small is beautiful!

If 2007 is the year of the boutique festival then Croatia’s Garden has definitely come up smelling of roses. Sowing the seeds last year with only around 400 attendees, word of mouth and some astute marketing has seen this grown to a perfectly formed 1000 or so.

Set in the pine-clad grounds of Zadar’s Hotel Pinija and surrounded on three sides by the sun-kissed, warm waters of the Adriatic; with its own stage, beach bar, boat parties and retro-themed nightclub, the Garden was like a tiny corner of Glastonbury that had been hosed down, gently towelled off, and given first choice of the sun loungers by the sea.
In the middle of one of the worst British summers on record it made a real change to go to a festival where the only wet weather gear needed was a swimsuit and a beach towel. But without wanting to sound like a travel brochure waxing lyrical about azure seas and sensational sunsets, a little bit about the music.

The emphasis was on house and disco, but with a funked-up, eclectic aesthetic the Garden guys gave us a festival that followed Rainer Truby’s Root Down party rules; “if it’s good, it’s good, it just has to have soul”. A mixture of DJs and live acts, lasting from lunchtime through to breakfast, the music always seemed to match the mood of the moment.
From laid-back beats in the early afternoon, through some live Tru-Thoughts style nu-jazz, on to Ibiza-like beach bar sunset moments, to the headliners and club nights beyond, there may have only been a handful of options, but it never felt like there wasn’t something to do or hear.

Headliners included Friday’s fantastic ‘Crazy P’ whose fusion of house, disco, jazz and incendiary live presence whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Inspiring envy and adoration in equal measure, singer Danielle Moore worked the stage like a woman possessed. Saturday saw a storming set from Gilles Peterson faves ‘Soil and Pimp Sessions’, followed by ‘No Fakin’ DJs’ dropping mashed-up dancefloor bombs aplenty featuring anything from Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ to RATM’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’. And Mr Scruff’s special blend of trouser jazz was the perfect warm-up for Sunday’s climactic club night.

Looking like a refugee from the ‘2001? film set Barbarella’s nightclub hosted representatives from a stellar cast of clubs; including the aforementioned Mr Truby and the Compost Records crew, Faith, Electric Chair and some of the best cult nights from around the country, always giving the teeming dancefloor what it wanted. Though this was less a festival about big names, and all about the music.
And then there were the boat parties. Uber-cool booze cruises, where the Djs played in an even more intimate setting. rocking the boat in more ways than one. A personal favourite was the Sunday sundowner from Bristol’s very own ‘Pirates of the Avon’ the Futureboogie/Seen boys – covering soul, jazz, deep house and broken beats with the odd surprise slipped in, they even managed to make Jamiroquai sound good!

As important as the music were the people. The Garden ethos cultivated a great crowd, who were always up-for-it, but really laid-back and oh-so-friendly. Being a bit slack, your intrepid Clash reporter had left it a bit late to book any accommodation, so there was no room at the inn, hotel, or any of the numerous apartment blocks in town. But on the say so of a top guy I had met only the night before I was offered a place to sleep, a smoke and some cava within minutes of arrival – cheers Aimee! Ultimately though, it was the size, or rather the lack of it, that really made this festival (although the sun, sea, music and cheap booze obviously helped!) such a success.
It was easy to meet people, and almost impossible to lose them, there were no crowds to push through and absolutely no hassle. Even the queue at the bar never got that big!

There must be a massive temptation to for the organizers to make this garden grow, but if it gets a lot bigger it’s in danger of losing the things that make it special. As I keep telling anyone who’ll listen, ’small is beautiful’!

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