The Garden, Croatia

Love International can be slightly overwhelming. During its most intense moments, the wonderful swathes of colour, character and setting can be difficult to process.

However, the festival’s vivid peaks are what lends the sprawling, week-long event its magic. Certainly, what makes Love International such a rich experience is precisely this all-encompassing nature, paired with a broad and varied programme. From afternoons spent lying on a lilo in Tisno’s wooded outcrops to speedboat trips to remote islands whose idyllic surroundings provide the perfect antidote to the raves. And rest assured, the dance is very, very good, too.

This was the year that Love International branched out. Dub and Balearic-soaked sessions in the woods provided welcome, blissful early-morning vibrations, and the incredible outdoor Barbarella’s club boasted its most varied roster of selectors to date. The festival organisers were rewarded two-fold for their new, updated vision: the event completely sold out and the age range of the crowd was visibly broad. Having taken on the mantle from Garden Festival three years ago, 2018 represented a complete transition for Love International, which now stands as its own, separate entity – stronger than ever with a wider audience.

On the macro act level, one of the festival’s highlights was Joy Orbison pulsing out a set of inspired cross-genre madness that included wine-inducing dancehall, ragga and rag-out 140 BPM techno. Four Tet played the first grime track I’ve ever heard in Tisno, while Avalon Emerson and Call Super re-affirmed why they’re two of the most exciting DJs on the planet right now, providing mesmerising sets between tough-edged house and techno. Emerson was on particularly playful form later in the week, cranking up the levels of fun to the absolute maximum with Roi Perez aboard the annual Crack Magazine boat party. 

Although it’s the subtle changes to the programming that proved the most rewarding, the decision to move the DJ booth to face the hammocks and the rocky outcrop beyond the Beach Stage enhanced the sunrise sessions to great effect. Similarly, the decision to extend the opening hours of the Olive Grove on Sunday morning proved a smart move. Following on from the superb Idjut Boys and Octo Octa’s much lauded and energetic live set, Bristol promoter Dirtytalk’s takeover with rave stalwart Andy Blake and the brilliant Tom of England provided a unique moment to remember: when the weather set in at around 6am, those still standing removed the parasols from the beach to create a dance shelter that felt reminiscent of a free party, with the sounds continuing on deep into the morning.

Over at Barbarella’s – which can arguably be counted as one of the best outdoor clubs in the world – Roman Flügel’s Technicolor sound lit up the space. His drop of Smith N Hack’s remix of Easy Lee caused particular mayhem, but it was the six-hour back-to-back session between Ben UFO and Craig Richards that was surely, musically, one of the highlights of the week. With UFO ditching the UK-influenced sounds he’s more associated with, the in-demand selector opted for more minimal explorations akin to Richards’ staple sound. The set was polarising for some, with an emphasis on groove and carefully deployed heaters rather than bangers, but for others this approach was mesmerising, with tracks that wandered into stranger, undefinable territory, such as Richards’ own Sleeping Rough.

Any review at Love International should come with caveat. While I was recovering others were having a completely different and unique experience and it’s this wealth of both quality music and programming that makes this event so lauded. Each year the story is slightly different, but Love International has crafted the perfect formula of richness and intensity that makes it a glowing highlight on the calendar year-on-year.