Thunderstorms disrupted Dimensions Festival 2017, but the music prevailed as the five-day Croatian electronic music retreat provided a platform for impressive performances across its immense soundsystems. Headliners included Grace Jones, Jeff Mills, Theo Parrish, Cymande, DāM-FunK and Danny Krivit. Mike Barnard was there.
Grace Jones may be 69, but her energy springs eternal.
Arrival day this year saw us delivered to Pula in the blistering sunshine, but we were able to find a nice shady spot on the campsite next to the restaurant with a view across the Adriatic. A bite to eat at the restaurant saw a litter of kittens swarm around our feet observed by a protective mother, making for a cute welcoming committee. We then headed down to the beach for a dip in the sea and a couple of cocktails before it was time to board the boat taxi into Pula and the opening concert.
Approaching Pula by sea is a glorious sight: the famous amphitheatre which hosts the annual opening ceremony looms large as we enjoyed a drink on top deck. From the harbour, we’d head for pizza and wine before arriving after dark to the gig at what seemed like the same time as everyone else. The 15 minute queue to get in was made less stressful by the soulful jazz of the Kamaal Williams Ensemble which instilled a warm glow. We would find a spot on high at the back of the amphitheatre to settle down and enjoy the rest of the set as the band got us ready for the opening ceremony showpiece: Grace Jones.
A formidable character, seeing Jones on stage or screen - particularly the endless repeats of A View to a Kill - elicits a mix of wonder and fear; you never doubt the conviction of her actions. She opened with her cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’ after 30 minutes of disco music looking every bit the diva, standing confidently on a gangway above the stage as fans below blew her dress in all directions. Every song was met with a new costume change - a golden skull headdress and tribal-marking body suit among the most eye-catching - then she would spend every song strutting her stuff in every direction to the edge of stage, ensuring all eyes were on her throughout.
Jones introduced a new song about her Jamaican roots as a flag of her face flapped in the air, then she upped the ante by singing Roxy Music’s ‘Love is the Drug’ as a laser shot down at her mirrored headwear causing the light to bounce off around the amphitheatre. She’d finish her hour set with a rousingly suggestive ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’ then ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ while hula-hooping throughout. Jones may be 69, but her energy springs eternal.
For the Moderat show closing the opening ceremony, we’d take up a vantage spot amongst the standing crowd to get the full audio/visual experience with regular collaborators Pfadfinderei always providing dramatic interpretations of the electronic trio’s work. Far from the shiny glamour of fashionista Grace Jones, Moderat stepped out dressed in all-black, and their show would be a monochrome spectacular. The dramatic ‘Ghostmother’ eased us in ahead of ‘A New Error’ which upped the pace and seemed to endlessly tease a drop that never came yet you could almost hear in the silence that followed. This has always been the beauty of Moderat - at their best they have the ability to take us to the verge of ecstasy, whip that moment away, yet still feel empowered by their music.
Dimensions is known for its quality of sound, with ‘Running’ blasting out forcibly while the more tender ‘Rusty Nails’ sucking us in. This was one of the final performances for Moderat before a hiatus that sees Apparat and Modeselektor go their separate ways, which seemed a big deal for all three on stage. The Modeselektor pair of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary stood opposite each other at far sides of the stage animated in their rocking from side to side while Sascha Ring stood facing the crowd in the middle, acting as frontman giving it their all as he sang into the microphone. As the mournful ‘The Fool’ rang out around the ancient setting, it felt like the passing of a supergroup we may not see again for a long time.
Floating Points kicked off with sumptuous ambiance then dived into glistening techno and deep house vibes.
Our second day at Dimensions was a lazy one. The sun continued to bless us with perfect beach weather, and that’s where we would spend the day knocking back cocktails, munching on snacks, taking dips in the sea and largely on the chill. Aaron L, Harri Pepper, Khruangbin, a second dose of the Kamaal Williams Ensemble and DJ Okapi provided the soundtrack often rivalled by a rogue mini speaker on the beach, but the real drama unfolded on the water. An giant inflatable duck wearing sunglasses had managed to lose its rider and was fast drifting off to sea towards a distant island. As eager revellers swam to its rescue, a pair on a jet ski almost stole it from under their noses at the last minute, but thankfully duck and beach-dwellers were reunited with a little help from a lifeguard and a boat. Not quite an episode of Baywatch, however it did enthral a whole side of the beach for nearly half-an-hour.
As the evening drew near and we were treated to a delightful Pula sunset, concerns turned towards the weather forecast: thunderstorms were said to be closing in and it looked like they might be here to stay for the weekend. Ponchos were disappearing quickly from the stalls on the campsite as we settled in for dinner, then we headed up to the fort for the first time this Dimensions.
As ever, the first-timers in our crew were suitably impressed by both the abandoned fort setting as well as the sound throughout. Up at the fort the Dungeon deep inside the fort had been given a makeover to reopen as a space to relax away from the music, the Garden stage had been adjusted to offer more space to dance as well as beefier sonics and the new Jack’s Bar area now sat on the five-minute walk between the fort and the Clearing with deck chairs, DJs and drinks to enjoy.
After some warm-up beats from Mexican DJ and producer Leo Leal at Void, we got a prime spot in the centre of the crowd for Floating Points live set in the Clearing. Kicking off with sumptuous ambiance, he’d dive into glistening techno and deep house vibes while coming up for air at times to either offer a dreamy break or synth through our preconceptions with abrasive noise midway through his riveting set.
The night would progress through Mala in Mungo’s Arena where his tough dubstep was getting the crowd revved up to the max as the bassline shook through them, then the softer sounds of Mr Ties in the Garden with his disco and surprise choice of Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ much to our amusement. Binh’s minimal approach in the Void was offset by Petar Dundov slightly more textured techno in The Stables, then we’d finish the night down the front in the famous Moat where Helena Hauff completed the 10 years of Hessle Audio celebration. Hauff’s broken electro beats were interspersed with tougher 4/4 selections with precision, however we had to tear ourselves away for some rest ahead of a 12.30pm boat party on Friday. A fine first night, but the best part? It hadn’t rained a drop.
DāM-FunK’s live set oozed cool.
Smugness at 5am turned to disappointment at 10.30am when we awoke to a very rainy campsite. With only a couple of hours until the Bodytonic boat party, we opted to dive into the restaurant for some coffee and an omelette to prepare for a wet voyage. We checked the boat was still sailing via Twitter, grabbed our (now-valuable) ponchos and made our way to the harbour. Thankfully, during that time, the clouds parted and the sun started to poke through with plenty of blue sky to ease our fears of a wash out.
On board, the decks had been brought below deck for a Boiler Room style set up - the DJs would look out to sea with a dancefloor behind them. We’d start downstairs as we sank our first drinks of the day to the Bodytonic DJs and Conor L spinning some fine funk and disco, then we nipped up the steps topside for some much-needed rays as we gazed out across the Adriatic. We were teased by the techies undercovering the mixing desk outside, but Horse Meat Disco would have to play their set downstairs while we continued to enjoy the sun. The mood was very much one of having overcome some form of adversity when we returned to dry land, so headed up to the nearby Štinjan for a bite to eat at the Konoba Dub restaurant while the sun shone on its garden tables.
We’d make it back to the Dimensions beach in time for DāM-FunK’s live set which oozed cool. Songs such as his own ‘Hood Pass Intact’, ‘We Continue’ and collaboration with Snoop Dogg - namely 7 Days of Funk’s ‘Hit Da Pavement’ - were met with whoops from the crowd, especially when he busted out the keytar. Finishing up with ‘Messages from the Stars’ by The RAH Band, he left a heaving dancefloor in the twilight.
Friday night took an unexpected turn when, just as we were about to rock up to the fort for Dopplereffekt, the heaven’s opened and an electrical storm broke out. A good 20 minutes were spent in tents on the campsite as we willed the thunder and lightning to pass, however when the rain did stop we were informed by our neighbours en route to the fort that there would be no entry to the fort until while damage was surveyed and the area made safe. Campsite bonding ensued as music-starved revellers set up shop in the restaurant and other covered spaces armed with their phones and speakers to make their own party while we headed to a mobile home for a spot of downtime.
When the music did return, it was with a reduced programme starting at 1am. The first act we got to was the atmospheric meanderings of Dopplereffekt in the Stables which was a more challenging listen at 2am than it would have been at 11.30pm, and the duo seemed to struggle to hit the same stride until the final 20 minutes when the thundering chords and spacey synths coalesced into electro loveliness.
Maurice Fulton’s set in the Void won plaudits for its journey through house and disco including the rarely-played Phyliss Nelson’s ‘I Like You’ which always raises a smile, while Marcel Dettmann’s two-and-a-half hour set in The Garden featured his usual mix of the rough and smooth, before a final hour of brutal basslines and abrasive synths that would leave us breathless. Luckily it was just a case of walking over the path running past the back of The Garden to find Feelings DJs - one of the Menendez Brothers and Karl Karlson - spinning house and disco classics including The Ones’ ‘Flawless’ and Kings of Tomorrow’s ‘Finally’ to bring the fun back into the night and leave us all beaming again.
Daphni’s set took in numerous tunes from his fabric album including his funk-filled edit of Luther Davis Group’s ‘You Can Be A Star and ‘Hey Drum’.
A cloudy day on Saturday made it all-to-easy to sleep well into the afternoon rather than get a rude awakening in a tent that’s hotter than the sun, so we hoped to make up for our laziness by hitting the beach for the late afternoon right up to sunset. Such plans were dashed by the onset of another storm, this time lasting through dinner and putting a damper on proceedings. We again found ourselves heading over to the mobile homes, but were heartened by a sudden love for karaoke that had sprung up in the newly-erected marquees around the campsite aimed at getting the campers sociable before the fort. Most surprising was that even for a house, techno, bass and disco festival crowd, you could still hear people belting out Robbie Williams, Take That and Cindi Lauper songs when given the opportunity.
Our trip to the Fort tonight would be focused on one area: the Clearing for Daphni. Alexander Robotnik was on prior, we arrived just in time to hear the pioneering producer drop ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ written with Ludus Pinsky as Italcimenti - a tune that borrows from the soundtrack used in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey to masterful effect. Now fully in the zone, we were ready for what Dan Snaith had in mind for the next three hours.
The answer was a sonic journey that sucked us in thanks to a remix of Orlando Voorn’s classic ‘Fix Flash’ with added guitars, took in numerous tunes from his fabric album including his funk-filled edit of Luther Davis Group’s ‘You Can Be A Star and ‘Hey Drum’. Of course, he couldn’t resist the chance to play Kieran Hebden’s ‘Question’, a tune that’s been doing the rounds at festivals with no ID but was revealed just before Dimensions to be by the man also known as Four Tet. Such was the quality of Daphni’s set, we braved often torrential rain to stay with him until the end when there was still a sizable crowd to applaud his efforts. We’d take one quick look round the Fort to listen into Theo Parrish’s all night set at The Garden and find the Dungeon being used as an airing cupboard to dry out weary ravers, then hit the sack before the final push.
Jeff Mills’ cosmic pauses were overtaken by ever-more-powerful basslines of seemingly new textures and tones.
With the worst of the weather out of the way and rain looking unlikely, we enjoyed a final afternoon on the beach ahead of the Feelings sunset boat party at 8pm. The changeable conditions meant the decks were again located below deck, but at night with no sun and little to see off the sides of the boat, this meant the DJs were always surrounded by a lively dancefloor crew who were eager to squeeze every beat from the speakers into a shape. Eniz from the Menendez Brothers helped them get in the mood with another play of ‘Question’ as the Feelings residents again proved they know how to judge the pulse of a party, then Billy Nasty stepped up with an electro set than harked back to the 1970s thanks to Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Chase’ from the film Midnight Express before accelerating to the 2000s with Vitalic’s banger ‘La Rock 01’ that had arms punching the air.
Dance Mania’s Parris Mitchell rounded off the boat with his trademark ghetto tech classics as well as a few well-worn vibers such as Gwen McCrae’s ‘Keep The Fire Burning’. He ended by announcing ‘this is one for the ladies’, and it was true - the fairer sex lapped up Dimitri From Paris’ remix of ‘The Boss’ by Diana Ross. It was the perfect end to a vibrant sailing.
We’d head straight to the fort for another trip back in time as Aux 88 were at the Clearing. Detroit’s electro and bass-heavy techno pioneers Tom Tom and K-1 were in a funked-up mood, thanking the sound engineers as they pounded out the bass from their live synths serving up classics from the 1990s and giving shout outs to seminal label Underground Resistance.
It was the turn of the new when Nina Kraviz stepped up to the decks in the Clearing for the next 90 minutes in what would be the first of two sets that night (the second closed the Moat). A slow burning start soon gave way to an energetic 4/4 workout that saw her bouncing away between the decks, clearly loving every minute. Yet all were surpassed by the final three hours of the night as Jeff Mills blasted off on an intergalactic journey as the futurist techno original made use of the quality soundsystem to maximum effect. An early airing of ‘The Bells’ came as he seemed to accelerate throughout his set, with cosmic pauses only serving to be overtaken by ever-more-powerful basslines of seemingly new textures and tones. Mixing and playing live, Mills looked in his element and, as we cheered for an encore, he chimed in with DIY beats harder still, then suddenly all was quiet and the festival was over.
The Dimensions team gave us some of the best sets we’d heard all summer.
It was a pity that the thunderstorms broke up much of Dimensions Festival after such an enjoyable Wednesday and Thursday at the beach, amphitheatre and in the fort, yet the organisers proved that the show can not only go on, it can also be hugely fun to dance in the rain - all you need is a half-decent poncho and quality acts playing on some of the best soundsystems around. This much rain was also a rarity - it belied a usually very warm and dry setting. Even so, there was never a dull moment and the Dimensions team gave us some of the best sets we’d heard all summer.
Photography by Jack Kimber (1,3,5) & Dan Medhurst (2,4,6-11).