How Croatia Became the Festival Capital of Europe 

Nick Taylor

How Croatia Became the Festival Capital of Europe 

Looking down the list of upcoming festivals in Croatia this year, it’s clear the plague has not dented the Balkan nation’s enthusiasm for raving. 2022 will see (fingers crossed) the return of HideoutSensesOutlookSonusDimensionsUltra, and SuncéBeat, among others. 

Almost every weekend from June to September, there’s a huge electronic music festival taking place somewhere in Croatia – usually on a sun-drenched beach surrounded by the turquoise blue of the Adriatic Sea. So how did Croatia transform itself from a post-Soviet warzone to the capital of the European festival scene? 

Croatia was part of Yugoslavia for most of the 20th century. For a communist bloc country, it was relatively liberal and by the late ’70s was already known for the bold, experimental electronic words of composers such as Mario Marzidovšek

Denia & Denis - Program tvog kompjutera

During the ’80s, Yugoslavia had a small synth-pop scene with acts such as the excellently named Denis & Denis (check this amazing video) and Max & Intro. When the USSR collapsed, Yugoslavia broke up and plummeted into war. By the time it was over, more than 20,000 Croatians had been killed as the nation finally staggered to its independence. 

In 2004, a UK music promoter called Nick Colgan moved to Croatia with his wife, Charlotte, to open a bar in Zadar, a city on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Tourism was starting to pick up after the war, he later told The Guardian. Business was slow, so they decided to put on a party and fly in some friends. This was the first Garden Festival, held in 2006 for about 300 people in a fishing village called Petrcane. It returned the following year and by 2008 had grown into an event pulling in a few thousand punters and headliners such as Mr. Scruff and Norman Jay

The Garden Festival 2012

Other promoters started to take note, and in 2008, the first Outlook Festival was held. Arranged by the Leeds-based SubDub crew, it highlighted bass music from reggae and roots to dubstep. The following year saw the inaugural Soundwave festival and, in 2010, the first SuncéBeat, with sets by Ron TrentTheo Parrish, and Larry Heard, among other legends. 

Outlook Festival 2016 Highlights

“We fell in love with Croatia when we first saw Petrcane,” says Alex Lowes, one of the founders of SuncéBeat. “It was the most amazing discovery, full of wonder and charm ­– an idyllic hideaway.” 

Like most festival promoters arriving in Croatia, Lowes worked with Nick and Charlotte Colgan to arrange the event. “It was a nascent scene then, with festivals including ours and intimate get-togethers with a mix of UK, European, and Croatian guests … What was happening in Petrcane was a defining moment for the events scene. It could only grow.”

And grow it did. 2012 saw the first Hideout festival, with guests including Chase & Status, Scuba, Richie Hawtin, Seth Troxler, and Jamie Jones. The following year the Sonus festival arrived – five days of house and techno with a lineup including DJ Sneak, Matthias Tanzmann, Ricardo Villalobos, and Seth Troxler. The same year saw the first Ultra festival in Croatia, a more commercial event held in a stadium in Split with Fedde Le Grand, Avicii, Carl Cox, Armin van Buuren, and Hardwell. 

In the following years, more promoters piled in, with Love InternationalDefected, and Movement all joining the party in 2016 to showcase some of the most celebrated DJs in the world, including Sven Väth, Nina Kraviz, Ben Klock, Kenny Dope, Roger Sanchez, and Marcel Dettmann. 

Suncebeat 9 Festival Croatia

Nick Colgan and his crew had by now opened a dedicated festival site, The Garden Resort in Tisno, with outdoor stages, camping facilities, and a club – Barbarellas – in a nearby village to host after-hours parties. The Garden Resort has become the de facto home of festivals in Croatia. It hosts many of this year’s highlights, including Love International, SuncéBeat, Outlook Origins, Defected, Dimensions, and Dekmantel Selectors in Tisno since 2016. 

Spanish party people elrow also joined the fray in 2021, taking over an entire island for a 72-hour festival reserved for just 800 people. No news yet whether that will return this year, but for those after an island vibe, Sonus is held this year on Pag Island, from August 21-25, with a lineup including Dixon, Anfisa Letyago, KiNK, Maceo Plex, and 999999999. Senses is also held on Pag, from July 11-14, with the lineup still to be announced.  

Louie Vega - Live from Defected Croatia 2021

“For us, Croatia is the perfect mix,” says Alex Lowes of SuncéBeat. “It’s a simply beautiful country. The beaches and bays are stunning, with historic cities and beautiful inland areas. The weather is, of course, sublime, so it creates the perfect mix of holiday and festival in one.”

Dates for 2022 Festivals in Croatia

Words by: Nick Taylor