2013 is the year that I turned 25 and I can honestly say that the two most important things I’ve learnt in my quarter century on earth are: 1) the big shop is a breeze when you scan everything as loose onions and 2) if you’re too old for a young person’s railcard, you’re too old to waste hundreds of pounds on a weekend spent chugging Tesco value cider and dancing around in some godforsaken British field 20 miles from the nearest non-portable toilet.
With that in mind I packed my bags and headed for Croatia to spend the last days of summer at the country’s newest festival, Unknown. Run by the people behind Field Day and the Warehouse Project, Unknown had a line up that promised a weird amalgamation of festival circuit heavy-hitters and Ibiza underground heroes. The organiser billed the festival as a “step into the Unknown” and I was there with a camera and suitcase full of duty free to take the first step with them.
Day 1: Pool parties, hedgehogs and hammocks
On arrival, the first thing that struck me was that I’d never seen a festival site as beautiful as Unknown. Every tree was painted or wrapped in stripy woollen jumpers and there were hammocks, tree houses and shisha shacks everywhere. The first stage I found was the pool stage, which was playing laid-back disco by day and skull-fucking techno by night. The stage looked out over two sky blue swimming pools, which in turn faced an idyllic pebble beach. You know in Entourage, when they show up to a party and the camera pans around, across the pool to the ocean – yeah, it was exactly like that.
After some warm-up beers by the pool I made my way through fairy-lit trees (past actual, real-life hedgehogs) to the forest stage where Oneman and Jackmaster were kicking off the festival trend of DJs buddying up and playing super extended sets for no other reason than “why not?”
The first night of any festival is traditionally the time to hit the booze hardest, and Unknown was no exception; its cashless bar system actually created a new level of recklessness. On arrival, you bought a sort of inebriation oyster card, which you would tap at the bar to pay for your drinks. This made the queues lightning fast, but also had the unwelcome side effect of fooling you into feeling like you were spending no money at all – when in reality, like me, you were actually spending ALL YOUR MONEY.
Day 2: Hell is a boat in the Adriatic
Day two began with the NMBRS’ Tweakaholic boat party. This was one of the events I was looking forward to the most. Drinking rum and coke while dancing to Whitney Houston on a boat in the Adriatic seemed like literally the best possible way to start day two of any festival, ever. Unfortunately I was too stoked about my first ever boat party to notice those pretty imposing looking clouds headed right for us.
15 minutes into our cruise and it seemed like God had had enough of my bullshit and sent one of the worst storms Croatia has seen in years to kill my good vibe and leave me paranoid of drowning at sea FOR LIFE. By this point most people had retreated inside but I, being a stubborn fucker, stuck it out for the entirety of Toto’s "Africa". Although I had to run for cover when "Purple Rain" dropped – there are only so many ironic rain songs you can handle while fearing for your life on a boat in a thunderstorm.
Inside, I found the ever-reassuring sight of the ship’s Captain chain smoking and nervously scanning the support beams that were keeping the roof (and presumably the boat) from caving in.
Back on land I was told the weather had been so bad that the other boat parties were forced to turn back once the rain started but that ours, for shits 'n gigs, had decided to just stick it out. Having spent the last three hours fearing for my life on a leaking party boat, I decided it was time to give my inebriation-oyster-card a thrashing and drink to forget.
I am reliably informed that Kerri Chandler’s jazz-infused house absolutely killed it on the pool stage and that I lost my shit when George Fitzgerald and Scuba went b2b for an almost entirely garage set at the forest stage. Unfortunately the only memories I have involve meeting the guys in the photo below and thinking that Mr. Oizo – Flat Beat was playing on repeat, in my brain.
Day 3: Heaven is a boat in the Adriatic
The following day we had our first look at the devastation wrought by Wednesday’s storm. Ours was one of the only tents around that was still standing – the rain had been so heavy it actually shattered the poles of our neighbour’s tents. A walk through the stages revealed that the Moroccan Media had all but washed away and that Mad Ferret’s Mirror World had morphed into Mad Erret’s downer-bog.
Surveying all the damage was doing nothing for my anxiety about getting on another boat for our second boat party. Luckily, this time it was plain sailing (sorry not sorry) the weather was amazing, the playlist featured no ironic songs about rain and my faith in the Croatian boat party scene was restored. Optimo and Tim Sweeney played a beautiful mix of forward-thinking house and party classics, including an obvious – but still totally amazing – drop of Rock the Boat.
Boat party photo montage
Back on land, I was just in time to see SBTRKT treat the main stage to a DJ set comprising his signature atmospheric bass coupled with more chart-hit orientated selections. This was the first time I’d ever seen the tribal-masked producer play a DJ set and although he dropped the big hits - "Wildfire" and "Hold On" - there were moments when I couldn’t help but think; “yeah this is a good A$AP song but what I really want right now is to be screaming the lyrics of "Livin' Like I Do" right at Sampha’s face.”
After that I spent most of the night ping ponging between Henrick Swartz and Âme on the forest stage and Tiga and Maceo Plex at the pool - the latter of which closed out my night with an unnervingly appropriate sing-a-long of "Born Slippy".
Day 4: Jon Hopkins is so good I didn’t think for an hour
My final day began with a huge Northerners v Southerners colour-dust fight at the main stage. It was kind of like Game of Thrones, if the Lannisters were coked up Clapham estate agents and the Stark’s were burnt-out Doncaster rave-creatures.
I should mention that Day 4 was when I was meant to be attending the first ever Boiler Room island party. Unfortunately I went to bed two hours before the boat to BR island left the festival site and therefore I literally and figuratively missed the boat on that one. I heard it was amazing though and you can probably find a video of it online or something.
After the battle for the main stage, it was time for Mercury nominated blip-scientist Jon Hopkins to take to the stage with his much blogged about audio-visual show. He began just before sunset, starting light on both visuals and bass, but as darkness fell and the vibe grew exponentially more foreboding, the visuals became a totally different animal. I stood hypnotised, my mind completely blank, for the entire duration of his set. I can’t remember the last time I was so completely captivated by a show and along with being a personal highlight of the festival, he just about restored my faith in electronic music in a post EDM world.
After Jon, it was time to get back to reality by drinking heavily and singing along with DJANGO, DJANGO – the only live band I managed to catch who played a surprisingly appropriate and lively set. After that Cyril Hahn made every single girl at the forest stage fall in love with him by dropping a triple-threat of his Solange, Destiny’s Child and Mariah remixes. On the way back from the forest I was amazed to find the Unknown clean-up crew had restored the Moroccan Medina to its former glory. Here's a photo of my friends celebrating this victory over natural disaster by drinking threes-up in a hammock.
We closed out the festival with an after party that saw Jackmaster, Joy Orbison, Optimo and Disclosure go b2b (b2b2?) until well past sunrise. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this, because: drugs. But I do have a 44second-shakey-8am-iPhone-rave-video of it. (Shouts to the guy with the saucer-pupils in the blue hat!)
All too soon it was time to abandon my tent, double-drop Alka-seltzers and climb on the coach back to the airport. It’s not uncommon for me to get the post-festival blues but in all honesty that was one of the most depressing bus journeys of my life – and I’ve done London to Aberdeen.
Unknown was billed as “a step into the unknown” and it lived up to its tagline. It’s rare to see organisers go to such lengths to break the mould of what we Brits consider festivals to be. There was a very real sense that this was an experimental festival and, for the most part, it succeeded. The only thing the organisers need to take away from this first year is that maybe they should work on a more robust site in order to accommodate any unforeseen, apocalyptic, weather conditions.
Photos: Gerard McNeill
Follow Francey on Twitter @MatthewFrancey
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