More than 7,000 revellers were joined by 150 artists, labels and collectives when Dimensions Festival returned to Pula. From Wednesday, August 29th to Monday, September 3rd, music was spread across Pula’s amphitheatre, Fort Punta Christo, the Zerostrasse tunnels, beach and boat parties. Kraftwerk, Paula Temple, Bjarki, Nils Frahm, Skee Mask, Anastasia Kristensen, Helena Hauff, Hunee, rRoxymore and Courtesy were among the acts; Mike Barnard and Ann McManus were there.
Kraftwerk offered up a reminder of why they were so relevant when they started in the 1970s, yet also remain so relevant now.
He Said: “Witnessing Dimensions Festival grow and evolve into a respected staple on the European scene over the last seven years, missing only one edition, it’s been a fascinating journey. Each aspect of the week-long Pula event, if you take in the experience to its fullest, aims to provide the best platform, in terms of setting and sound, to a broad range of established and upcoming acts ranging from jazz, soul and funk through to techno, house and disco with some bassier genres mixed in too. This year, I arrived to the campsite on the Tuesday to soak up the initial excitement before any official programming got underway, save for a late-night party on the beach which offered music-hungry revellers the chance to get down to some worldly sounds. Sitting by my tent looking at the Adriatic with so few festival-goers around had a calming effect, and was much-needed ahead of Dimensions really starting.
“The Wednesday opening ceremony has always benefited from having a gorgeous setting: Pula’s amphitheatre is ideal for gigs with its standing room ‘pit’ for those keen to feel part of the action supported by a huge bank of seating opposite the stage. Since Massive Attack headlining in 2016, the opening concert has been a huge draw for both Dimensions-goers and non-Dimensions-goers, with Grace Jones last year echoing Massive Attack’s sell out. This year’s headliners Kraftwerk were arguably a slightly harder sell as their pioneering status of laying the foundations of electronic music may have appeared to some as sign of out-dated music even with a 3D show, but watching the four men behind matching stands for their music machines has never been so compelling. From opener ‘Numbers’ through favourites such as ‘Autobahn’, three parts of ‘Tour de France’ and ‘The Model’, the quartet, led by original band member Ralf Hütter, were able to inject newness into the old hits for a hypnotic experience that belied the age of the music. When famous synth-lines or vocoded vocals were delivered, roars of approval rang out round the amphitheatre, and none more so than for ‘The Robots’ which kicked off an encore that also included a mash-up of ‘Boing Boom Tschak’, ‘Techno Pop’ and ‘Music Non Stop’. With plenty of electronic music to be heard over the next four days, Kraftwerk offered up a reminder of why they were so ground-breaking when they started in the 1970s, yet also remain so relevant now.
“The opening concert would also be a chance to hear Nils Frahm return to a stage he played on in 2013 when he had considerably less equipment flanking him. His expansive neo-classical style, served up via a sweet demeanour when speaking to the crowd between songs, seemed to fill the amphitheatre with intricate piano melodies, lush soundscapes and grand climaxes. Saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia and two DJ sets from Josey Rebelle proved these acts have plenty to offer on the largest of stages while Moodymann, who branded himself the ‘warm-up DJ’ on the mic as he closed the night, got off to a fine spinning with Fatima Yamaha’s ‘What’s a Girl to Do?’ and DJ Koze’s ‘Pick Up’ before losing momentum. Luckily we’d been so impressed by Frahm and Kraftwerk, they would have been impossible to top.
Avalon Emerson’s journeying set spanning deep house, disco and techno showed us why she’s in held in such high regard right now.
“When the Dimensions action switches to the main two sites of the beach and Fort Punta Christo for the four core days, two very different halves of the day emerge. From 12noon to nearly 9pm, the beach is all about soaking up some rays with the hottest part of the day with Ezra Collective, Children of Zeus, Darkhouse Family, Ariwo and a Sunday closing set from Hunee all proving highlights this year. At times it will be too hot to get on the sandy dancefloor so you have to find an ideal spot on the rocks by the sea to lie back and enjoy the music, however the programming is such that this part of the festival isn’t always about getting people up and dancing - it’s often used to soothe a party-weary body. That is, of course, until the sunset slots when the temperature cools: a highlight was Hunee breaking out forgotten disco gems (one stormer with the lyrics “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide” that has eluded my Google searches) and reggae that saw him booging behind the decks with a grin on his face.
“The jewel in the crown of Dimensions remains the four-night takeover of the abandoned Fort Punta Christo from 8pm to 6am, in particular the Moat stage. The Moat has become a prestigious space to see the hardest in electro and techno sets, with Hessle Audio, Helena Hauff and Nina Kraviz among those returning to provide walls of sound booming down the sunken corridor. Last year when we saw Hauff, she was spinning through inventive electro at a measured pace, but she went for the thumping techno this year that lost the subtleties she’s normally so effective at manipulating. Bjarki’s build of pulsating techno - which included a rare and long-overdue airing of DK8’s ‘Murder Was the Bass’ - through to what bordered on breakcore and gabba was ideally suited for a closing set, while The Exaltics, Courtesy, Anastasia Kristensen, Umfang and Paula Temple all tweaked the sweet spots of 4/4 brutalism with their own nuances, particularly Kristensen and Courtesy who managed to effortlessly drop in a lush soundscape to catch us off guard.
“In previous years we’ve spent a lot of time at The Clearing, the vast open main stage, but with The Moat proving a major distraction this year, our visits were limited. On the Thursday, Volvox seemed to be struggling to shift into top techno gear with just a small crowd to work with, then an electrical storm paused all music on site for a short time. With the Clearing acting as a beacon for meeting friends and assessing next steps, Volvox was treated to a bumper audience for her restart so duly obliged with a throbbing finale to her set which sent the Dimensions faithful wild. Avalon Emerson’s journeying set spanning deep house, disco and techno showed us why she’s in held in such high regard right now, and we’d have a taste of Bonobo’s all night session on the final night too.
A real lesson in set progression came from Craig Richards and Nicholas Lutz who went back-to-back for more than five hours to move expertly through electro, house and techno as a fitting festival conclusion.
“Elsewhere in the fort, Willikens and Ivkovic’s opening set in The Void was a soul-touching blend of soft beats including Orbital’s ‘Halcyon’, while Palms Trax got us booty shaking with his three hours of genre-bending on the final night. But it would be The Garden that threw up two of the most inventive sets of the weekend: first rRoxymore’s tantalising flits between a standard 4/4 and broken beats to masterful effect on the Friday night, then, on Sunday, a real lesson in set progression from Craig Richards and Nicholas Lutz who went back-to-back for more than five hours moving expertly through electro, house and techno as a fitting festival conclusion.
“Away from the main festival, we took a boat ride with the Dimensions Soundsystem accompanied by Josey Rebelle and Avalon Emerson as well as going underground at Zerostrasse - the World War Two tunnels beneath Pula with Anastasia Kristensen and Paula Temple. The boats have been a mainstay of Dimensions since the first year, and our sunset boat - actually more of a night boat - got broody with dark electro from the Dimensions Soundsystem before Josey Rebelle and Avalon Emerson pulled us back into the light; Emerson’s set was geared more towards house party vibes, with Eurythmics ‘Love is a Stranger’ proving a winning choice. Meanwhile the tunnel party, one of two debuting this year, was a chance to enjoy thunderous techno where the series of low-ceiling tunnels met with just a few hundred people. Kristensen and Temple ensured those walls will be ringing for weeks, and make for a fine addition to what is an ever-impressive Dimensions mix.”
Only with a constant supply of energetic beats, a contented crowd and expert planning could an event of such scale retain momentum for five days, and Dimensions smashed it.
She Said: “Spanning five days, Dimensions is a marathon of a festival. The games began with an opening concert in Croatia’s best-preserved monument, Pula’s amphitheatre. The amphitheatre is one of the largest surviving Roman arenas in the world – so well revered by Roman historians that there were attempts to dismantle the arena and move it to mainland Italy during WWII. It made a grand setting for Kraftwerk, Nils Frahm and Moodymann to set the tone for the main event.
“Nils Frahm crafted a mesmerising musical mosaic on piano accompanied by percussion and harmonic choir notes which paired immaculately with the ambiently-lit arena. Kraftwerk’s 3D show followed and, putting on 3D glasses, the audience were absorbed into a mechanised world as the four technopop legends stood in an even line across the stage, displaying a series of industrial visuals while playing classic 80s electronica anthems like ‘Computer World’ and ‘The Model’. Throughout the set the four DJs barely moved, causing the audience to question whether they were men or machines. The cold front they presented was in stark contrast to the warmth of the music, and, while the 3D show did not add a huge amount to the show, wearing glasses helped the audience engage more with the set and we were less inclined to chat.
“By day, all the action took place at a beach side stage where you could sip cocktails, have a little groove and then cool off with a dip in the Adriatic Sea. The selection of artists playing the beach stage had been carefully selected to promote smooth, low pressure sound to ensure party people’s energy was conserved for the evening. Michael Upson dropping Textasy featuring DJ Dijital’s ‘Déjà vu Bass’ summed up the typical mood. For me, the best beach set came from Ezra Collective, a London band who merged classical jazz with afro-beats and hip hop resulting in rich, funky melodies. For a treat, you could have your hair styled by London salon Blue Tit’s pop-up. It was an efficient luxury glamming up for the night while taking in an awesome set and working up a tan by the sea, cocktail in hand!
“Additionally, during the day various record labels hosted boat parties, taking crowd out for a three-hour cruise around the bay while a succession of DJs took to the decks. With record labels like Bassiani, Phonica and Pickle Factory all hosting boats, it would be easy to pick a boat party every day - the only downside being that boat party tickets were not included in the festival ticket meaning the cost could rack up if you did so. We opted for an evening cruise with Dimensions Soundsystem where multi award-winning DJ Josey Rebelle treated us to a storming set that fused breakbeat with tech house resulting in a lot of festive energy.
As dusk fell, looking up the hill to the fortress where the evening’s entertainment would take place, strobe lights erupted from the pyramid-shaped stage, the Clearing. Setting the festival in a fortress is part of what sets Dimensions apart from so many other festivals. Each stage has a very distinct character which the team behind Dimensions harness exceptionally in their curation of the artist line-up.
Nils Frahm crafted a mesmerising musical mosaic on piano accompanied by percussion and harmonic choir notes which paired immaculately with the ambiently-lit arena.
As a techno fan, the Moat was my primary port of call. The stage was set up at the end of a long slim, walled-in moat that you descended to down a flight of metal stairs. Strobe lights pierced through the darkness like lightening in time with the thunderous beats that every DJ playing the Moat endorsed. Helena Hauff was one of the biggest names for me, but I found her set to be an onslaught of sound that was simply speed without soul. The set I rated the most in the Moat was Danish DJ and label owner Courtesy who spun a journey of techno and electro to breakbeat. Bjarki’s set also deserves a special mention for dynamism, building the BPM to an incredible crescendo that verged on gabba which worked as the perfect energy level to conclude the first night.
Another good spot for techno was the Dungeon stage which was a cave-like room within the walls of the fortress. It was never very busy despite playing host to some brilliant techno and electro sets like Insolate & Volster who closed their set with the Headless Horseman remix of Flaminia’s stormy track ‘Fear of Fire’.
Bjarki’s set deserves a special mention for dynamism, building the BPM to an incredible crescendo that verged on gabba.
This year Dimensions had opened up Zerostrasse, a World War Two bomb shelter in Pula’s centre for two parties. We opted for Paula Temple, dBridge, Anastasia Kristensen and Batu’s night. Walking up a long, dimly lit tunnel towards blue lights and a distant thudding beat made for a special entrance and the intimate venue lent itself perfectly to the techno line-up. Riding a similar sound wave to Courtesy, Anastasia Kristensen spun a bouncy set that sampled a wide range of sounds against an industrial backdrop beat, Paula Temple upped the industrial minimalism, closing the party with a bang.
On Friday evening the Garden stage was set up to commemorate 30 Years of Laurent Garnier’s Rex Club in Paris. The music certainly paid homage to Garnier’s vast fusion of artistic techno and Peggy Gou dominated her set, mixing up an array of world, techno and house starting with stomping selections like Model 500’s ’OFI’ and ‘How Do You Like Them Cookies’ by Deko! before rounding off with ‘Themba’ by Mpumi.
Another world-infused set was Avalon Emerson’s in the Clearing, which was another highlight for me. Avalon directed her set on a completely different route to Peggy Gou, sending the sound into a harder, bassier journey in the second hour of her set. The final night saw Bonobo play the Clearing all night long beginning with fun breakbeat and closing with a sound more traditional to the peaceful melodies he’s known for with Bjork’s ‘Violently Happy’ one of the final tracks of the festival. It summed up everything I felt about this year’s Dimensions: only with a constant supply of energetic beats, a contented crowd and expert planning could an event of such scale retain momentum for five days, and Dimensions smashed it.
She Said by Ann McManus.
Images (top to bottom): Kate Berry (1,2,3), Daniel Kiršić (4,6,11) Chazz Adnitt (5,8), Cal Chaplin (9).