"Manage your expectations," muddled some Northern English girls, repeating a cheeky mantra that had been passing around, a joke within a joke.The joke at this year's Electric Elephant was that the overwhelmingly majority of British festival-goers would have been happy enough just to escape their self-proclaimed misery for the quaint, tropical environs of Petrcane, Croatia, with its sherbet sunsets and warm waters. The joke within the joke is that, regardless of taste, it would be impossible not to have a great musical experience, to learn about some newer blogger-turned-producer, to see a DJ in his prime for an audience of 100 or to catch a living legend you've only heard in mixes for the last ten years.
Luke Cowdrey—half of the Unabombers, who nursed and raised the Elephant—admits that the menu is basically the same as last year: Balearia and downtempo for brunch/lunch in one of the two outdoor areas, two four hour boat party Rosé bashes a day with a side of anything goes and a vintage-style disco that plays host to the inevitable, aggressive party pumpkins that transform after dinner. With a slightly higher attendance than last year, the only change that Luke sees is that "[the audience] gets it a little more." Half of any decent party relies on a good, willing crowd, and at this one, commented one London partygoer, "everyone is one generation removed, not necessarily from just the acts, but from each other." It's because of this intimate, incestuous nature that the festival is more sleepover camp than Sonar.
Thursday was the pre-party. Sails were raised for boat parties as attendees were still trickling into Petrcane. For many of the acts and guests, finding one's apartment could typically be an hour-long affair, in what seems to be an initiation ritual, a reminder that you were entering a place that isn't quite equipped for tourism like, say, Ibiza. It was clear early on, though, that there was a healthy ratio of engineers to DJs to make sure the Funktion Ones were delivering a beautiful signal, a crucial detail that was instrumental in luring some high rate DJs down in the first place. Highlights from the first day were the Cosmic Disco crew, Ruf Dug and an engaging amuse bouche by Straight A's.
When Friday began, like any decent festival, one needed to start making decisions about what he/she couldn't make. However, many of the jocks played several times throughout the weekend, leaving several chances to catch them. The Bad Passion Project boat party with Kelvin Andrews was a solid outing, recalling last year's voyage upon the Argonauty as one of wonk and circumstance, jumping around disco, funky spiraling obscura, to robo-sax-electro and back round again (they would later close out the club that night with a surprisingly hard, depraved backhand).
Berlin's Hunee and the cosmidelic Beppe Loda were a nice couplet at the beach bar, teasing out Afrojams and deep cutting ballads. They were not afraid to ramp the tempo down to build intensity. Overlapping, Francois K did his Deep thing, playing the new Harvey track and all. Todd Terje delivered a set that seemed to serve more as a pause between two heavier pillars than any sort of banging, wild ride. Terje would later admit that he's looking to create a beatless album, so it seems like he's potentially moving away from moving the floor in a clear, perfect manner into something much more abstract.
Saturday's sunlight hours belonged to Andrew Weatherall. It seemed like all the other acts who weren't playing were on the outdoor deck, making this the literal centerpiece of the whole affair. He did his thing in stammering heat, looking his Sunday best, wowing the folks who have already been dancing to him for twenty years.
Hard Wax buyer Soundstream won the Best Use of a Laptop Award for a sleazy, hypnotic ride through his own work. Almost on cue from last year's Saturday night showers, a storm slashed in to wash out the detritus and reset all expectations back to one. The rain forced everyone from the outdoor stages and areas inside the smoky, steamy, slutty Barbarella Disco. While walking in, I caught two different girls crying and several limbs canoodling underneath the thatched bar. I knew immediately that forcing everyone together would have amazing results. Well done, nature.
On this night, it was the non-U.K. jocks that stole the show. Sweaty and messy, The Juan MacLean continued on his globetrotting mission to strafe the world with his brand of house neuroses. Hometeam Unabombers delivered a solid set before Prosumer decided to casually put his foot down and pulverize everyone with a funkier (but still relentless) set that was a consensus highlight. Earlier in the evening, he admitted this "is the most relaxed festival [he'd] ever played," which certainly didn't seem the case by the time he was casually bouncing behind the controls, nonchalantly stepping on people's faces.
Even though the festival would eventually stretch out to more parties during the week, this was the last official day, and it, of course, had all passed way too quickly. All of the tracks seemed to carry a bittersweet "one more song" bouquet.
The Aficionado boat party set off with the entire festival feeling like damaged goods, but just the right type of bruised fruits, a bunch of brown avocados gliding down the Adriatic for one last go round. Phil South, Todd Terje and Moonboots took turns for the first two hours playing the "who can be the least obvious" game, working up many of the fans into a frenzy of "when is the party going to get going?" Eventually, it broke wide open and became quite the lovefest.
Running back to the festival grounds, we caught Ashley Beedle dropping some hip-hop, end of summer camp jams, and, finally, of course, the Mancunian anthem, "Love Will Tear Us Apart." It worked. Into the club, Chris Duckenfield and Andrew Weatherall did an excellent job genre-jumping, not being afraid to go too deep or too aboveground. There was no room for genre purism by then, just pure exhausted enjoyment.
Back to the whole expectations joke, because in reality, the structure and many of the acts were identical this year, including many of the visitors, making it very similar to last year's Elephant on paper. The crowd's the element that's changing or growing within itself the most, elaborating, cross-pollinating. This is grown up summer camp in the best possible way, and the best possible way to keep it great is to underplay it and keep it small, keep the sound signal clear, and keep it limited, though we all wish this would be a 12 month lifestyle. Rik Moran of To The Bone nailed it: "It's tough to say goodbye for another year, but it would get a little feral if people stayed here too long."
Photo credits - Mark Webster