Soundwave Festival, Zadar, Croatia

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The Independent Culture

‘I know way too many people here right now / that I didn’t know last year / who the fuck are y’all?’: the music swept across a concrete deck on the Adriatic as I looked behind me to see a guy [who I didn’t know last year] wearing an uninflated lilo and an dazed grin. It was the stuff of which holidays used to be made – you come away with a thereon-questionable ‘holiday song’ [here Drake’s ‘Over’], a heat-exacerbated hangover and a group of new friends, some that’ll remain forever framed in that cavernous, green arena by the sea.

Petrcane, near Zadar in northern Croatia, used to be an asylum for Croats fleeing the Serb-occupied quarters of Zadar, where during the war inhabitants would subsist for three months without running water and electricity. Today the small seaside town is better-known for the rolling festivals it has almost every weekend of the summer. This however was news to me while I was enjoying the show, which apart from the surreal and uncommemorated passing of Amy Whinehouse passed very happily indeed.

The crowd was made up of students from red-brick universities on their summer holidays as well as some InterRailers, almost all British with a smattering of New Era-flat-brim caps stubbornly refusing to admit that they were on a summer holiday and not in a dank dubstep basement. One promoters’ dream of an urban Cigarette Boat cruise around the dentelated crop of the Dalmatian coast was brought to an end by said basement-dwellers performing manic gun firing gestures whenever the bass dropped. Boat cruises were a big feature of the events, while on dry land Bristol graffiti legend and Goldie’s hero Inkie painted pieces around the festival.

The defining set of the festival was definitely Illum Shere’s, a Manchester producer and collaborator of techno legend Martyn’s, played at night; white-pricked sky, a thick saline scent from the water and a dose of midsummer Med madness. From Dawn Penn’s ‘You Don’t Love Me [No, No , No]’ remix with Ghostface Killah rapping over the top, to Wu-Tang Clan, and finishing with Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Illum smacked it with precision.

Roots Manuva, headlining on Sunday night, was dressed in seaside-comic-strip checked red bermudas and a white singlet vest, and played a powerful set, amping up the bass for ‘Witness [One Hope]’ and a smoothed-out Brand New Second Hand-album track. He also rapped quick-time for his new single, ‘Watch Me Dance’, which is a collaboration with reggae-sampling UK bass producer Toddla T. Ricky Ranking, his reggae toaster-singer on the Banana Klan sound system that Roots heads up, was also in attendance for a reggae flavour. Ranking told me over breakfast that he is working on a book based on his memories of the London reggae sound system scene in the 80s, which he was a large part of – the feuds sounded tasty so watch out for this.

Another great performance was from Yungun, one of the UK’s most intelligent rappers, whose thought-out take has featured Mozart and poly-lingual flows varying from French to Spanish. His ‘What Eye See’ track was and still is a fitting and savage indictment on inner-city decay. Look out for an interview with him and Roots Manuva going live here soon.

The most pleasurable daytime skanking was to be had from the Channel One posse, the veteran school of reggae DJs and toasters who famously came up trumps in the Red Bull Music Academy sound clash over Metalheadz and Skream and Benga’s dubstep system. Some political point scoring [something about the ‘Liberal Democraaats’] came over the reggae.

From the soldiers on leave [two members of the British Navy who had been stationed outside Misrata a couple of weeks previously] to the Oxbridge girls just finishing holiday posts at The Economist, there was good mix at the festival - if all much younger than those at the average UK event. And from there – Dalmatia is your oyster, from the Byzantine domes of Dubrovnik to the unspoilt sea town of Kotor in Montenegro. Go next year, and pack for week or two..