Respected electronic music festival Dimensions brought 7,000 revellers to Pula in Croatia for its third edition from August 27th to 31st. Spread across beach, boat, abandoned fort and amphitheatre venues with headline acts such as Caribou, Moodymann, Warpaint, Roy Ayers, Jon Hopkins, Darkside and Gilles Peterson, it was a feast for the ears and a test of the stamina – especially when an intense storm showed up to break up the glorious weather on the last night. We were there to soak up the music, as well as the rain as it would turn out, in what was one of the finest and best sounding festivals we’ve attended.
Caribou delved through his sumptuous productions including new single “Can’t Do Without You” and ended with a zestful “Sun”.
The journey from London to the Brioni campsite used by Dimensions as its base of operations was a long one. The reward was a pitch overlooking the Adriatic sea and less than a minute’s walk from the beach – ideal. Tents set up, we made our way to Pula and the opening concert in the town’s 2,000-year-old amphitheatre.
It’s a visually-impressive venue from the outside, the sun lights up the brown stone like a fresh sandcastle. Inside, the sound was as epic as the setting with pianist Nils Frahm first up. He has an unconventional approach to playing the piano, melding electronic beats with his classical stylings to a dramatic effect that belies his quiet demeanour between songs. Kwabena Adjepong, aka Kwabs, strong vocals also benefited from the acoustics of the ancient setting as they soared into the air. A classy pair to open any concert.
When Dan Snaith brought his Caribou project to the stage, the quality of the first acts meant he had a lot to live up to. Snaith was up to the challenge, delving through his sumptuous productions including new single “Can’t Do Without You” and ending with a zestful “Sun”. Darkside, the collaborative duo of guitarist Dave Harrington and electronic producer Nicolas Jaar, slowed the pace back down to conclude the evening, their atmospherics more for the mind than the feet, yet all the more arresting for it. Dimensions had begun.
When Space Dimension Controller dropped the curve ball of Was Not Was novelty tune “Walk The Dinosaur”, the open air dancefloor stood to attention like excitable meerkats.
The heat of a summer’s day in Pula never lends itself to lying in a tent, so the beach is normally the first destination on wake up every morning. However, there’s also the option of boat parties on the Adriatic to get involved with so we thought the boat hosted by Belgium house night ensemble might be a blast at 12noon. Though boat parties tend to be a lot like house parties in that it takes a while, and a few drinks, to really get the vibes flowing, we were quickly brought up to speed.
Visor-wearing trio Aroma Pitch warmed up all smiles and jokes behind the decks to get us on our way, then as soon as Space Dimension Controller dropped the curve ball of Was Not Was novelty tune “Walk The Dinosaur”, the open air dancefloor stood to attention like excitable meerkats. From that moment SDC could do no wrong, keeping the disco theme running with help from Madonna, Indeep, Phil Collins and Chic. A dabble with acid house from Luke Vibert’s Kerrier District alias helped shift the mood ready for the funked up techno of San Soda and the boat was rocking. By the time we returned to shore, we were locked into the festival feeling.
Down at the beach we recharged thanks to sun, a dip in the sea and a few drinks. Kwabs was back on stage with a more soulful set, and we felt the time was right to head into Pula for some food. Perhaps that was a bad idea – it took a while to get us back to festival mode – but when we got back to site, we headed straight to the abandoned fort and set up shop in the Void where a custom-built Void soundsystem (the organisers were so pleased with the results, they changed the name of the space from last year’s Outside the Fort) was being tested by Ostgut Ton’s label showcase.
We arrived just in time to catch the end of Tama Sumo’s set, slightly funkier than expected. Sumo ramped up the pace into Ben Klock’s set, which he continued with aplomb, delivering a trademark thunderous set. Klock’s sometime back-to-back sparring partner Marcel Dettmann would close the stage, switching the full-on energy of Klock to a blend of mellow moments that would trick you into thinking he’d gone all soft, only to rip into a brutal drop. Dancing in one spot for more than four hours is perhaps excessive, yet entirely justified when the Ostgut Ton crew is on form. Night over, we vowed to spend more time at stages around the fort over the rest of the weekend.
Jon Hopkins’ album Immunity is an inventive opus to hear reconstructed on stage,
Feeling more than a little groggy after the Thursday marathon session in the Void, the beach was a saviour. We chilled for a few hours then decided the time was right to make another voyage out into the Adriatic, this time with the London label and clubnight Electric Minds going deep with Move D and Dolan Bergin behind the decks. While the rave crew got themselves fired up, there was random amusement as a German group launched a My Little Pony kite into the air and Bergin kicked off with smooth grooves. Move D was in a lively mood when he took control, upping the pace at the end for a faster finish than might be expected. Again we disembarked happy sailors, ready for the second night at the fort.
Friday evening proved to be a vibrant affair. We headed up to the Clearing, the stage which greets you en route to the fort, to see one of the acclaimed live acts of 2014, Jon Hopkins. His album Immunity is an inventive opus to hear reconstructed on stage, beginning ambient then upping pace and power while retaining a strong sense of melody to cross genres and take the crowd on a journey. By the time he was finished we needed to get some more powerful beats so headed to the Moat for the Hessle Audio vs L.I.E.S. showcase.
Descending the stairs into the deep moat around the fort feeds you with anticipation. You are confronted with a 90 degree turn into the long moat and, as you turn, a rumbling of bass becomes a thunderous one. The DJ booth is hardly visible for the snake of people leading to it, while several stacks of speakers running the length of the moat ensure the music is consistent throughout. When we arrived Svengalisghost was ploughing us with hard tunes which developed into an acid blow out when Ben UFO got in control.
It was hard to drag ourselves away from such rawness, however we didn’t want to make the same mistake as the previous night. We set off back to the Clearing where French hip hop act Onra changed pace flipping beats in and out, arms flailing, body jerking. Part of the fun of Onra is guessing the source material: when he dropped in a Disclosure vocal line my ears pricked up, he had extracted the garage origins and mutated it into a slow burning beauty.
Metro Area’s Darshan Jesrani took on the unenviable challenge of following Onra, but did so by going full disco for the first half of his set. There was a slow build to glittery techno towards the end, seemingly setting us up for Jackmaster and Oneman’s Can U Dance show. A shame, then, that the pair looked ill-at-ease on stage as a disjointed few tunes had us looking elsewhere. We tried Theo Parrish in the Void, but he was in the middle of an epic jazz jam which was hard to get into straight off the bat. We opted to get a last blast of industrial techno from Pangaea in the Moat, and felt better for it.
Moodymann’s set back at the Clearing which effortlessly shifted gears through minimal techno, jazzy house and interludes such as a tribute to Isaac Hayes.
Waking up to a sauna-like tent at 9am just two hours after bedding in for the, er, morning, made for a hazy Saturday sleeping on the beach. Opting for a quiet corner by the campsite rather than getting involved in the beach party proved a good move – we relocated to the festival site for the sunset, then geared up for a third night up at the fort.
Tonight was a far more chilled affair. We got another dose of Space Dimension Controller’s funk and disco at the Clearing which managed to incite stage invaders to give security a runaround looking something like a Benny Hill scene, and even saw the warming up drummer get involved with a couple of rolls to the music. Soul singer Omar kept it smooth, then we checked out Italojohnson keeping up with the hardness that had gone before them in the Moat and a dose of electro from DJ Stingray in Fort Arena 1. Our Saturday highlight was Moodymann’s set back at the Clearing which effortlessly shifted gears through minimal techno, jazzy house and interludes such as a tribute to Isaac Hayes and a Moodymann monologue about how much he missed the Dimensions crowd.
He proved a hard act to follow. We went on a stroll round the fort, taking in Skeptical at Mungo’s Hi-Fi, wandering past Bam in the tiny Ballroom stage, dipping our heads into another San Soda set and catching our breath at Jonny Cade in The Garden. We finished as we’d started back at the Clearing with Daphni harking back to disco and funk, finishing the night for us.
High winds and lightning strikes gave way to torrential rain that stopped all the stages.
Like Saturday, daytime passed by almost without moving from a deep sleep on the beach, but thankfully a recommendation to see The Internet close the beach party way a real joy. The soul band formed in late 2011 by OFWGKTA members Syd Tha Kyd and Matt Martians offered a blissful, life-reaffirming set as the sun went down. Little did we know the calmness they brought would soon be disrupted by some of the most intense conditions to hit a festival.
Up at the Clearing we were happily enjoying a few drinks while David Martin warmed up for Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald presenting their Borderline show, but just as the veterans were finding their stride disaster struck: high winds and lightning strikes gave way to torrential rain that stopped all the stages. Sadly that spelled the end for the Clearing, Fort Arena 1 and Arija stages, they would not reopen, but the Dimensions crew managed to get power back and the festival continued amidst the constant threat of further showers.
We made straight for the Void where a set of the weekend was being played when Floating Points went back-to-back with Motor City Ensemble for a fusion of techno and disco that only this pairing could produce. Vocals and 4×4 beats seems to marry up perfectly everytime for a tech-disco like no other. Even blasts of heavy rain didn’t put us off, those lacking a poncho or umbrella taking shelter under foil blankets or parts of the stage’s decorations while it passed. Still we kept dancing, seeming lost in the trance Dimensions has put us in from five days of music. When the Void closed early at 5.30am we couldn’t resist a quick, final taste of the Moat, by now a swamp-like experience but with the industrial techno from Ø [PHASE] to match.
Sunday was an epic end to an epic festival: as the Outlook Festival crew started arriving on Monday (Outlook is the sister festival to Dimensions), we wished we could stay on – alas we’ll have to wait until next year. Thank you, Dimensions.
Images by Dan Medhurst