Even before England's sparkling 4-1 victory against Croatia, some Mancunian revellers had fallen in love with the country, thanks to Electric Chair’s first festival there a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s got to have a bit of substance; it’s got to have a bit of rawness about it. We don’t want to become some big generic festival with people sitting round with butterflies on their heads eating tofu.”
For so long the leading light – albeit a subterranean red light – of Manchester clubbing, it may well have been time for Electric Chair to finally close its doors this January after 13 years, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be sorely missed. There was much debate about where the Unabombers would resurface, but most presumed that it would be another basement, loft or dirty shebeen in a hidden corner of nocturnal Manchester. So our friends Electric surprised everyone when they announcing they would be emerging out of the dark, and into the sun, on the beautiful Dalmatian coast of Croatia.
Manchester being Manchester, there were a few doubting miserabilists prior to the event: “Why bother going all the way to Croatia to be with people who are in Cord every night?” someone asked me. In reality, and most refreshingly, Mancunians only made up one contingent of the Elephant herd. The club’s reputation amongst clubbing cognoscenti has long stretched further than the constraints of the M60, so it was no real surprise that they attracted a post acid house crowd from across the UK. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s Lowlife and Dublin’s Downtown sounds bringing sizeable contingents from London and Dublin respectively.
Electric Elephant (everything The Unabombers do is badged Electric – Electric Chair, Electric Blue, HomoElectric, Electric Souls – and the DJ Kelvin Andrews also wrote a song inspired by their club night called ‘Electric Elephant’) is based just outside the 900-year-old fishing village Petrcane, near Zadar. The village and stretch of coast is stunning, but the real beauty of the site is that it’s based on a curving headland just outside the village, partially hidden by trees. This means revellers who feel like a break can wander down into the village for lunch or a relaxed beer in one of several seafront restaurants and bars, and also means the festival doesn’t impose itself too much on the village. The food is generally good, especially the seafood – grilled seabass, sea trout, mussels and octopus salad being the highlights, although there was a split second shock on some faces when they first saw Dalmatian steak on the menu, before they remembered where they were. Extensive research was done into local Karlovacko beer and even the Croatian schnapps proved quite smooth.
The festival site is based around a circular bar built into the sea front with a large wooden terrace from which to watch the glorious sunsets. There’s also a scattering of day beds for lolling around on under the shade of the trees during the day, or to grab a breather at night. The centre of nocturnal activities is Barbarellas, an original seventies discotheque in the round which was built for disco the first time round, but laid derelict for years until rescued by the current owners Nick Logan and Eddie.
The music starts at 12 noon every day on the terrace bar, until 6am the following morning in Barbarellas. The dramatic change in location has allowed Electrics to become more eclectic, bringing not only a wider range of DJs with more Balearic sensibilities, but also a number of psychedelic folk artists including Adem, King Creosote, Pictish Trail, Quiet Village, with Manchester represented by Liz Green, Lee Gorton and John Stammers. “I was a little surprised but really chuffed they asked us,” Gorton revealed. “We just played at the Green Man and it just pissed down all weekend, so to come out and play in this paradise is amazing.”
One of the highlights was the boat parties hosted by Horse Meat Disco v HomoElectric, Low Life, and Electric Chair v Idjut Boys – a couple of hundred excitable revellers setting sail for an afternoon al fresco Adriatic disco aboard the Argonaut. Rather less debauched, the other highlight was a stunning impromptu live acoustic set from John Stammers late one night, perched on top of a beach-front bar. “This is really special.” Lee Gorton told me after the latter’s set, looking round the site, “and you just know it will be even better next year. Everyone who’s here will go back and spread the word and bring four more people next year.”
Where did the idea for Electric Elephant come from?
Luke: Well, me and Justin knew there would come a time with Electric Chair where we would want to move on, and this seemed the perfect place. Having done parties in so many basements, cellars and shebeens and god knows what, it was time to break out from that.
Justin: We needed a suntan…
L: Suntan, sunshine, fish, sea. It was just time to come somewhere beautiful where the sun was shining… i.e. not Britain.
J: We’d done a club in a basement for long enough, and we’d always wanted to do some sort of festival…
L: Also, the whole notion of doing something in the sunshine changes everything musically. The way music gets played and listened to.
J: The other thing is we’ve mostly done clubs and booked DJs, but we don’t just listen to dance music, and we felt it would be great to combine our dance side with our liking of other music… and we went for psychedelic folk and electronica, because it’s perfect in this location.
So being out of the basement and in the sunshine allowed you to expand your range when booking bands and DJs?
J: Yes, definitely. You’ve got to bear in mind the location, the sunshine and sunset, and book people who will be sensitive to the surroundings when they’re playing, and sensitive to the fact that we’re in a small village, not some big resort that is used to a load of 18-30 kids.
L: So much music sounds better here. The idea of DJs like the Idjut boys and Alfredo playing oddball records here was amazing, but it’s not just about being ‘Balearic’ in that sense. We’ve also had very upfront music from Benga, live music from Adem, Quite Village, Radioslave… and the house thing as well. The idea of putting John Stammers on at the Chair would never have made sense, but here it makes perfect sense.
What were your personal highlights?
L: Justin DJing in butterfly wings was a definite highlight for me.
J: It’s all been a bit of a blur, but the live element has been really special. Super Imposers, the first act on, just blew me away.
L: Wow! Trust me when Justin says that, it’s big news. The beach bar has been wonderful, people on the terrace with the sunset in the background. Justin obviously managed to get on the decks just before the sun went down, which was quite Machiavellian of him. Glory hunter.
J: No, you went off and then came back when you realised you’d mistimed it and missed your big moment.
Any plans on how you might expand the festival next year and in future years?
J: As far as expanding it, we need to keep a lid on it I think. It’s quite a big site, so I think we could probably have two or three times as many people here, but after that, it starts to lose its specialness.
L: We’ve always done things slowly through osmosis, we like lettings things evolve, we’ve never been into fast tracking. It’s got to have a bit of substance; it’s got to have a bit of rawness about it. We don’t want to become some big generic festival with people sitting round with butterflies on their heads eating tofu.
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