Zrće Beach, Croatia

With a site decorated by outdoor gyms and Boohoo-sponsored ad banners, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve stepped inside the Love Island villa at Hideout Festival; its location illuminated just as much by the radiant sun as the sea of fluorescent bikinis. Everyone here is dressed to the nines, and their appetite for dance music resolute – even in the heat of a Croatian July.

Against an Adriatic backdrop of sea and mountains in a small town called Novalija lies Zrće Beach. With a linear arrangement of permanent infrastructures, it’s more accurately likened to an Ibizan strip – a comparison that also resonates in the segregation of VIP areas and the premium food and drink prices. Zrće Beach has been the home of Hideout since the festival’s inception in 2011 when it was one of the first to migrate to Croatian soil, but this year’s edition was remarkable for many reasons. Following two consecutive years of forced cancellation, the festival could finally indulge in its ten-year anniversary celebrations, and on hand to help were some of dance music’s most reliable names.

Whilst acts such as Paul Woolford, Mall Grab and Cinthie could finally fulfil bookings made back in 2020, more recently emerged artists – like Sherelle, I. Jordan, Ewan McVicar and ABSOLUTE. – were invited to join them, diversifying a programme previously dominated by tech house and bassline. As well as the festival’s commitment to spotlighting emerging talent, its community-centred ethos lived on through the programming of returning artists Alan Fitzpatrick, My Nu Leng and Skream. In turn they each took to one of the five stages, which were magnificently dressed with built-in hot tubs, giant inflatables, confetti cannons and top-notch light displays – all designed to put the festival’s impressive sound systems to the test.

Perhaps a familiar experience for regular attendees of Croatian festivals is the uncanniness of inhabiting a remote, barely-populated town which, for the festival’s duration, was occupied almost entirely by attendees who stayed in neighbouring apartment complexes. A ten-minute shuttle bus ride was all it took to arrive at the festival which, together with the site’s easily navigable structure and abundance of permanent-fixture toilet facilities, ensured both the safety and enjoyment of attendees. Whilst almost every act pulled immense numbers, the considered architecture made for effective crowd control, meaning we could focus our attention on Monday’s stacked line-up which consisted of names like Mixtress, Kettama, Mall Grab and Flava D.

After playing her third and final set of the festival – an energetic amalgam of deftly-woven garage edits, Hackney Parrot reworks and Jersey Club tracks – Rinse resident Mixtress reflected on her Hideout experience thus far. Along with Malissa, Sauceress and Liv G, she represented Sisu at the event: a women and non-binary DJ collective which had been drafted in for residential duties. “Playing here is really quite liberating for me as it’s a different crowd to what I’m used to,” she said. “Last night, I found myself playing things like liquid d’n’b which I love, but never really fits the vibe of my London shows.” She went on to emphasise the line-up’s impressive gender divide which has progressed considerably since previous years. “It’s great to see the bigger, more commercial festivals flying the flag for gender inclusivity. That’s where the real work has to be done.”

Later that night, Flava D took to peninsular stage NOA – perhaps the most impressive of them all given its extension into the sea via jetty – to give crowds an education in bassline and speed garage’s antecedents via tunes like Ripgroove, which were masterfully blended into classic Dutch hardstyle, and sneak previews of her forthcoming Sammy Virji collaboration. Elsewhere, an impromptu back-to-back took place at Aquarius. Mall Grab and Kettama played with an unmistakable synergy as they fed off each other’s energy as much as the spirit of an elated crowd. The audience remained captivated right until the early hours of the morning with blends from LSDXOXO into Floating Points.

After a night of relentlessly high energy, Portuguese NTS resident Mafalda soothed our hangovers. Discussing her set at the Euphoria stage, she reflected on the site’s ideal settings. “I play sunshine music so I’m very happy here!” she grinned. “When I play in London it’s often to a backdrop of clouds. Here I could play my favourite songs like Jack Ashford’s Get Right on Top. My friends make fun of me, saying I just go without a plan and feel the vibe, but it’s actually true! That’s what is great about festivals, even I am surprised by my own selection sometimes.”

That night, Dance System’s set at NOA marked a festival highlight. His selections of DJ Deeon, Junior Jack and Dave ‘Rockin’ Duke breathed old school, as well as underground influences, into a raucous house set. It felt accessible to the crowd, but stylistically apart from what we’d heard so far. New York ballroom, 90s Chicago hardhouse, Dutch proto-donk and classic juke formed a melting pot of global club flavours, each genre recontextualised in a standout set. “I love getting different kinds of crowds excited by different sounds,” he said afterwards. “I’m very conscious that people may not be familiar with house music’s antecedents so by playing a mixture of the old and the new, it’s a kind of education for my audiences.”

He’d echoed sentiments made by Mixtress who, earlier in the week had spoken to a festival-goer at Prospa’s set to see what she made of it. “They were playing a really crazy 160 [BPM] footwork set which is why I was interested to ask. She told me her understanding of the music here was next to nothing but that she enjoyed it purely for its energy. I think it’s a really special thing to play to a crowd who are hearing some genres for the first time, dipping their toes into the underground.”

As a theme, this ran recurrent throughout the course of the week, manifesting itself most prominently in a set from the ever-reliable Sherelle who followed Mike Skinner on Wednesday’s Kalypso programme. It wasn’t the first time she’d played after Skinner, and she explained the influence that his interactions with the crowd had on her own DJ sets. Seconds later, as if right on cue, Skinner launched himself into the crowd, performing Take Me as I Am, invisible amongst a sea of pounding fists. With the crowd suitably primed, Sherelle then took to the decks and commanded the energy with hi-octane blends of hardcore and jungle.

The combination of Hideout’s considered programming and the open minds of the festival’s attendees made for a truly joyful weekend of sonic discovery. This year’s edition, in particular, represented a juncture between the underground and more commercial facets of dance music. It’s evident that Hideout Festival is heading in an exciting direction.