After a week of partying at the Dimensions festival in Pula, some members of the crew moved 40 kilometer north to another old city in Croatia: Rovinj. Around this idyllic town, in the beautiful Istria region, the Unknown Croatia Festival was organized for the very first time. This new festival promised to be a step into the unknown with many upcoming DJ’s, singers and live artists. It also featured some of the biggest names of the current house scene and lots of diversity between the different stages at the festival site. We selected our highlights of the festival.
We started our Unknown experience on Wednesday with a live performance by Jessie Ware. The young singer from Manchester is one of the new female voices of the English dance/pop scene. The first time we’ve heard about Jessie was on the SBTRKT (more about him later) song ‘Right Thing To Do’ and shortly after she released her debut album ‘Devotion’. The album is full of emotional lyrics, mood swings and soulful productions so we went out to the main stage to check if she was able to reach the same level with her live performance.
And Jessie did. After a few minutes, the enthusiastic appearance took over the audience and her strong live voice easily filled in our expectations. The crowd went nuts and even after the sunshine disappeared they all sang along. But after a while the little raindrops got bigger and bigger and just when Jessie began her last song, and lead single, ‘Running’ the audience did the same. Like most people we ran off the festival side to hide from a massive thunderstorm that changed the terrain into a big pool of dirty mud. The rain went on for hours, so this turned out to be the last and only performance that we saw on Wednesday. A big shame because we missed some of our favorite acts such as Floating Points, James Holden and Scuba.
Keiran Hebden aka Four Tet has been one of our favorite producers and live artist of the last decade. He produced some classic albums, made wonderful remixes and did amazing projects with legendary musicians like Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Burial and jazz drummer Steve Reid. So when we saw his name on the Unknown line-up we didn’t doubt a second about watching him performing live. As expected it turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival. Four Tet is an artist in the most pure form. Somebody that constantly makes you wonder what will be next. He has the gift to change a very simple beat into an extraordinary sound in just a few seconds. What a show!
This long time veteran originating from the German electronic music scene was responsible for one of the other highlights of Unknown 2013. When Schwarz took over the amazing Forest Stage the crowd enjoyed a sublime performance. The German pioneer is a master in live gigs, and we’ve never been disappointed by him. Put Schwarz behind a laptop and the magic happens. The most amazing thing about the German artist is that he always seems to be so relaxed despite the fact that he’s doing a lot at the same time. Great show, great artist.
Subb An & Richie Ahmed
One of the main benefits of hosting a festival in a country like Croatia is the possibility to organize boat parties. Unknown took every opportunity they had to organize one, and thereby gave their visitors a lot of possibilities to hop onboard at one of the party boats. The ships left the mainland from the gorgeous boulevard of Rovinj and sailed for some hours at the blue Adriatic See while 300 party people danced along the beats of their favorite DJ’s. We jumped onboard at one of the boat parties at Friday afternoon, and it turned out to be the perfect way to start the day. With Subb An and Richie Ahmed behind the turntables, lots of sunshine and temperatures of 25 degrees the day couldn’t start any better.
One of the acts we really looked forward to was Cyril Hahn. This young Swiss producer, who lives and works in Vancouver, Canada, is responsible for some of the biggest remixes of 2013. For example, he turned Destiny’s Childs’ ‘Say My Name’ into a massive dance tune and also totally changed ‘Losing You’ by Solange Knowles (yes, the sister of Beyonce). His performance at Unknown was our first opportunity to watch him as a DJ so after an hour of live craziness by the boys of Django Django we rushed ourselves once again to the Forest Stage. Hahn came up with a groovy mix which the majority of the crowd loved because his sound blended perfectly with the beautiful summer evening. Frankly said, Hahn has to improve his DJ skills. The transition from one track into another wasn’t always as smooth as it could be, but still we had a great time and would love to hear a lot more music from Cyril.
Due to a major motorcycle accident, the Moderat show was canceled and changed into a Modeselektor gig. Too bad, because we were excited to see a new Moderat show since their latest album ‘Moderat II’ was released at the beginning of August. But with or without Apparat, the boys from Germany always deliver. After a slow start, the audience didn’t stop dancing on the heavy beats. It was great to hear some of their new material played at a big festival, but we missed the visual show that really stands out when they play at smaller venues. None the less, if Modeselektor is playing it’s always a good reason to visit their show.
Although Guy and Howard Lawrence have been active in the British dance scene for some time, 2013 can be marked as their breakthrough year. The brothers released their debut album ‘Settle’ at the beginning of the summer, and it became a huge success. It even reached the number 1 position in the UK charts and also got lots of attention in other countries.
The catchy sound of Disclosure seems to be ideal for a summer festival like Unknown, but we’re wondering if the Lawrance brothers could bring the same funky vibe to a live gig. After the first song, we knew more than enough: they absolutely got it. With big tunes like ‘What’s In Your Head’ and ‘F For You’ they turned the field around the main stage into one massive dance floor. Hopefully a lot more of this cheerful sound will hit the market in the upcoming years.
The career of the masked producer/DJ from London got a huge boost since his self-titled debut album hit the charts in 2011. He’s a favorite of the British dance scene with his mix of dance, soul and dubstep productions and had successful collaborations with artist like Sampha, Frank Ocean and Jessie Ware. But SBTRKT is also criticized as a DJ. He often uses the same tracks in his sets and the start of his performance at Unknown was the same as we’ve heard from him before. Most of the people at Unknown didn’t care about this fact at all. The atmosphere was great, and we certainly need to give SBTRKT some credits due to his varied track list. Unlike most DJ’s he’s not afraid to start with an eclectic dance track, followed by a slow R&B song and then change the tempo completely into a big dubstep tune. Although we may like his productions more than his DJ skills, thumbs up for the good vibe.
Croatia is an interesting new festival spot in Europe, that’s for sure. The country has so much to offer, and Unknown showed all the benefits of a late summer festival in this part of Europe. The line-up was fantastic, the festival site was magnificent and most of all the vibe was great. After a rough start with lots of rain on Wednesday the weather was perfect, and the exceptional location showed all of its charm.
We enjoyed so many great DJ sets and live performances, while we didn’t mention big names like Jamie XX, Joy Orbinson, Tiga, Nina Kraviz, Dixon, George Fitzgerald and Richie Hawtin who were also present at this amazing festival! We’re looking forward to next year’s edition!