Hidden along the sprawling Adriatic coastline of Croatia lies The Garden Tisno, home to Soundwave Festival. The picture-perfect location, dreamy 35 degree weather, and glistening clear waters lure crowds in their thousands. However, competing with 5 other festivals on the Croatian circuit (Outlook, Dimensions, Hideout, Electric Elephant, Unknown), the music has to be absolutely on point. For the sixth year in a row, Soundwave have managed to handpick a spectrum of fantastic artists ranging from dub to afro-beat to cutting edge electronic jazz to strike the perfect balance.
The standard is high from the outset as the inimitable Mr Scruff opens on Thursday night. “Um guys, is it ok if I do an extra 2 hours?” he asks at 1am, after his already 5-hour tune chugging set. His marathon sets are legendary, and Alexander Nut steps in to lend a hand when “the legal people say I have to have a tea-break now”.
After an intense opening night, the Afro-Caribbean tambourine-driven harmonies of Andrew Ashong come as a relief on Friday afternoon. Their slow, soulful version of ‘Is This Love’ fills the main stage, well received in the late afternoon sun. As they slink offstage, the crowd starts to swell to the sound of Flako’s wonky, bass-heavy side-chain jazz. Elsewhere, Eliphino’s set on the beachfront transported partygoers straight to Ibiza with his pulsing, hypnotic, bass heavy mixes. Back on the main stage, 8-piece Leeds ska scallies Gentleman’s Dub Club deliver their explosive set to a smaller, more intimate throng. As they run on stage, ties flapping, their nervous energy is infectious, spreading through the crowd like wildfire. Knees and arms are ablur as dub pounds out the 10ft speakers, trumpet and sax players bounce along either end of the stage, and the suited and booted frontman Jonathan Scratchley’s knees almost touch his ears. It seems there’s nothing this band can do wrong, obliging the ferocious calls for ‘one more tune’ and a mass sing-along to ‘High Grade’.
However, the mighty Riot Jazz were the undeniable heroes of the festival’s five-day run. Soundwave stalwarts, the 8-piece were assisted by Chunky on MC duty on their Saturday and Monday night double-slot. The blistering drum-and-brass risked upstaging those further up on the bill, but fears were assuaged as Gold Panda took to the stage. Delivering his usual high grade of handmade techno, extended versions of ‘You’ and ‘Marriage’ were particular highlights. Gold Panda’s incredibly tight set induced the crowd with heady visions of ecstasy and euphoria. If Gold Panda was Heaven, then The Bug was definitely Hell. Deafening air raid sirens announced their arrival, and the speakers seemed to smoke as they hurled out apocalyptic bass. “These are the evilest hours” intones Flowdan, bringing his trademark blend of charm and menace to proceedings. New tunes glisten among crowd favourites like the bizzarely anthemic ‘Skeng’.
Sunday night sees the grandiloquent Huey Morgan take the sonic reins on the main stage, spinning his funk and 80s hip-hop vinyl and oozing New York charm: the perfect chilled Sunday night boogie. Dele Sosimi follow, unveiling their tribute to Fela Kuti. The afrobeat orchestra keep the crowd captivated throughout their 10 minute jam sessions – this is hypnotic funk at its best.
Now picture this: Fat Freddy’s Drop headline Monday night, the sweet, sweet sax of ‘Wandering Eye’ charming the crowd, a mighty funk groove build up as the audience are plied with 3 albums worth of dub, reggae and soul excellence. The crowd sway, basking in the beautiful genius of New Zealand’s most successful artist ever.
Unfortunately, none of that happened. As the clock struck 9, the heavens opened on a biblical scale. Sheet lightening and growling thunder rolled across the sky and the band’s cancellation was met with howls of despair from the drenched crowd. Riot Jazz, true to form, delivered an emergency relief concert from the packed out restaurant of the resort building; an exhilarating send-off from what had been a truly memorable weekend.
Hayley Rundle and Asa Doktor