Festival Interview: Mike Gill (Croatia Wave)

Published On 16/03/2015 | Interviews

With summer fast approaching we start to think beyond the confines of the city limits and to overseas locations… yes, holiday season is just around the corner and one of the most popular locations for us here in London and the rest of the UK in recent years has been Croatia. The great weather, good food and cheap drink, combined with astounding locations, lovely people and an abundance of music events makes it a standout destination every summer. Croatia Wave is a company that is centred on getting people over to the eastern European nation for their perfect holiday. We spoke to Mike Gill, owner of the company, about Croatia and its many many offerings…

When did you first get involved with the Croatia scene and why? What was it like? What made it stand out?
We first went to Croatia back in 2011 to check out a little boutique music festival called ‘The Garden Festival’. We were recommended it highly and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. The festival was amazing, the people who attended were friendly and unpretentious, the music was pumping, the location was unbelievable. It really felt like we had discovered something new and emerging. The next year we went back and did 5 more festivals, this was when we realised there was really something special happening there. The country has a huge number of different festivals taking place over the Summer months; mainly electronic but also some Hip Hop, Reggae, Rock and more. There’s really something for everyone. The UK had to hear about just how much stuff was happening out there. On top of this the country itself has so much to offer; the food, the wine, the beaches, the islands, the national parks. We decided we wanted to help show this off and encourage people to head over to check out this new party paradise.

What makes it different than other traditional hotspot, such as Ibiza? I sense it is less developed and more natural and untouched…
We had spent lots of time in Ibiza before this. Adam and I had both spent whole summers out there on our uni holidays, regularly attending DC10, Zoo Project, Cocoon and anything else we could wangle worker tickets for. We loved it, the people were amazing, we made multiple life friends during our time out there. I haven’t been there for ages now but in the last few years I have been hearing more and more bad reviews. Not sure if it’s because people are telling me what I want to hear now I’m so clearly an advocate for the Croatia scene.

The fact that Croatia is less developed as a destination is only partially true. Many of the clubbing/festival destinations lack hotels and villas; being mainly made up of apartments, however this is counteracted by the multiple independent shops, restaurants and bars which are really authentic. If those parts were filled with high end villas and hotels, the place would have a completely different vibe, one that I’m not sure would feel quite so genuine. If you want to head to developed Croatia, there are some really posh parts including Hvar, Dubrovnic and Vis. Worth checking out if you’re more of a high flyer; there’s an amazing yachting scene round those parts.

How has it changed since you first landed there? Are the locals into the fact that they are now inundated with tourists all summer long? Are they friendly and do they get involved with the festivals?
Tourism to Croatia isn’t a new thing, its only a small country with a population of just over four million people, however with tourism coming from primarily Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic this figure doubles in the Summer. 12 Million people headed to Croatia last Summer, only 4% of these were from the UK. British people are heading there more and more each year, but as a holiday destination, Croatia has long been known about by other European countries before us.

The UK has definitely had its effect over there, similarly to Ibiza, we have had a massive impact on the music scene with over half of the music festivals over there now originating in the UK. The locals are loving what we’ve done, I think that the amount of young people heading over there will really have a profound impact on the place.

Is there much of a local music scene there that can be tapped into? Are festivals adding local promoters to tents and getting local DJs on the bill and stuff?
Some of the festivals like Garden, Soundwave and Outlook use a lot of Croatian talent. I have heard some great Croatian DJs out there. It’s a really good thing that we’re not just putting on festivals out there for ourselves. There’s some amazing home talent from there and it really creates a multicultural vibe. The Croatians are really laid back and fun.

Does the Croatian government support the festivals and people like Croatia Wave? Did them joining the EU make any difference to all this?
They don’t help anyone involved in festivals enough to be honest. They really should help more.

Croatia_Wave_EmbedWhere are your favourite places to visit, relax and enjoy in Croatia – can you give us some insider tips?
Sure, there’s so many places to recommend..

100% musts are the Plitvice lakes and Krka national Park. They are the most amazing and relaxing places I have ever set eyes upon. I visited the rainforest in Brazil a few years ago and these sites are what I wanted that to be. I could not imagine places like that could exist in Europe, and after five days partying and drinking, you literally couldn’t prescribe a better antidote to finish on. Besides that you also have the Kornati Islands, these run down along side the Adriatic coastline and there are actually thousands of them; most of them uninhabited. If you know where to look you might also find some secret restaurants and bars, only known about by people with Yachts. Try and imagine what the seafood might be like at these places!

Finally you have some great towns and cities; I really like Dubrovnik and Rijeka and a small place called Opatija, the latter has some incredibly unique architecture set up in the hills. Dubrovnik is a great place to check out in the daytime and it also has some lovely hotels too. The sea is amazing there!

And what are some of the best festival there and why – what makes certain ones stand out?
For me I’m a big fan of Suncebeat festival. It’s the most non-pretentious one of them all which really suits the Croatian vibe and it draws a slightly older demographic. It also suits my taste in music with house DJs from Kerri Chandler, Black Coffee, Ron Trent and Osunlade heading over for residences each year. The vibe is so relaxed and fun, the people seem to really want to enjoy themselves and know how to do it properly. Somehow everybody has a similar mindset, which is really infectious and makes you want to forget about everything and just get involved.

Fresh Island is another of my favourites. An underground hip hop festival set up by Croatians in the amazing clubbing resort of Zrce Beach, Pag which draws nearly 10,000 people from around Europe unified by a profound love of all things Hip Hop! Zrce, which also hosts Hidoeout, Sonus, and Croatia Rocks (new on the scene) consists of five superclubs on the beach. If you want guaranteed action when heading to Croatia, be sure to check it out.

What tips have you got for anyone heading to Croatia – anything about the food, money, beer or local customs people should know about?
Food in Croatia is amazing, they grow their own olives out there so the olive oil is incredible and most food they make is given a really distinct flavor by it. The national dish is brodet, something I would highly, highly recommend; It’s a dish made with mixed fish, served as a sort-of stew, the fish is so fresh, just be careful of the bones. Their neighbours Bosnia are famous for making Cevapcici, a dish also commonly found in Croatia. This is served together with onion, bread and Ayvar. It kind of serves the purpose of a burger, but the meat looks more like sis kebabs, you have to eat it by ripping off bits of bread and making little sausage rolls. Some alternative versions are served in a yoghurt(y) sauce called Kajmak. If you see this advertised on any menu, give it a go. You wont be let down.

The main national lagers are called Karlovacko and Ozujsko are very drinkable, comparible to Peroni or Heineken. But more importantly the Wine is absolutely amazing if you find the right one(s). I highly recommend any of the wines produced in Hvar. Croatian wine is really going to blow up worldwide any time soon!

Pag cheese is also world renowned, with Pag lamb and Pag wine being great too.. Basically, pag as well as being a renowned party paradise also has unbelievable food. But please don’t just take my word for it!Croatia_Wave_Embed2

What are you most looking forward to bout the 2015 season and why?
Having recently launched as a festival tour operator, I am really excited to see how things go with the 1000s of guests we have visiting. I really want to make sure they all have the best holidays imaginable. This is our first year working with such big numbers and I simply cannot wait to see our guests enjoy themselves as much as I know they will.

Fresh Island is a new partner of ours and I am really excited to see how this goes this year. For their last three years they have had huge artists like Snoop Dog, Red Man and Method Man and Rick Ross. With the influence coming heavily from the UK this year, I am very excited to see how the change of demographic effects this festival. I think its going to be extra special..

Have festival goers visiting the country in previous years had issues finding good quality accommodation?
Yes completely, this is why we began as a business! When we first headed to Croatia in 2011, everybody said that they had serious issues finding accommodation. To be honest the whole accommodation thing had huge holes in it. A lot of people arrived not knowing if they were going to have an apartment waiting for them.

We tried our best to plug this hole and I think we managed quite well. This was the sole interest of our business up until the beginning of this year when we have launched as a tour operator with tickets, transfers, excursions and many other exciting extras. We no longer just wish to accommodate festival goers, we now want to promote the scene; show off the festivals and the country to people around the world.. it’s really working out right now..

And tell us how and why you came to set up Croatia Wave, what you offer and why people should use you?
We offer an experience of a lifetime! We want all our guests to get the most out of Croatia; for whatever reason they are heading out there.

If you are going to a festival in a certain place we will tell you all about that place and everything nearby, to make sure you don’t miss a trick on your holiday, because if you’ve done it properly, you know you’ve done it properly. As I mentioned above we offer festival tickets, a range of different types of accommodation, transfers from all airports, boat hire and excursions to national parks or a range of different activities from paintball to wine-tasting.

We have recently launched a new product called the ‘Festiboat’ where you arrive at the airport and are then shuttled to the nearest dock where you are picked up by a skipper on your own personal yacht or catamaran. This will be yours for the week and you can go wherever you want; you can choose to sleep on or off the boat and visit 1 or a number of festivals. The skipper will take you to some of the most amazing secret places you’ve ever seen and you can do this all for around £600.. It’s really worth it for an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Also, do you have any plans to expand into other areas such as Ibiza?
Not yet but maybe one day.. Ibiza has so many different businesses running tours and they’re all highly competitive with each other. We’ve been out the loop of Ibiza for a while so I’m not sure getting back into it now would be a great idea when there are so many areas to expand to around Croatia. We’ll see..

Words: Dan Mack

For all your Croatia Festival needs head over to Croatia Wave – croatia-wave.com

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About The Author

Marcus Barnes is a renowned music journalist based in London. As well as manning the good ship Deep House London he contributes to Mixmag, The Independent, Resident Advisor, i-D and many more music outlets.