Review of Dimensions Festival 2012 in Croatia

Here’s a review of the Dimemsions Festival 2012, from our son Simon Bryan, who you can find on beat beneath.

“Having long been skeptical about the majority of UK festivals and their lineups stuffed with indie-pop bands that were popular 7 years ago, questionable crowds, unappetising burger vans and of course the unpredictable weather, and further convinced by a great experience at Sonar Festival in Barcelona last year, the highlight of my summer musical calendar this year was the Dimensions festival which took place in Fort Punta Christo a few miles from Pula, Croatia. The announcement of the lineup exhorted in equal measures excited gasps amongst those who keenly follow and enjoy the current electronic and dance music scene, and confused looks from those who don’t and probably wondered why anyone would make the slightly inconvenient trip to an obscure location when Snow Patrol aren’t even on the bill. Headliners included Carl Craig, Nicolas Jaar, Little Dragon and Four Tet, although well over a hundred acts in total graced the nine stages, with many also committing to one of the numerous daytime boat parties which took place through the weekend. These were overwhelmingly DJs or electronic live acts – the festival was pulling no punches with its musical aims. Unlike notable dance music events such as Sonar, Exit or just about any club in Ibiza these days, the organisers of Dimensions had opted against compromising the underground, forward-thinking musical ethic by booking dubious big-name acts to headline, instead choosing to simply stuff the bill with even more quality music.

Dimensions Festival

The Mungo’s Hi Fi stage, with the Mungo’s Hi Fi DJs and MC Soom T

First things first – the location. Pula is an historic city in the Istria peninsula, and a short bus trip from Fort Punta Christo where the festival took place. It’s not the first time someone has thought of rigging up large speakers in the stone ruins – sister festival Outlook, now in its fifth year, took place the weekend before at the same site bringing a more dubstep, reggae and drum n bass flavour compared to Dimensions’ house and techno leanings. Not that either of these stylings were mutually exclusive to each festival, with Glasgow’s own Mungo’s Hi Fi keeping their infamous array of speakers on site post-Outlook to curate one of the best stages at Dimensions. Although punters did not get a chance to see the fort in daylight, it was undeniably an impressive location, with walls surrounding many of the stages and several interesting arenas being fashioned into the former military outpost’s various rooms.

Dimensions Festival

Illuminated entrance to Fort Punto Cristo

Particularly intriguing were the Moat stage, a long, thin section with towering stone walls on either side, and the Ballroom – a small, circular room with an observation deck that lent itself perfectly to use as a DJ booth. The main arena, although no bigger than most of the others, was perfectly sized and prone to the occasional blast of pyrotechnics from above, keeping everyone warm. The beach was a ten minute walk from the fort along a lit forest path, and featured several bars and food stalls alongside two of the venue’s stages, the Beach Party and Beach Bar, which played music all day to warm the revellers up for the main events at the fort which opened at 7pm. It was a typical example of the beauty that Croatia’s beaches are known for, with clear water perfect for swimming in, and it was busy from early on each day. The festival campsite was next to the beach, although personally I saved myself the bother of camping by booking an apartment in the nearby town of Stinjan, 15 minutes walk from the beach, sharing with two friends while another three friends occupied a neighbouring apartment. Some might say camping is part of the “festival experience” but I enjoyed having a double bed to myself, a clean shower and cooking facilities for only a few euros more per night than camping!

Dimensions Festival

View from my apartment in Stinjan town

The crowd seemed to be predominantly British with a few continental Europeans and those from further afield in the mix. But one was certainly more likely to hear London accents around the site than any Croatian being spoken, unless they were behind the bar. Both the punters and the staff were, as a whole, very friendly, with the Croatian security guards being refreshingly relaxed and affable compared to British bouncers. There was very little trouble – after all, fans of the sort of music Dimensions was pushing aren’t exactly known for bar brawls, loutish behaviour or irresponsible drinking – and the festival was refreshingly free from any corporate sponsorship or excessive policing.

Dimensions Festival

Fire erupting from the tops of the arena walls

Most importantly, the musical performances did not disappoint. If there was one “complaint” to be made it was that there were so many standout acts on the lineup; the timetable, combined with the usual festival issues of rounding up friends, allowing for serendipitous distractions (including a shisha bar complete with comfy seating and music of its own) and dealing with the queues that built up for several arenas, food stalls and other facilities, all combined to make it physically impossible to see every act I wanted to see. I mostly elected to catch incomplete sets, which may have done a disservice to those DJs carefully picking out their hours’ worth of music, but it seemed better than missing some favourites altogether. Every night each of the numerous stages was curated by different promoters – these included Berlin techno/bass crossover night Sub:Stance, soul-infused UK label Eglo, the organisers behind comparable Seattle festival Decibel, and Tom Middleton’s Sounds of the Cosmos brand.

Dimensions Festival

The crowd in the main arena

My highlights from the weekend included Birmingham-raised 90s techno pioneer Surgeon playing his trademark heavy yet heady beats to a packed out Moat stage, just after Shackleton’s otherworldly sonics which made that little bit more sense under a night sky in a forest compared to when I saw him in a basement nightclub a few weeks previously; the consistently impressive New Yorker Levon Vincent playing some of the deepest music to grace the main arena; Kassem Mosse helping kick off the Saturday night by playing an impeccable live set that was heavy on improvisation and without a laptop in sight (surely a lesson to all those who think live dance music is just about “pressing play”); the much-hyped young DJ South London Ordnance playing a faultless techno set in the crowded Ballroom; and last but not least the Mungo’s Hi Fi Stage and its unbeatable selection of all things bass-orientated. Mungos’ trademark home-built speaker setup has surely travelled the globe by now and it did the low end sounds justice and then some, with killer lineups every night including everyone from young rising stars, drum n bass veterans, dubstep originators and Rinse FM mainstays, to Glaswegian dancehall MCs with convincing Jamaican accents.

Dimensions Festival

Kassem Mosse on the main stage

The Outside Stage was packed to capacity on the Saturday night, with people who’d been turned away resorting to crowding behind the fence to catch Detroit house don Moodymann’s 4am session. I wasn’t lucky enough to get in, but from the outside the music sounded soulful and sexy, with the eclecticism that the Motor City’s musical exports are known for. I also attended the Elevate Boat Party which, as with the other sixteen boat parties taking place over the weekend, gave the festival DJs a chance to showcase a different side of their music collection. As The Lonely Island would surely agree, there’s definitely something fun about partying on a floating vessel, and London juke enthusiast Addison Groove won the passengers over with a selection of vintage West Coast hip hop amongst other summer’s day classics.

Dimensions Festival

Boat party departures

The running of the festival was, for the most part, hard to criticise: the timetable was adhered to almost perfectly minus one or two small changes, the sound and light in all the arenas was exceptional save for the occasional bit of excessive volume in the smaller stages, and the fort looked the part with the combination of the surrounding natural scenery, the starry night sky and the festival production. Two small gripes were the token-based bars (nobody ever likes them, although they’re forgiven if it was a necessary licensing loophole), and the fact that the event stewards, who were mostly British volunteers, weren’t of much help even with simple things like the locations of the stages; although judging by the ones I spoke to, I got the impression the instructions and organisation from their superiors left a bit to be desired. It’s also worth saying that there was some confusion around the published boat party start and end times, although the organisers recognised this, therefore the stewards were happy to allow anyone who’d missed the boat they’d paid for to board a different one instead.

Overall, Dimensions was a unique festival in an interesting location with an excellent musical policy, and if they manage to pull out a similar lineup next year I’d recommend it to anyone who, like me, likes the idea of festivals but thinks they can do a bit better than in their home country when it comes to music and weather, or simply has an open mind and a desire to party in a slightly unusual location regardless of whether or not they’ve ever heard of most of the performers.”