Fun fact: if you’re based in London, Croatia is only two and half hours away by plane (same amount of time as London to Paris by Eurostar). Now, creating even more reason to visit the Eastern European country is Obonjan: a private island experience opening for the first time this July. Close to the coastal city of ibenik, Obonjan hasn’t been inhabited for seven years. In a joint 44-year lease agreement with the local government, UK promoters Sound Channel are working with Croatian travel experts Gratiosus and national tour operators CMT to bring folks to the Adriatic Sea. Sound Channel have some experience: they run the summer music festivals Hideout and Unknown, also located in Croatia. Their next ambitious effort hopes to break the snoozy three-day festival template, but they’d prefer you not call it that. Obonjan will be open to the public from July to September, bringing in the likes of DJ Shadow, Four Tet, Anderson .Paak, Gilles Peterson, Kate Tempest, Saul Williams and Loyle Carner on dedicated nights. But during the daytime, there’s art and installations (Celia Gregory will be starting an underwater sculpture garden), London’s The Well Garden is overseeing the wellbeing treatments and facilities, and the freshest of Croatian food and produce will be servedplus some kayaking, paddle boarding and other outdoor activities (lest you forget you’re on an island). We spoke with Dan Blackledge, director of Sound Channel and creative director of Obonjan, on building a dream environment where one can stay one night, or twenty.
What was your first impression of Obonjan like?
The first time I went there, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It was strange, but very, very cool. Strange because it’s desertedit’s not like a normal island. It had infrastructure already there. When I got taken there, you step off the boat and you’re on a concrete pathway, and there are walls, terraces and these little buildingsand no one’s been in the buildings for years. You’re walking around just going, “Wow, this is crazy!” But you can feel a certain energy there from its previous uses. It was taken over by the Scout movement in the ’70s, and they started developing it from there. Then it was used as an “island of youth” until around 2007-ish. An island where young people goit’s not an island where you go and get younger, unfortunately. Although that’s what we’re trying to build. [laughs] Basically where kids went over, got educated, played sports and camped out.
So no “Lord of the Flies” stuff.
A little “Lord of the Flies” going on, without the bad stuff. [laughs] So that’s why it was all built up. There’s a swimming pool, an amphitheater, a restaurant, loads of miniature barbecues dotting around the place, a lot of bungalows. And the whole island’s covered in pine trees and olive trees which makes it look really beautiful. We found out quite recently they were planted in the ’50s, after the war. The [trees] go right up to the edge, by the seas. All of the neighboring islands are quite sparse. So this is all a strange occurrence.
How did you get the idea to do something as unique as Obonjan?
The concept’s been refined over the last three years. We had all sorts of ideas to begin with, and it was only when we started to research and doing surveys with the engineers that we realized how many people it was possible to get on there in the first year. We wanted to make it an eco-friendly project, be kind to the environment and have a positive impact socially. So we decided to reduce the capacity down to about 800 for the first year, and we’re going to run it for about six weeks. The reason being is, so we can properly test the infrastructure and the supply chains and make sure the service is really, really good. And then in year two, we hope to increase the number of weeks we operate for.
I originally came from a club promoter background and moved into festivals, and now we’ve moved into thiswhich as far as we know, isn’t really like anything that exists, yet. It’s breaking new ground, it feels. Because people are always like: What is it? Is it a festival? A retreat? A resort? It’s sort of… all of those things; what you make of it, if you like. You can come and drink booze and dance to DJs and do a bit of yoga, or you can come and chill out with your friends, watch the sunsets, go swimming. It’s sort of a tick-all-the-boxes of the things that people would look for in a holiday these days. They can just come for the day, or six weeks if they like.
I think this might be the first time I’ve heard of a festival where you might leave healthier than when you arrive.
The thinking behind it is, it’s more about considered performances in a beautiful location. We’ve specifically picked, say, DJ Shadow live for the opening concert, and when that’s on, that will be the only thing that’s on on the island. Everyone that’s thereunless you’re asleep in your bedwould all be in that space at the same time. It sort of removes that element of fear of missing out and focuses all the attention on that one artistthat we know will be amazing.
My personal favorite, I think, is going to be the show with Four Teton 13 Augustplaying in the amphitheater. That’s one of the first things I thought of when I saw the amphitheater, gotta get Four Tet to play on there. It was built for him to play.
Book your forest lodge or bell tent (both options are air conditioned) via email and check the official website for updates to the programming. Prices start at 70 per person. The live music, talks, etc are included, while food and drink and wellbeing treatments are additional.
Images courtesy of Obonjan