Zrce Beach on the island of Pag, where the second Barrakud festival took place last month, is the same complex of beach clubs used for Hideout and Sonus. If, like me, you've imagined most Croatian festivals taking place on idyllic stretches of unspoilt coastline, then arrival there can be a bit of a shock. The place is, much to the chagrin of many locals, quickly becoming known as "the Croatian Ibiza," and when you see it for the first time you might mentally append the words "and not in a good way." When there isn't a festival happening, the three outdoor clubs—Papaya, Kalypso and Aquarius—are home to endless commercial dance nights, with guests like Axwell, Paul van Dyk and Ferry Corsten peppering their summer schedules. Locals talk darkly of a two-month invasion of lairy young foreigners staggering around the promenade of Novalja, unable to find their way home after one too many (or perhaps just one) of Zrce's heavily advertised one-litre cocktails. Still, in its best moments this smartly programmed festival managed to make that backdrop fade significantly, if not disappear entirely.
Barrakud is different from most other festivals in that it bills itself as a "party trip"—a full seven days and nights of music with accommodation in nearby villages included in the ticket price. The idea is that you see the event as an all-encompassing holiday in itself (albeit one you'd probably need another holiday straight afterwards to recover from). My taste of the festival began on day four of seven, having missed sets from Nina Kraviz, Ben Klock, Lucy and Stacey Pullen, but with Carl Craig, Paul Kalkbrenner, Ellen Allien, The Martinez Brothers and more to look forward to.
Barrakud only occupies one of the three beach clubs at any one time, so there's none of the usual stress of running between stages to see your favourite acts. Tuesday night at Papaya (the largest of the venues) was headlined by Carl Craig, but I also managed to catch an enjoyable bout of tech house from Philipp and Cole, resident DJs at Florence's venerable Tenax club. Craig's set was crammed with piano-laden house gems and had hands-in-the-air moments in the shape of Inner City's "Good Life" and Jeff Mills' "The Bells," as well as something darkly excellent but naggingly unidentifiable that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Thomas Bangalter's Irreversible soundtrack. As with every set I saw at Papaya, the sound was strikingly big and clean—no mean feat on a windswept outdoor stage by the sea.
Wednesday was supposed to be all about Paul Kalkbrenner, but it was the extended DJ set from Barks, a 22-year-old producer from Brescia, that really moved me. Playing for nearly three hours as the sun rose over the Adriatic, he kept a rapturous crowd in his thrall throughout, and was refreshingly unafraid to drop in the odd hit (The Knife's "Silent Shout," Laurent Garnier's "The Man With The Red Face"). He was both my discovery of the festival and my highlight of the whole week, and I suspect I'm not alone in that. The 7-10 AM afterparty over at Kalypso struck a successful middle-ground between keeping the crowds moving and subtly dialing things down a shade, as refreshing sea air blew in to balance out the morning sunshine.
Kalypso also hosted Thursday's main focus—Ellen Allien's night-time DJ set. The BPitch Control boss's onstage personality and impeccable track selection (if not technical ability) were in full swing as she ran through the likes of Head High's "Keep On Talking", the "Hardcore PCK Mix" of WK7's "Higher Power" and her own track "The Kiss." The final day's activities were mercifully focused on the hours before midnight, with Ilario Alicante, The Martinez Brothers and Gregor Tresher playing tech house at Papaya. The Martinez Brothers' contribution, which featured Arado's "New Life" and Audiofly's "Fela," seemed to stick out as much for the crowd as it did for me.
With its second edition in the can, Barrakud is clearly still a work-in-progress. The venue feels somewhat incongruous, and there is a marked difference between the kind of people organising it and those attending, a fair portion of whom seemed to be lads-on-tour who may well have come to Zrce whether there had been a festival on or not. However, there is more than enough good taste, knowledge and enthusiasm among its close-knit group of organisers to suggest that Barrakud's development will be well worth keeping an eye on.