass lines and pool parties that transcend into the night. The vibe is relaxed and chilled, more house-party less elaborate construction, with the rolling mountains across from the sea guaranteeing the scenery is just an experience as the music. “Ibiza is an amazing place” says Blackledge, “I've done two seasons there before I did the festival here. I don't mind the comparison at all, it's a compliment.”

A festival capital by all means and if anything, Croatia is a nod to the old White Isle. But think of Croatia as the sparkling rocket, whizzing ahead in to everyone's conscience, while Ibiza is the slow burning Catherine Wheel, still as bright and as beautiful as always. There's enough room for the two fireworks in dance music's display.

WORDS | Francesca Evans PHOTOGRAPHY | Justin Gardner, Corrine Noel, Gary Brown