Review: Echo Festival 2013, Croatia

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Photo credits: Here & Now

After the success of their inaugural event last year, a festival purportedly built off the back of the organisers’ student loans in their final year at university, Echo Festival returned last weekend (7th – 10th June) for its second instalment with a much grander plan of action: brand new location, larger capacity, and a hugely more sophisticated approach to programming.

After outlining their ambitious plans for the second event, Echo Festival 2013 quickly became one of the most exciting looking purveyors of underground electronic music on the Adriatic coast, with exciting artists such as Magda, John Roberts, Kassem Mosse, Audio Werner, Nick Hoppner and Andres gracing the roster. Though small and not as established as many of the other festivals lining the Croatian coastline (Soundwave, Hideout, Garden Party, Outlook/Dimensions etc etc.), Echo boasted a musical programme that was diverse, forward-thinking and didn’t pander to big-name headliners or mainstream attractions. Within a limited scope of electronic genres, the lineup still reached out to underground music lovers with a taste for the deeper side of life, whether it be coloured by techno, drum n bass, UK house, or more experimental beats.

echo beach

Photo credits: Here & Now

Although boasting over 64 artists performing over four days, Echo Festival still remained a toddler of a festival, with around only 600 weekend revellers in attendance alongside some several hundred Croatians and other locals buying day-tickets. This is anything but a fundamental negative; the intimacy was obviously a huge bonus for people averse to 45-minute treks across festival terrain, long queues for stages, or constant battles for dancing space/a view of the artist. In essence, the fact that Echo is small and new was both a virtue to be celebrated as well as an factor behind some of its weaknesses. This little paradigm makes an objective analysis very difficult: yes, there were flaws and definite room for improvement...but it was still one of the best four days of my life, and perhaps the most perfect way imaginable to begin summer 2013!

Travel

Much to my surprise, getting transport from the airport (Venice Treviso) to site in Kanegra, in the North Eastern part of Croatia, was largely a hassle-free affair: the Echo transfer coach arrived quickly after our flight landed and I was able to buy one of the spare seats available on it. Even if I hadn’t, getting to the site via public transport would have been simple enough, perhaps even slightly cheaper than using the festival’s organised transfers (approx £50 for a return ticket).


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Photo credits: Here & Now

Location

The calling-card for all Croatian festivals is the beautiful landscape, clear blue seas and hot climate. On this point, Echo definitely fulfilled all expectations! Set in a kind of holiday resort, ‘Kanegra Apartments’, there was no camping on site but rather a selection of basic but comfortable chalets, which formed a large sprawling village amongst forest-y areas just back from the beach. This format worked amazingly for me: with every chalet having to stay a minimum of five days, a community atmosphere developed on site within a day or two after everyone made friends with neighbouring apartments and had the comfort and space to invite people round for drinks, dinner or whatever floated their boat. Unlike a lot of other Croatian festivals where the majority of people camp, and some choose to stay far off site in private apartments, at Echo EVERYONE (including festival staff) was together in equal comfort and luxury. Plus, who doesn’t love a good afterparty in the comfort of four walls! Proper family vibes.

 

Music

With only three stages in total, and only two of them operating at any one time, there wasn’t a huge amount of choice artist-wise – especially in the day, with the smallest stage ‘Coco Bar’ having no one substantial booked to play. Nevertheless, the music that was on offer was almost always of high quality, and it was genuinely freeing not to worry that I was always missing something on another stage and to wander off on my own adventures and still be able to find people.

 

Thursday

When the beats finally did come-a-pounding on Thursday afternoon, Echo’s friendly resident DJs opened up the festivities with the bass-driven house so widely loved in the UK at the moment, with some disco-infused funk, and a sprinkling of grime and carnival bashment. The London/Brighton/Bristol heads were clearly out in force and everyone was loving it! But it was later on in the evening, when the Field Stage opened at 7pm, that the party really started and on Thursday it was unquestionably dominated by Well Rounded Record’s invasion of the ‘Field Stage’. With energies still soaring from first-day excitement, the area quickly packed out with xxxy jumping on stage for an impromptu b2b set with James Fox, before the rest of Donga’s Well Rounded crew (Lakosa and xxxy standing out as definite highlights) carried the vibe along. The whole lineup was a seriously impressive showcase of the kind of alternative 4/4 sounds that Well Rounded is increasingly known for: textured house and driving techno mutations all amassed together to produce unadulterated party music. 

echo well stage

Photo credits: Here & Now

 

Leaving the main stage in order to catch Christopher Rau, I stumbled through the blackness towards the beach just as the man himself stepped up to the platter and proceeded to spend the next hour or so mesmerised by his signature blend of sophisticated house and techno. He was clearly having fun, toying with the crowd: a wry smile escaped him as he dropped Hrdvision’s cracked out rethink of Call Me Maybe, and I looked around the beach, revelling in that magical feeling of unity when the crowd and DJ really are feeding off each other. Shortly after leaving, rumours went around that the stage had shut, cutting his set short for reasons unknown at the time…a real shame as he was without a doubt a highlight.


Friday

From a subjective point of view, Echo Festival was in many ways a perfect balance between a holiday and a festival...you never felt pushed to search endlessly for the next vibe, the next upper, the next hectic body torment. This meant that on the afternoon of the second day, we had plenty of hours to soak up the sun and recover from the energy and hype of the previous evening – soundtracked to the tech stylings of Rejam, Onirik and Pablo Tarno (listen to a live recording of the last hour of their 3hr b2b set below!), to the likes of Brighton’s own Lorca on the Beach Stage, from where you could see the coast of Slovenia in the distance. 

Listen to the last hour of Onirik b2b Pablo Tarno @ Echo Festival exclusively on MEOKO

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The main highlights, however, came from the early morning sets from Davide Squillace on the main stage, and then South London Ordnance down on the beach. Both artists, in their own separate ways, threw themselves into energetic and exciting sets, garnering a response from the Echo crowd that was equally spirited even if numbers were low, such as on the beach stage during SLO. That was the beautiful thing about being at Echo: unlike at so many other festivals where the DJ booth seems so far away, the artist was right there in front of you and the relationship they had with the crowd was clear for all to see. 

echo david

Photo credits: Here & Now

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Saturday

One of the most excitingly programmed days, the Saturday took a surprisingly long time to rev up; one of the consequences of such a small festival is that when everyone is exhausted after two days of partying, it becomes apparent to the whole collective. However, we were also blessed on the third evening by a strong presence of local Croatians and Slovenians, attracted by the prominent house and techno lineup on offer and the site became evidently busier and bustlier then ever before. Any lagging spirits were soon banished from the site, with the closing sets on the Field stage from none other than Magda and Nick Hoppner, both of them solidly living up to their reputations with two of the most inspiring techno sets I've ever seen. Magda's driving techno and tribal mutations injected an unmatchable energy into the crowd, almost as if she was personally feeding each and every one of us with her own homemade beat-soup to bring us back to life. After rejuvenating our souls, she passed on the baton to Nick Hoppner who only took us higher, blowing our minds with THE most perfect sunrise set of house, disco, funk, and so much more. The atmosphere was summed up when some of the festival congregated back in one of the apartments for a surprise afterparty hosted by Toi.Toi, with Nick Hoppner sitting on his 'throne' outside in the sun with people swaming round him, still buzzing from his performance only an hour before. 

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Sunday

Unfortunately, the Sunday evening was dampened by the torrential rain that began to pour down as the evening properly got started. As a result the Toi.Toi.Musik takeover on the Beach Stage was closed early due to heavy rain and wind posing a danger to the equipment and the crowd, and both Anthea and John Roberts were unable to perform their sets. The strict alcohol regulations that were in place on the site, and the news that a lot of people had been carted off by police over the weekend due to posession of substances (they were allowed to return with their passports once paying a fine of up to 200 euros), also proved to be a bit of a downer. Amalgamated together, these elements seemed to encourage a lot of the festival to choose their dry apartments over the soggy outside and the site was noticeably quiet, although the drum n bass heads were characteristically determined and kept the vibe going strong on the main stage. 

After the rain finally desisted, we headed down to see Synkro for the closing set of the whole festival. At first, the harder, dubstep character of his set was a massive disappointment, as I definitely would have preferred the euphoric disco that had closed the main stage the evening before. But, Synkro is reknowned for diversity and he soon delivered on that front, coming correct with energetic 4/4 hybrid sounds from the 'UK bass' scene and finishing with this atmospheric song from Boards of Canada, that brought together the whole crowd beautifully!

 

Conclusion

With such a beautiful location and one of the friendliest crowds I've ever come across, Echo was an experience like no other. Small enough to feel like one big family, but still big enough to meet new people every day, it offers the perfect antidote to the usual British festival format and this was hugely refreshing. Arguably, it was just music and beach and therefore there was little in the way of daytime activities, but most of my group were in agreement that this kind of relaxed atmosphere was exactly what the doctor ordered. This and the countless musical highlights outweighed some of Echo's operational shortcomings, such as the sometimes-dodgy soundsystem on the Beach Stage, the fact they hadn't sufficiently prepared for rain, and the lack of site decor and production. The prominent security presence was definitely an unfortunate situation, but one that seems to be common amongst Croatian festivals and probably a difficult one to prevent in the future. Due to the festival's intimacy, these small problems were probably more obvious even to the less discerning eye, but ultimately they were never important enough to ruin the overwhelming atmosphere and the weekend in general. 

From a punter's perspective, Echo was a resounding success and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a festival for its community spirit over its busy schedule, who thrives off interesting musical showcases rather than headlining artists, and who wants to leave remembering the people, the scenery, and the atmosphere rather than how wasted they were...or not remembering at all.