It was a privilege to be part of Suncébeat festival, taking place at the picturesque setting of The Garden, Tisno. Having been part of the Southport Weekender contingent, it felt more than right to be heading out to the Adriatic coast to experience their 7th summertime instalment in Croatia.

Home to many of Croatia’s electronic music festivals, The Garden is situated on the edge of a wonderfully private bay with sparkling blue waters and stunning views out to sea. Previously a holiday camp for the Croatian Military but now injected with a new lease of life, it is adorned with Fig and Olive trees that have now been suitably fashioned into creating discreet areas to relax, roam and dance to your heart’s content.

A Warm, Southport Weekender-style Welcome…

Upon arrival at The Garden, we made our way through the trees to a retro soundtrack being played on The Beach Stage by James Morgan – one of the driving forces behind Liverpool’s disco infused ‘ Hustle’ night and curator of the up and coming Liverpool Disco Festival in October. His partner in crime, Jimmy Allen had opened the festival, and by now they had people feeling pure sunshine vibes as they relaxed; cocktails in hand, taking in the sights and sounds of this idyllic setting.

First impressions were outstanding, from the quality of the sound and the selection of the music to the friendly, relaxed atmosphere around the bay as people floated out into the clear blue sea while others danced and greeted friends who had just arrived. Within half an hour, it became clear that the people would make this festival. We were greeted by friendly festival-goers, most who were Suncébeat veterans, making us feel instantly like part of an extended family. You can’t help but be touched by this warmth and inclusivity – it made the first day for us. After exploring the festival site, enjoying the music and chatting to a great bunch of people, we retired back to our apartment ahead of an evening in Tisno before returning to Suncébeat later on that night.

Suncebeat 7 Review

Tisno Village – an unspoilt, scenic jewel of the Dalmatian Coast…

Although you can stay onsite, we chose to stay in the heart of Tisno – 15 minutes’ walk away from The Garden. This beautiful place is home to just under 1,300 exceptionally friendly people who gave us a warm, genuine and sociable reception wherever we went. Our beautiful apartment was part of an elderly lady’s home; she was enthralled by our daily adventures and impressed with our glitter make-up efforts. We ate the best steak of our lives in Tisno, swam in the open sea water just off the promenade (like the locals do), drank the regional Rakia and soaked up some real Croatian culture. This gorgeous little town is really untouched by the mass tourism of other European sunshine destinations, and the more well-known Croatian destinations such as Dubrovnik. That said, we were spoiled for choice with restaurants and cafes, bakeries selling fresh bread and cakes, and a superb little fruit and veg market over the bridge. We couldn’t have asked for anything else – we had all the facilities without the hustle and bustle. As veteran Ibiza goers, Tisno felt serene in comparison, with an overwhelming sense of peace. For us, it provided the absolute balance we needed after the long hours we invested on the dance floor throughout the week – a heavenly little place on planet earth.

Suncebrat 7

The first night…

Following dinner, our speedboat taxi collected us from the waterside restaurant, taking us right up to The Garden’s very own private jetty. Feeling like superstars, we alighted opposite The Beach Stage – which looked stunning after dark, the dazzling lights beaming over the sea, where you could catch the sight of wild bats performing an impressive aerial display over the open water. The atmosphere was electric.

Ronnie Herel was behind the helm up in the Tiki Shack, the legendary 1Xtra and MiSoul DJ was exactly the right choice for the occasion. He surprised us all with a funk driven, disco dipped set of classics and big room tunes – perfect to get everyone moving and bonding on the dance floor on the first night. Getting off the boat, aiming straight into the bundle of energy that was the crowd, we got deep on the dance floor (well, rather a dance patio), drenched in an incandescent glitter ball shower.

Everything erupted to the sound of ‘The Way You Love Me’ by Ron Hall & The Muthafunkaz, providing a delectable cocktail of strings, xylophone and funk as voices united to sing along to Mark Evans’ soulful vocals. 

He then skilfully let loose what was to become the ‘track of the week’ for us in the form of the 3 Winians Brothers feat. The Clarke Sisters – Dance (Louis Vega Dance Ritual Remix).

A true diva moment was had to Norma Jean Bell’s ‘I’m The Baddest Bitch’ as the ladies took to the centre of the floor, vibing to the sexy sound, playfully waving their fans to the beat and grooving with new found friends.

Unity on the dance floor continued as Ronnie treated us to the undeniable classic sound of ‘To be in love’ by Masters at Work ft. India. The crowd cheered as complete strangers who had just met embraced, grooved and salsa danced as friendships were formed and glasses raised in celebration of something magical that was only just beginning.

It was a warm night, with things getting hotter from a musical point of view. Having just bounced incessantly to ‘Finder’ by Ninetones, it’s simple steel drum and disco pigeon recipe cooking up a tropical storm, generating smiles and a myriad of impressive dance moves - we ended up losing our voices as Ronnie treated us to the delights of Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, and the wonderful Barbara Tucker’s Beautiful people, also dipping us into the deep, jazz infused bliss that is Gregory Porter’s ‘1960 What?’.

Sadar Bahar at Suncebeat 7

Zombie cocktails were going down a treat, approaching midnight the vibrations were reaching a peak – or so we thought. It was impossible to think things could get better at this point, until we stumbled across The Olive Grove stage, where Sadar Bahar was dishing out a selection of rare tracks on 7” records. The geek within had a meltdown, instantly hooked into this amazing display of craftsmanship that only The King of rare could pull off.

There was a different atmosphere here. It felt like being wrapped in gold-dust sprinkled candy floss – precious and uplifting with a light and sweet, sweet sound. There was a feeling of warmth, there was a heartbeat. Minds were lost as each individual here danced within their own magical little bubble of groove. Northern Soul fans frustrated at the lack of sliding floor were inventing a new kind of dance, intertwined with the moves of disco.

This was something for the connoisseurs, however newcomers would be instantly absorbed into such an atmosphere. Sadar’s rare, underground sound is something which we were absolutely honoured to hear, it was a delight to see the man at work. Many of his selections featured live instrumentation rather than the later, more programmed disco. To hear this come out at you through a Funktion-one system, from a 7” vinyl uninterrupted, was quite simply divine. All that was missing was a roller rink, and we could have all felt right at home. The tracks that hit you right in the soul included Greg Henderson’s ‘Dreamin’ and Hamilton Bohannon’s ‘Me and the Gang’.

After being totally immersed in Sadar Bahar land and losing all sense of time and space, we floated back over to The Beach Stage to enjoy reliable favourites Horse Meat Disco.

James Hillard and Filthy Luka may as well have set up camp at The Garden for the summer, as Horse Meat Disco had entertained at Electric Elephant and Love International ahead of Suncébeat 7.

They never ever fail. Once again, on top form they provided a set of the most insane disco classics – impossible to keep still, you have no choice but be lassoed right in to the action with the likes of Inner Life's Ain't No Mountain High and Jermaine Jackson's Ecuru belting out across the floor. Their track selection is infectious, rare, and absolutely mind blowing.

One night down, 5 to go – this was really just the very beginning. Each day, things just got better as the Suncebeat 7 journey evolved into something beyond anything other festivals have been able to offer – this was going to be something based around love.

Leui Vega

Musical highlight of the week…

The Disco Nights Picnic Boat Party was quite simply epic. Reunited with James Morgan and Horse Meat Disco, we were also joined on board by Mark Stone, Southport veteran Terry Jones and Chicago House stalwart, Derrick Carter – who was going to be doing disco. We set sail aboard the Argonaut, a traditional wooden ship once used for fishing, it's now used to a rather more lively catch as The Garden's resident party vessel. Setting sail into the Adriatic, surrounded by the latino sounds of Santana's 'Jingo', people relaxed aboard, enjoying the sun sparkling across the sea. Things suddenly got lively in response to Don Ray's 'Got to Have Loving' - from that point, we didn't look back. Things on board the Argonaut soon turned naughty, a glitter sprinkled frenzy of prosecco, disco pigeons and debauchery unravelled right in front of our eyes. There wasn't a single soul on that boat who wasn’t overcome with the need to sing, shimmy and feel like they were at Studio 54. Chaka Kahn's Fate had the Horse Meat Disco lads dancing with us on the deck. Shortly afterwards, the boat moored at the picnic location to the soundtrack of Loleatta Holloway's Love Sensation. United by the love of disco, strangers became friends, we hugged, we cheered and soon realised we were very, very hungry.

My word, did we make an entrance. This secluded little restaurant was about to receive the biggest disco hit of it's life – members of the public looked on with beaming smiles as we danced our way off the boat, adorned in sequins and glitter, they took our photos in awe. Some of us had acquired maracas, shaking our way down to the delicious buffet of fresh fish, meat and pasta. This place was beautiful, a traditional Croatian eatery adorned with flowers – they served a mean cocktail and had set up the decks ready for Terry Jones.

Terry started to play and it went off like a rocket. The familiar sounds of Chaka's I'm Every Woman and Sylvester's Mighty Real had everyone at the restaurant dancing, some standing up on the chairs whilst members of staff and customers enjoyed the party scenes.

Horse Meat Disco

Getting back on the boat, it was dark and indeed the disco was about to get deeper.  Horse Meat took over the helm, during that hour we had a complete melt down on the deck to Patti Labelle and The Mighty Clouds of Joy. This party was now red hot, roaring and heading off the scale.

Derrick Carter had embarked following the picnic as our captain for the return voyage. Leading on from an intense hour of heavenly tracks by Horse Meat, Derrick delighted us to 'Stomp' by The Brothers Johnson. Disco is quite clearly his passion, as when he plays this genre, you can feel a connection with the tracks that he selects, due to his ability to read the crowd and know exactly what to pull out of the bag. He often keeps things light and airy, however if he want's you to loose your mind in the depths of disco, he'll get you there without you even knowing it.

Returning to The Garden with Frankie Knuckles' Your Love, we alighted on to dry land just wanting more. Heading to Barbarellas, The Garden's sister venue, we continued this delightful disco frenzy until 6:00am, to be quite honest, we never wanted it to end.

Osulande at Suncebeat 7

Spiritual Highlight of the week...

In three words? Anything involving Osunlade.

Our first encounter with  Osunlade - Yoruba Records' divine leader, was at The Olive Grove for The Yoruba Sessions takeover, also featuring Totto Chiavetta, Mike Steva and Rafael Moraes.

Sometimes, music has the power to take you to another level. For this, it takes a very special medium through which it can happen. Osunlade seems to be that medium. A member of the Ifa priesthood, the influences of the Yoruba people can be felt through his music, which has a distinct freedom and spirituality about it.

The jazz vibes at The Yoruba Sessions were overwhelmingly authentic. With a distinct Afrobeat undertone, we were also treated to some rhythmic tribal house sounds, a tribute to Prince and some spine tingling vocal renditions. We spent the rest of the night in this blissful bubble of music and unity.

Already infused ahead of the Secret Island Boat Trip, we could not wait to set sail on the Aquarian Moon vessel the following day. It was intense on board from the off. With corks popping in celebration, tambourines shaking in rhythm and a crowd cheering in celebration, being a part of this tribe for the day was indeed going to be exciting.

Manoo hit the right notes along the way to our island destination, throughout we felt hypnotised by his beautiful sounds as, on the hottest day of the week, we basked in the sunshine as the volume got louder. A highlight of his set was what we think to be Noomah's Touch Remix of London Grammar's 'Hey Now'– where we remember dancing harder, feeling at one with the sun and the sea. The presence of a delicate regatta of sailing boats adjacent to our vessel created a heavenly scene as our party pumped harder. Even a loss of power didn't phase Manoo, who delivered Louie Vega's Diamond Life shortly after reconnecting. What a way to re-ignite the fire! As we pulled in to dock in the island, we gyrated to Uhuru's 'Saka Nana' and rejoiced to the carnival-esque 'Um Coveta Qua Culentla Tela' by Africa Negra.

Suncebeat 7 Review

Once on the island, surrounded by the most idyllic sapphire blue sea you can picture, we partied on the rocks by the water, some also under the shade of pine trees. Djeff Afrozilla was on top form and the highlight of the week for many. Playing our new favourite track as we laid back on the rocks, the sea splashing our sun-kissed skin, life on planet earth felt extra special as the sound of DJ Capo's 'Speed of Sound' surrounded us at this magnificent setting. Indeed, the addition of Shaun Escoffrey's 'Days Like This' described exactly how we felt in that moment.

Back on the boat, Osunlade and AtJazzcollaborated to produce unrivalled sets of beats and brass. We were treated to trumpets, sax and percussion galore before the delightful 'Higher' by Git feat. Big Brooklyn Red, its African inspired xylophone fuelling our dance moves. Atjazz, celebrating 20 years of musical adventure, had us dancing like our lives depended on it as that boat arrived back into The Garden. Martin was joined on board by Ross, who played freestyle bass guitar in sync with the DJ's rhythmic delivery. Osunlade continued to play long after the boat had docked, with the famous disco riff of Thriller being one of the last tracks of the secret island boat party.

Suncebeat 2016 Review

We had fun!

We had fun with Mike Dunn. One of Chicago's finest, he led us down a lighter path than our previous encounter with him. This was refreshing, Mike seemed to be really enjoying the set, which translated over to the crowd who enthused at selections including Erro's Change For Me and a delightful dollop of MFSB.

Sam Divine's set on the Beach Stage was full of energy, the Defected regular knows how to up the game with hot off the press releases, remixes and edits whilst playing some true classics that reflect the depth of her musical knowledge. She brought a thick slice of Ibiza cake to the stage, which went down very well with all concerned. Claptone's edit of Gregory Porter's Liquid Spirit is always a winner.

Jazzy Jeff was on fire! Rich Medina had warmed up for Jeff, who drew a large crowd. Despite a rather choppy set that slightly lacked direction in the genre sense, Jeff played an awesome selection of tunes that had everyone united under the giant glitter ball of The Main Stage on Saturday. He surprised us with gems from Phil Collins, a tribute to the late Phife Dawg and some smooth tracks by Stevie Wonder and Al Green. Technically magnificent, it was great to see such a legend perform live, although it would have been nice to hear less of a repertoire and more of a full set from Jeff, with a bit more focus, hip hop and a lot more scratching. Saying this, dropping a fresh tune every couple of minutes kept the atmosphere hot, with constant crowd engagement. Needless to say, we all had smiles on our faces.

Fish Go Deep's came at us blazing from the tantalising abyss of deep house – amazing and energising to hear as an end to quite a soulful sounding day.

Louis Vega & Aname Vega

Anane Vega was simply stunning, as were husband Louie's dance ritual shenanigans. The MiSoul team played and broadcasted a great selection every day as we ate a really good (and reasonably priced) meal at the onsite Magnolia Restaurant.

Glitter Ball Gwen at Suncebeat 7

The calibre of this festival is quite exceptional. Don't get me wrong, there is room to grow and improve with regards to the practical side of the festival. An example would be the accessibility of The Garden for disabled guests – a ramp to The Beach Stage and concrete floor to the Olive Grove and Main Stage would be an advantage. More permanent toilet blocks would be preferred to portaloos in the heat. A more organised approach to The Secret Island barbeque is needed, with a larger, more efficient catering outlet. Despite our group being huge fans of craft ale, there was a call for cider and lager behind the bar from many a reveller – more choice can only be a good thing. The bar staff could also be cheeky, short changing many initially – only quickly realising that this crowd was a very honest bunch, where that kind of thing didn't wash very well. These little niggles can easily bee smoothed out for future events.

There is no doubt that we will be back. Suncébeat 7 was a beautiful thing. The only way you can truly feel love emerging from the crowd at this wonderful event is to be there. Overwhelmingly, everyone is part of a family. Lone attendees soon found friends, families with children felt at ease, international cultures amalgamated via the music. There was a sense of peace, togetherness and humanity. There was no pretence or priority - everyone involved had a huge respect for each other, from the artists, to the festival organisers and punters.

Suncébeat, to quote Eddie Amador, was "A spiritual thing, A body thing, A soul thing." We'd go as far as saying a Life Changing thing too.

Review: Gwen Angood

Follow my Suncébeat 7 Playlist on Spotify