My bus zipped along the road from Rijeka airport to Pula city, circling the verdant bowl where mountain dropped to sea. I gazed, dazed from a day’s travelling, at the horizon thread where sky met Adriatic. I was excited; the five-day electronic extravaganza of Dimensions 2015 situated a wide spectrum of electronic music in an ancient Croatian city. I expected purely British festival clientele, this having been the case at Dimensions 2013, but a ragbag of accents – Australia, France, Finland – of my fellow travellers promised an international melting pot. Clearly word had spread.
The opening ceremony featuring Floating Points, Little Dragon and then Four Tet was the perfect festival opener. The first night of a festival can be overwhelming, but the slow build gently blew away the cobwebs of daily life to introduce us to the Dimensions aura. The location, the Pula Arena, was built in 27BC. It is one of the largest surviving Roman amphitheatres in the world, and features on Croatian banknotes. A unique musical event.
The eight-piece Floating Points band, boasting violins and a clarinet, played experimental jazz-based slow-burners bathed in surreal purple beams. Many were seated in the stands or simply swaying, soaking up the ambience. Little Dragon then lit up the stage with six neon diamonds and her silky falsetto, these light features intertwining with a satisfyingly tribal no-nonsense bass. She directed the crowd to their feet with familiar classics like Klapp Klapp and Ritual Union. Four Tet provided the cherry on the cake, building from delicate percussion up to a crumbling climax, with his ethereal tunes such as Plastic People, Glassbeadgames and Buchla. Strangers high-fived and exchanged euphoric smiles before the music ended to a unanimous ovation. Together the three acts; abstract, poppy and ethereal, provided a precursor of the events to come.
During the day those not camping could bask on the beach and enjoy the live music thumping from midday–8pm from Dub Smugglers Sound System. A highlight was the discovery of live futuristic African sounds from Afriquoi, whose charismatic frontman whirled the crowd to a bum-shaking boogie. However, tales spread of undercover police fining hapless campers up to £330 for possessing as little as a pinch of weed. To credit the festival, they had warned of the zealous authorities, but the roaming police vans and threat of arrest lent a slightly oppressive presence.
The first stage festival-goers came across as they wandered from beach to arena is The Clearing, an innovative transparent triangle construction. Several pillars of screens cleverly fan a hypnotic display about the glade. Mount Kimbie played one of the opening sets, setting the crowd alight with their popular melodic tricklers, which included Carbonated and Made to Stray. Four Tet then reappeared, displaying his versatility with a collection that seemed to span every continent – traversing seamlessly from Blawan’s thumper Getting Me Down, to some Latin samba, then over to hip-hop before an emotive remix of Caribou’s Your Love Will Set You Free.
The chief headliner of the festival, however, is the arena: Fort Punta Christo. In the sprawling nineteenth-century building the stages tailor setting and speakers to the music. On entry, the monochrome graffitied building seems almost apocalyptic. Naked branches and psychedelic projections spangle mosaics across the fort’s walls, making it very clear that you have left normality.
The Moat stage, viewable from above, is awe-inspiring. A narrow 100m strip with vertical 7m walls, white lights flare from one end, leaving the rear in near-darkness. This has the effect of almost obscuring the artist, turning them into a strobing, all-consuming presence. This trough was dominated by darker music, with Hessle Audio showcasing Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound on Thursday. Perhaps its finest set was with Objekt on Friday night, who drove techno deep into the gully like bullets down a gun.
Consistently stellar jump-up drum and bass and dub was catered for in the cavernous Mungo’s Arena, in which their formidable sound system thundered out a choice selection of artists from the pantheon of Metalheadz, Mala and Dispatch Recordings.
Variety ensured all electronic tastes were catered for – wandering about the arena one could be confident to have a caramel rhythm pluck the ear. Perhaps the most reliable stumble-upon was Noah’s Ballroom, a cylindrical rocky pit with a capacity of merely 75. This came at a cost of a queue, but this only built up anticipation. In the Ballroom underground labels from Zagreb, Sirup and Ekstrakt, represented the national scene by curating Friday and Saturday night with the likes of Marijan Felver and Sergej Snooze. Rolling deep house ruled the roost here with elbow-rubbing intimacy. The 3,000 Dimensions limit ensured that weaving through dance floors was done with ease at any stage.
Overall an unexpectedly feel-good funky-disco atmosphere prevailed; previous years had seen an eyes-forward head-nodding more serious techno tone. This optimistic shift was epitomised with the groovy spectacle of ‘70s legendary group George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic in The Clearing.
The soulful beats of follow-up act Detroit house master Moodymann continued their vibe, which was echoed in the double performance of Horse Meat Disco. Highlights from the latter act included Harmony by Suzi Lane and Souvenirs by Voyage. There was also the fantastically named Leeds-based Cosmic Slop, as well as Intergalactic Gary from The Hague, moving hearts and minds in The Moat with such tunes as Alex Banks’ A Matter of Time (Frank Wiedemann Remix). But the organic laissez-faire attitude was best had in The Garden, where the ground was set at a tilt with the audience broken up by trees. Mo Kolours, Tenderlonious and Al Dobson Jr played an epic back-to-back five-hour set, with Kolours spinning such gems as Blind by Miro Pajic.
Dimensions covered all the electronic musical bases – traversing house, techno, world, drum and bass and more, with masterful flair. The tropical setting enabled prime daytime recovery, lolling on lilos in the sun, before invading the fort once the sun had set.
Words: Tom Cox