UK grime, hip-hop and RnB have overnight appeared in Croatia’s Novalja. Cue Mad Max-style scenes as hundreds of mopeds carrying amped Brits tear across “East Europe’s Ibiza”. It’s over 40 degrees. Visibility past a hundred or so feet is hindered by heat vapour rising off of melting tarmac. As the rest of the Western world goes collectively nuts searching for repurposed 90s Pokémon characters, here a crowd 5,000 strong are tearing from boat, to beach, to pool party looking for repurposed samples.
Now in its fifth year, Fresh Island Festival is one of the most innovative festivals in Croatia. Festivals on the Adriatic typically follow a format with a heavy leaning toward electronic music. Fresh Island, though, commits to the hip-hop side of the business. This year was the slickest yet.
Crack’s festival kicked off midday on the 12th with the Faded boat party featuring Shorty Bless, Masterstepz and a whole lot of rum. A short stagger up to main venue Zrce beach 3 hours later – where superclubs Kalypso, Papaya and Aquarius hosted the festival’s stages – saw us in the production area of Papaya watching Shorebitch go in on spinbacks, Tazer Black go in on Snapchat and Slovenian heavyweight DJ Dey on MC duty. Later on, it got dark but it stayed hot. Then we got Westwood and he stayed on point, playing a series of upfront and reworked classics. Come 2am and Wiz Khalifa takes the stage in a sea of roars and weed balloons. We’d had 4 jugs of Long Island. It got hazy after that. Snapchat says we left around 4am.
Day two for Crack was all about daytime Papaya. Masterstepz overwhelmed with cuts, quick switches and a memorable drop of the remix of Solo 45’s remix of Feed Em To The Lions.
Kehlani’s slowed-up RnB output is of course sensational its own right but ill-fitting with a day-drinking, amped Fresh Island crowd. Later, we drifted down to the beach and awaited Chris Brown. The dedicated stage on Zrce beach – allegedly the first of its kind since a Carl Cox event years before – was set. An hour and a half before the slot was due to start and the queue was halfway back to the bus station. 30 minutes after the slot was due to start and the VIP was at breaking point. Then, lights up, a roar from the crowd and a voice from the stage:
“We regret to announce, due to high wind, Chris Brown is cancelled.”
There’s no response for around eight minutes – just solid denial. Slowly, individual lines of people become floods of bodies as the wind grew and the rush to leave the stage intensified. The Fresh Island Snapchat later announced Chris Brown’s move to Aquarius. For those that stuck around however, the Menendez Brothers exploration into 90s hip hop and funk made for a laid back final lap of Fresh Island 2016.
Croatian festivals are at risk of being formulaic, but Fresh Island festival is ambitious, bringing a new sound, a new crowd and a new dynamic to a saturated but narrow festival market. That’s the energy Croatia needs to stay like so much of the music at this festival: on point, current and fun.