It's not often we're found recreating the 'Rio' video with Mark Ronson on a speed boat or witnessing a private set on a boat from Erlend Øye. But this is no ordinary day. Modular's FOR Festival has returned for its sophomore stint and DJ Mag has blagged itself an unusually pimpin' ride.
These days Croatia, however, is no stranger to left-of-centre dance celebs. And for every cool-as-fuck DJ, you'll find 100 or more twenty-somethings looking for a party. Since the formation of The Garden 10 years ago, you don't need to be told how this stretch of idyllic, rocky coastline has witnessed an influx of copycat events. It's diversified too. While the nouveau Balearica of The Garden set a tone for others to follow, other spin-offs have carved their own niche while not out-stepping the boutique frame.
Outlook and Dimensions have an abandoned 18th century fortress to their name; Hideout spreads itself across the multiple venues of Zrce Beach (inc. Papaya and Aquarius); The Garden, Electric Elephant, Stop Making Sense and Suncebeat now reside in a workers' holiday camp used by a petroleum firm; WHP/Field Day's Unknown is at a previously untapped location (Rovinj). All are marketed primarily to Brits, making Croatia an increasingly popular option for spunky Anglicans — even if it's a little saturated.
Other geographies have also eyed up the territory too, spreading the Croatian concept even further. Barrakud and Sonus are two others — Italian and German respectively — and when Ultra Croatia arrived here in 2012, bringing Afrojack, Van Buuren and Guetta to Split, it reached a new point of culmination. No longer is The Adriatic Coast an alternative choice only for Euro-hipsters, it's now a bro-friendly “EDM” territory.
Thank god, then, for FOR Festival. Not only has it offered a slice of the Croatian festival pie to the coolest, best-looking Australian emigrants on the planet, it's opted for style and substance over size. Hvar, a Dalmatian island with an immaculate Venetian capital town, is simply stunning. With numerous smaller uninhabited ones dotted around it, it's a firm favourite with wealthy yachtsman cruising the Adriatic for obvious reasons. The old town is teeming with apartments and hotels along the seafront and, while flights to Croatia are going skyward due to increasing demand, a night out will cost you a fraction of what you'll spend in Ibiza.
On stumbling upon Hvar, the Oz label responsible for outing The Avalanches, Cut Copy and Tame Impala unearthed a gem. Not only is this the most achingly quaint setting for a halcyon rave holiday we've ever laid eyes on, it's probably the most dynamic. Selecting a diverse dance line-up in the spirit of its boutique forefathers, the curators have tailored a line-up to fit various locations they've carefully sniffed out in the local area. Reconciling leftfield pop with hardened clubbing principles, each day we're presented with a considered attempt to perfect a singular 16-hour musical programme.
Rather than bung DJs on random stages willy-nilly to play simultaneously, they've cherry-picked spots that provide a sublime setting for each soundsystem in isolation. Giving people no alternative, the bill has to be tight, but with only about 2000 or so in attendance it makes a lot of sense.
After lunch, few turn their nose up — regardless of the severity of last night's hangover — at the chance to see Erlend Øre present an acoustic history lesson on a secluded island usually reserved for nudists. Those lucky enough to hear him strum impromptu covers of 'You Can Call Me Al' and R-Kelly's 'Ignition' later on a little tug boat in the middle of the ocean, as the sun sets as a mosaic of blissed out hues, are unlikely to have a more tear-jerking festival experience. Of course, that's only after Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington have laid down an arty disco house DJ set as Darkside, while people stomp it out on a stony beach strewn with old boats and post new age festival flags.
A sepia-tinted Instagrammer's paradise, there is a collegiate intimacy to this place; a genuine sense we've stumbled upon an ultra-cool hippy commune, where glittered faces congregate as a cobble of tie-dye sarongs and men in short swim suits.
After dinner in Hvar's buzzing main town — where well-cooked steak and extra strong coffee set us up perfectly for the night ahead — we're led up some steps towards a colosseum surrounding a stage constructed at the summit of a hill.
It's here The Klaxons, Haim and Neneh Cherry's project with Rocketnumbernine are given headline slots at Veranda each night. Offering the festival's most typically main stage moments, there's something spesh about enjoying a gig inside the ruins of a Franciscan monastery, even if you do find three girls in knee-high stockings doing their edgiest impression of Shania Twain a bit silly. The following night, Neneh's muddy depiction of Depeche Mode featuring Macy Gray is so dour it leaves us wishing for 'Buffalo Stance', but there's no denying the setting is superb.
Around midnight, crowds drift down the bay toward the next destination and queues start to form for boats taking crews from the dock to Carpe Diem Beach, an island we've not yet seen. Under a starry indigo sky, we step off the boat to find a moodily lit dancefloor enclosed by pine trees, backed by a luminous hexagonal structure. Derivative, in ambiance, of The Garden's Barbarella's, there's similarities with the line-up too. It's cliché, because it works. None of us can dispute that Psychemagik, Tiger & Woods and Fort Romeau — with the sound of Girls On Top's Kraftwerk/Whitney bootleg, 'I Wanna Dance With Numbers' — sound best late at night inside enchanted woods in a warm environment in the isolated middle of nowhere.
The likes of Mark Ronson, Erol Alkan and Bok Bok do add diversity, even if Ronson's ghetto-funk/trap mash-up set might not quite suit the setting — or the demure and discerning crowd, for that matter. Baio's lively and eclectic house set, featuring his vibrant hit 'Sunburn', however, is right on the money.
With the twilight sky turning pink to Tensnake, most festivals would call it a day at 4am — but not FOR. Blurry-eyed, we hop on a boat to shore and the offer of Pink Champagne, a local basement club fitted with mirrors that would work just as well in Soho as it does as a slightly debauched haunt for an early-hours after, after, after-party. Hosted by Cookie & Friends, we're treated to tougher house and techno jams, with lashings of dark disco. Todd Terje's 'Inspector Norse' one morning, 'Forget' by Patrick Topping the next, FOR is a festival that refuses to quit. And there's always tomorrow (today?).
Balancing the candy-floss indie ethos of the label with solid dance principles and the fanciful bohemia of an event like Secret Garden Party, FOR delivers everything you could ask for in a party holiday you'll shed at least half a grand on. If you have the appetite to hit it hard, you can. If you prefer a quiet day lounging by the beach, escaping the madness is possible. In fact, despite the event's semi-significant attendance, we never get the impression we're disrupting or imposing on the harmony of Hvar. Each stage is separated with enough distance — tucked away within a secluded enough spot — that dipping in and out at your own discretion makes the whole thing care-free, easy and bewitching at your own will, as opposed to an inescapable slog. Roaming the old town at night — eating in restaurants or drinking in bars — we could be just another retreating tourist. One entitled to the best spots for a party.