If you’re used to spending post-club hours in sweaty flats, a sunrise session at Love International is a ridiculous way to sit out an all-nighter.
The festival site is nestled into a stretch of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline, and these very early morning DJ sets take place on the water’s edge. In a tight nook on the beachfront, bleary eyed revellers fresh from offsite club Barbarella’s sprawl out amongst the stone and trees. Somehow, the setting is intensely serene. While squinting into the sea’s gleaming, hi-def splendour, you view the festival in a new light. The previous evening, the adjoining beach stage was heaving. In a few hours the daytime crowd will fill out the beach, baking off their hangovers on inflatables to a gentler soundtrack of breezy house and soul. In the intense glow of sunrise, things are even more strung out: woozy Balearic, ambient and dub.
This laid-back, seamless cohesion is what Love International is all about. The festival is mostly hassle free and simple, offering a smooth transition between various luxurious atmospheres across its week-long stretch. The site’s three stages are intimate: the main stage, the olive grove, and a beach stage on a platform teetering on the sea. Daily boat parties board at the beach, and you can hop from here to the open air club Barbarella’s on a speedboat taxi – if you’re feeling fancy. Love International is built on the legacy of the pioneering Croatian festival Garden, springing up in its place in 2016 after the event’s tenth and final year. For many of its tight-knit crowd, as well as a chance to catch up with old friends, Love International is a holiday alongside a festival. The sleepy setting of Tisno is gorgeous, a rolling stretch of hills and coastline dotted with seafront restaurants.
The line-up is spread out generously across the week so you can choose your moments to get stuck in. We arrive on Thursday to catch New York legend Tony Humphries dishing out blissful, vocal-led house on the main stage. On Friday, festival favourites Khruangbin perform their drifting, slow-motion funk under a small pavilion on the beach, drawing a loyal crowd. Boat parties traditionally create the most raucous, compact fun and on the Crack Magazine boat party that follows, Honey Soundsystem’s Jackie House and Jason Kendig serve us slamming acid alongside obscure and cult synth wave, whipping up an intense atmosphere amongst the strong winds at sea.
Late night venue Barbarella’s is a short taxi ride from the site. Its intimate, open air charm can make you feel like you’re partying in some long-gone era. At the beloved club this year, the Resident Advisor event was the most buzzed about. Saoirse sets the tone excellently with tracks like Francois K’s Hypnodelic, before The Black Madonna’s uplifting house and disco cuts. The real stars of the night are Beautiful Swimmers, who have the crowd heaving until kick out with sweat-soaked classic house and myriad euphoric rarities. Much to the delight of the glitter-soaked dancers, one half of the duo, Maxmillion Dunbar, exudes passion, letting the music flow through him wildly while egging the crowd on from behind the decks.
Considering the love for them on the dancefloor that night, you’d hope that Beautiful Swimmers have confirmed their spot for next year’s event – Love International’s line-up is full of DJs who take pride in returning year-on-year. One of these hotly anticipated repeat performances was a back-to-back from Craig Richards and Ben UFO at Barberella’s, said to be a festival highlight last year. Call Super warms up with time stretching ambient, before Ben UFO jumps in to play warming soul cuts. Ben offers the crowd some oddball bangers like Objekt’s Theme From Q, but for the most part him and Richards find their groove at a satisfying sweet spot somewhere in the middle of their respective styles, and it sounds like nothing I’ve heard from them independently before. Afterwards, we hustle a taxi back to the site (the post-Barbarella’s fallout seemed to be the only logistical failure, with uncertainty about coach pick-ups creating a chaotic swarm for taxis at daybreak), where Craig Richards and Gideön play rare reggae and dub at the sunrise session.
The site’s beach stage is like Barbarella’s little sister, and it’s here that many of the onsite parties hit their climax. On Saturday morning the stage reaches peak energy during Palms Trax’s glorious set of vibrant Italo alongside cult anthems like Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence and Space’s Magic Fly. As we get our bearings on the beach the next day, Jazzanova keep the daytime crowd happy with anthems from Chaka Chan, Prince and Womack & Womack (as well as a cringe-inducing remix of This Charming Man).
Another highlight at the stage is Honey Dijon. After tearing ourselves away from Optimo at the Olive Grove – who provide a welcome jolt of diversity with classic grime instrumental Functions On The Low alongside Sean Paul – Dijon ventures into tougher sounds layered with soaring diva-led vocals. At this point I spot Michael, the festival’s unofficial mascot, a radiant dancer who embodies its fun-loving, free-spirited nature. A rave lifer strapped into lycra, he can be found thrusting his rainbow flag into the air and generally spreading gleeful abandon wherever he pops up. Seeing Michael can confirm you picked the right spot, but he’s just about to leave this one. A group of dancers are on a wooden jetty, separated from the stage by a small stretch of sea. They twirl and leap across the platform, illuminating themselves with their phone lights between throwing it down. Michael sets his sights on them, clambering through the water to drive their makeshift dancefloor further into a frenzy, slipping freely, joyfully, from one party to the next.