Amongst the competitive and bourgeoning quantity of music festivals positioned upon Croatia’s coastline, Suncébeat has confidently stood out amongst the rest and sustained itself as one of electronic music’s finest providers across Europe.
From the team that brought us the legendary Southport Weekender, Suncébeat has established itself as one of the finest European experiences when it comes to Soulful sounds. Supplying the crème de la crème of House, Garage, Disco, Afrobeat, Funk and Soul across a week-long stretch of sun, sea and special live performances along the stunning Dalmation coast, for an ever-flourishing festival experience that this year celebrates a landmark 10th year of operations.
Returning to the picturesque setting of The Garden in Tisno from the 24th – 31st July, SuncéBeat are marking the anniversary by pulling out all the stops and welcoming a plethora of the scene’s biggest names, with the likes of Kerri Chandler, David Morales, Kenny Dope, Tony Humphreys, Joey Negro and Karizma joining debutants Mr G, Soul Clap, Children of Zeus and Dan Shake for what’s set to be a truly unmissable spectacle.
Taking place amongst a stunning private sandy cove backdrop, the festival has long since been celebrated as a perfect location for relaxing during the daytime, and nights full of partying, with ticket holders also having access to the legendary Barbarella’s nightclub, while the festival’s infamous daytime boat parties are always in high demand.
Yet with so much to look forward to, the fact that Suncébeat has been able to survive, thrive and stand in what is an ever-evolving, if challenging Festival landscape is an achievement that in itself deserves to be celebrated. With two months until showtime, we managed to catch up with Alex Lowes, one of the driving forces forging Suncébeat’s legacy to find out how the festival was born, its distinctive and unique locale, the notion of ‘loyalty’ in the programming, highlights over the years and what to expect going into their 10th year.
Looking back, what were your original intentions for Suncebeat and where did the idea come from? How did it feel when the first edition actually came to fruition?
It came from the Southport Weekender which is our legendary event, our production manager for the festival was friends with the guys from the boutique festival in Croatia, The Garden Festival who also now own the site in Tisno, Nick Colgan.
My production manager came over with Bonny and Nick who were involved with the festival and came to Southport Weekender to try and sell me the idea about Croatia. Having decided to only do Southport Weekender for one year instead of two, I already had made my mind up and loved the idea and location.
At the time it was at a village called Petrčane where it originally started not Tisno and that’s how it all came about – from friends. When the first edition took place it was fantastic, everyone just fell in love with the place and the beer, I remember everyone saying this as you don’t get hangovers from it. (haha)
In 2010 you had the likes of Theo Parrish, Ron Trent, Kerri Chandler and Joey Negro on the bill, so there’s a clear continuation to your lineups and element of loyalty over the years. Do you think that consistency with your lineup is the key to your longevity?
Oh yes, we keep a certain element to suit everyone and the continuation of resident DJ’s and top tier DJ’s but we do vary it and move up. Last year we had a UK Garage theme, the time before that we had David Rodigan play reggae and we’ve also pioneered into the South African sound having the likes of Black Coffee and lots of other DJs on the bill.
We vary it and keep it as a worldwide event to cater to a lot of different places, it’s not just an English event. We like to do things long term, this is our tenth year for Croatia and we’ve had thirty years of Southport Weekender and we’re already in our sixth event for Liverpool Disco Festival and the third festival for Southport Weekender in London.
We don’t look at it as being short term, we definitely look at the longevity. To keep things long term you do need to tweak and change things, keep a good eye on the path but move forward as well and embracing what’s new.
Considering the wealth of competition just in Croatia alone festival wise, It’s a great achievement to have been nominated for a series of awards over the years. How much does it mean to win those awards? You must have been delighted.
Yeah it’s brilliant, the Croatians love SuncéBeat! They like the crowd, who are respectful, they like what we do and we help the buzz of restaurants and accommodation. We’ve watched the place grow, when we first started there weren’t many flights, it was quite a difficult place to get to and now it’s a place to go, we get so many Australians and Americans.
To get nominated for local awards it means a real lot, we’ve got so many friends now from the Mayor and local restaurant owners to the apartment owners, as well as having good relationships with all the other festivals there. It’s brilliant to be recognized in the country, especially what they’ve been through thirty years ago.
Your programming is heavily entrenched in House, Disco and Soul, has your programming changed at all over the years or does the policy remain the same?
There’s different forms of house music of course, as well as incorporating, soul, jazz, disco, South African house, reggae, RnB and garage. We try to make every stage different, for someone who doesn’t want to listen to Kerri Chandler they can then go and listen to Mr Scruff or Gilles Peterson. Or if they don’t want that they can go and listen to Shimza from South Africa or Motor City Drum Ensemble.
We’re very careful with the programming, we take our time and make sure there’s something going on for everybody – not hardcore trance I’m afraid (haha) but there are lots of different genres.
For people who haven’t been before, what can they expect from Suncebeat?
A beautiful setting, a beautiful village, a nice easy ride from the airport as you have a Zadar and Split which is less than an hour away. Fantastic food, restaurants, national parks and the most amazing boat parties. It’s just to die for, it’s so different from anywhere else, you have to go to Croatia to experience it, I don’t know anyone that has been that hasn’t loved it.
Over a 10 year span, Suncebeat and The Garden in Tisno are synonymous with each other. Just how important has that location been to your success and what is it about the location that works so well for the festival?
We started out at Petrčane which was a beautiful little village but then this new place Tisno just fell in our laps and it just took us to another level. I just don’t think you can get a better setting. Where else can you get a beach stage with a boat, incredible lighting and olive groves? When you’re walking around the site and you get hungry you can pick figs off the trees, stuff like that (haha).
Honestly, the village is just so nice, when I watch people coming in from my favourite Café Bar Versa, seeing their faces, energy and excitement is just great, I love it.
The location just works so well for the festival because it has a lot of accommodation on the site; proper apartments, luxury camping and mobile homes. It’s just the setting, you have the restaurant on site, music playing, the main stage, plus the beach is included with the jetty that holds 200 people where we hold 2 boat parties a day on it. You can be sunbathing in the day and dancing on the same spot at night. Everything’s just compact and accessible, plus we overlook the world heritage listed site Kornati Islands.
Aside from the amazing weather and beach to match, are there any other non-music related things available at Suncebeat that people might want to check out?
The area itself, you can go to Zadar and Split which are the two main towns, you’ve got the national parks, lovely villages all around, little secluded restaurants in bays which are hard to get to but all you have to do is ask around and get to know them. There’ so much to do which isn’t festival related that’s right in front of you.
It’s a holiday, at SuncéBeat were more than happy to have kids too at the festival, it’s not packed but we do encourage them. Especially on the last boat parties we try and get many kids on as possible, they love it.
With the likes of Roy Ayers, Jazzy Jeff, David Morales and Tony Humphries you’ve had so many legendary acts at over the years. Who are you most looking forward to welcoming on site this year?
Honestly, I can’t say who I’m most looking forward too, anyone who hasn’t played before and all my friends that have played plenty of times, I’m looking forward to seeing them all. From Kerri Chandler, Mr Scruff, Gilles Peterson, Shimza, Jayda G – they’re all fantastic, there’s so many different genres, it’s not just about the artists and DJ’s, it’s everyone.
Can you tell us a bit about some of your favourite highlights over the years?
So many to mention… Gregory Porter performing live for the first time, that was brilliant. There’s just so many, I’ve had so many magical moments, I can’t pinpoint anymore as it wouldn’t be fair on the individuals on their sets.
Every year it’s so friendly, everyone’s buzzing from the minute they get here, it’s a weeks holiday as well as being a festival – it’s amazing.
And lastly, what does the future hold for Suncebeat?
Oh, we’ll just carry on and then we’ll be the longest running festival in Croatia. Why change it, it’s a beautiful venue and it’s improving all the time. There are loads of site improvements getting done this year, I’m very excited as people are going to be shocked with the improvements as it’s never been like it before… it’s developing all the time.