Afterthoughts: Dimensions Festival 2019 – The Last Dance

Despite a relatively short history, Dimensions festival has cemented itself into electronic music folklore. Marrying its picturesque coastal Croatian location with solid stage design and epic line-ups have proven a heady mix. 2019 marked the festival’s eighth addition, billed as ‘The Last Dance’ as the organisers prepare to take a bold step into the unknown, leaving Pula’s 19th-century Fort Punta Christo behind for pastures new. Seeing as I’d not yet made the pilgrimage and with only a few warnings of heavy-handed security, it seemed only right to jump on a flight to see what all the hype was about.

For those mad enough to camp in temperatures that consistently edged into the 30’s, the festival’s smallest stage Pacinos Bar opened Tuesday night showcasing local Croatian talent. Andrej Laseech, Innaca and Damien all pumped out beats until 4am, loosening the shackles of those long 9 to 5 working days. Wednesday saw the opening of The Beach stage, a large sandy dance floor that edged directly onto the pebble strewn and palm-tree scattered beach. Grooves were supplied by various UK promoters, predominantly from Leeds’ burgeoning scene, with a big shout out being owed to Hold The Relish’s Mike and Midge who blended old US house, baseline driven techno and a smattering of face melting electro to truly get the party started.

Wednesday also saw the now infamous opening concert taking place in central Pula. Stepping into a Roman amphitheatre to discover a colossal stage with towers of speakers dominating either side of it was a sight to behold, as past and present crashed together. At the controls Tony Allen and Jeff Mills quickly sculpted the assembled mob into a bobbing, hollering crowd before Anderson Paak impressed with his strong vocals and simultaneous mastery of the drums. Paak deserves special commendation for the bold choice of a full velvet tracksuit despite the residue heat of the day that lingered long after sunset.

Next Objekt took the crowd on a journey unlike his usual affair playing darker, spacier tracks that were paired with a live visual performance displayed upon a mammoth LED screen choreographed by digital artist Ezra Miller; who bewitched the crowd with a reptilian humanoid traveling across an ever-evolving abstract landscape. Closing the concert, Hunee was his usual naughty self, masterfully mixing tracks from across the genre spectrum.

On Thursday the festival starts to settle into its natural rhythm. During the day revellers can go to the Beach stage to enjoy a mix of disco, house and live performances, meander a few metres along the beach to Pacinos Bar for break beats and techno or frolic in the sea and hear a confusing mixture of the two. Another option is to climb aboard the inflatable assault course to play a wonderful game of cat and mouse with the 12 year old local boy tasked with keeping non-paying Brits from their fun. As the sun sets over the Adriatic Sea, the day stages close and the rest of the site opens up.

This is where Dimensions comes into its own, fully embracing its unique location. The 45 metre high peninsula upon which Fort Punta Christo sits has been transformed into a veritable playground for lucky festival goers to explore. Crowds marching up the steep path firstly reach The Clearing, easily the largest stage I’ve seen at an electronic festival. It wouldn’t have looked amiss at any of the large UK festivals where bands big in the 90’s phone in a performance for a fat cheque. Past the Clearing, a famous whisky brand has sponsored a small portable stage. Inevitably, the imaginatively named ‘Jack’s Corner’ became somewhere to walk past as you wandered a further rocky 200 metres to reach the other stages. At one point I did enjoy a saucy little break that was being played as I nipped in there to grab some tissues from the bar; but when I turned around to show some appreciation, I was the only one there.

At the top of the Fort the rest of the stages are nicely staggered as you ascend to the summit. The Garden is big, open and appropriately green. The Moat is ten metres wide, 60 metres long and 30 metres deep with huge stacks equally spaced along its entirety, equating to a truly extreme experience. The Void is a large outdoor stage, always mysteriously dark apart from its decreasing neon blue squares creating an illusion that draws you further along your musical journey. Subdub Arena sits in a rectangular courtyard with tall walls and featured ridiculous amount of speakers that genuinely caused pain as the bass rattled every cell of your being.

The final two stages are housed within the Fort itself. Descending below it you find the aptly named Dungeon, a low ceilinged and red-lit passage you could always find thirty or so gremlins skanking away to an often outrageous beat. The Ballroom sits within the centre of the fortress, a small perfectly circular pit with walls that stretched metres above you framing the brightly coloured trees and star speckled sky.

Now you have your bearings let’s get to the music. This year’s line-up was arguably one of the best in Europe, if not the world. On Thursday night I bounced from stage to stage, never truly settling as I struggled to get my bearings, taking in the likes of Peach, Gene on Earth, Jane Fitz, The Ghost, Nina Kraviz as well as umpteen other names. The standout was easily French DJ LowJack who played 30 minutes of filthy bass-line in the Dungeon that led to such vigorous flapping of my fan it quickly disintegrated.

Friday in retrospect was one of those days I’d happily relive over and over again. It started with a boat party, curated by Butter Side Up featuring primo selectors Francesco Del Garda and Binh. Being the first boat party to sell out, they had hired a larger boat than originally planned and even that was heaving under the weight of expectation as we set sail under a sapphire blue sky. It would be a disservice to the residents to simply say they ‘warmed’ the crowd. After an hour adrift the top deck was a whistling, cheering, throbbing mass of people who had well and truly found their sea legs.

Scheduled to play separately for an hour each, Binh and Del Garda instead went B2B for two of the finest hours of music that have ever graced my ears. With the crowd already bouncing the pair found another gear taking us stratospheric. Their selections highlighted the fact they are some of finest diggers around, but also the absolute wealth of bombs that remain undiscovered for those willing to commit themselves to the task. That night Dan Shake, Hamish & Toby, Binh (on his own this time), Jayda G and Zip were all playing out of their skin. Zip especially, who was on 4-6am at The Garden, was a delight even if the dust storm kicked up by the frenzied crowd was apocalyptic at times.

On Saturday I boarded the smaller boat for the Meat Free x Love Muscle party. Entertainment was provided by Lucy Locket, Tom Hannah, Chekov, Michael Upson and Blasha & Allatt. The music weaved through all things house, disco and techno and with more room to groove the eclectic crowd took full advantage throwing themselves around with the kind of abandon that it seems only a queer party can nurture. It’s a testament to the UK’s resurgent scene that queer acts were dotted across the weekend’s line-up and essentially took over The Garden stage for the entirety of Thursday night.

That evening, giddy from a second special day at sea, I was eased into the night by MR Scruff before entering The Void for a night of electro I’ll never forget. Kirsti took no prisoners playing heavy from the first track before handing over to Craig Richards for an exclusively electro set. He clearly was enjoying playing some absolute gems that rarely get an airing. Next was a double whammy of live sets, Radioactive Man tore through old and new material keeping the crowd on their toes and energetic, before DMX Krew presided over a set of the highest calibre.

After 6 hours at The Void we settled at The Garden for Batu. Flexing his musical muscle he effortlessly spanned genres to create a truly astonishing set. The BPM stayed well over 135 as he hopped from big room to afrobeats to jungle with such ease it was actually bewildering. After two hours of madness he had reduced the crowd to their most animalistic selves and they loved him for it, with many crowning it their standout set of the weekend.

As ever Sunday came along far too quickly. At the Beach stage, Nu Guinea was the perfect tonic for weary bodies feeling the toll from the previous days. Playing sultry disco to begin with before leaning into their own music that drew in the masses filling the sandy dance floor as the sun set on this incredible festival for the final time. As the dark deepened over the Void, Solid Blake played a slamming blend of techno and electro delivered at speed, helping the crowd find their dancing shoes. In The Moat Call Super was frantic, playing with a smile on his lips as he brought in thumping track after thumping track with his unique flair. As midnight came it was time for the Omar in the Ballroom, a set I’d been eagerly anticipating all weekend.

Perched in a booth above the crowd and speakers, he played the wonderfully intimate stage with pure finesse, exploring the deeper manifestations of house mixed with breaks and electro. Easily one of the most exciting acts around at the minute, he’s one of the few who can purse your lips in sheer delight with nearly every single track. In a blink of an eye two hours were gone and with only four hours remaining there was only one place to be. Richards B2B Lutz at The Clearing. Surprisingly, despite arriving a third of the way through their 6 hour set there was only a few hundred people in attendance, which on a stage that large felt almost empty. I later learned that it had been absolutely heaving for Larry Heard before but the switch over took nearly half an hour due to technical difficulties and the inpatient crowd dispersed into the night.

Regardless, the masters were in full flow and everyone appreciated having that extra space to cut loose. In recent years these two have played legendary sets at Fabric, Exit and of course both Houghton festivals. They were at it again throwing out sci-fi electro, slick breakbeats and deep electronica. As the other stages further up the hill started to close, the masses returned and for the final couple of hours The Clearing was a sea of people. As the sky started to lighten and their set came to close “Thank You Fort Punta Christo” was thrown onto the screen in huge bold letters. As the final track ebbed away there were hugs, tears and raucous round of applause that at one point felt as if it may never end.

You may be wondering why on earth Dimensions would leave this paradise. If you’ve been you already know, if you haven’t you’ve probably heard the rumours. Firstly, the security are actively hostile and aggressive. It seemed every new person you met had a story of strip searches, choke holds and 400 euro fines. Secondly, the lack of water points was genuinely dangerous. The only water point was right down by the beach, meaning if you were at any of the stages near the summit you’d be looking at a 20 minute round trip just to quench your thirst. I was reliably informed by an English steward that each bar had a tap specifically to refill water, but I only saw a bottle refilled once and most of the Croatian bar staff denied their existence entirely.

Finally, the clear collusion between the police and expensive local taxis to dissuade you from using Uber was shocking. It involved check points that would allow only the locals through to the festival drop off zone, whilst Uber passengers were turfed out and ordered to walk twenty minutes along a busy road. Intimidation was used widely as gangs of locals harassed and in some instances attacked Uber drivers whilst police looked on. Now I know some bleeding hearts are going to say ‘Uber drivers undercut locals and take their business’, but at a festival of thousands there was surely enough business to go around. Especially as they were trying to charge the Kuna equivalent of £25-£50 for a 10 minute, 5 KM trip.

This is by no means a reflection on the festival organisers, who should take pride in what they have achieved over the last 8 years. They have taken a beautiful location, added superb production before scheduling incredible line-ups each and every year. I can honestly say that Dimensions has gifted me with memories I hope to never forget and musical experiences that will act as new bench mark for all future sets to compete with. It’s just a shame that the aforementioned issues mean that even if it was still at the fort next year I wouldn’t go back. So it seems the time is right to say goodbye and thank you to Fort Punta Christo. Just know that wherever the Dimensions crew decide to pitch up next, you’d do well to be first in the queue.

Words: Jack Watson

Featured Images: Jack Watson, Rob Jones, Daisy Denham, Daniel Kirsic

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