While en route to Croatia, by way of three planes and one bus, I came across a line in the book I was reading at the time (the Best Music Writing of 2009 compilation), that read, “To write is to begin with nothing and hopefully get somewhere.”
Being fully aware that multi-day music festivals are as much of a subjective enigma as anything else in life, with as many different experiences as there are people in attendance, that line struck a cord and has been buried deep within me ever since. I had hoped from the beginning that traveling to Croatia would help me to gain a new perspective – how could it not, really? – but I didn’t realize such a simply-worded outlook could be so influential (and before I even got to my destination, no less).
This newfound insight was reaffirmed in the days following the festival as I began to digest what I had just experienced and thought about how to begin to put it into words for KAB. My goal here is simple: to start with the six scatter-brained notes and the 894 pictures I took on my iPhone, and hope to get somewhere.
Hit the jump for a massive photo gallery and to read more about my take of this year’s debut Dimensions Festival.
As you may have read earlier this summer, Croatia wasn’t the first time this summer I emptied my wallet in search of satisfying a bass-driven craving. I flew out for Bloc Weekend, the 2-day festival held in London, which was canceled in its first night due to overcrowding and disorganization. Naturally, I was severely disappointed and a bit wounded. Walking around Brick Lane the day after the unfortunate chaos unfolded, I spotted a sticker advertising Dimensions Festival and I deemed it both a sign and a mission to attend.
Unable to take work off the allotted time necessary to attend Outlook, which takes place a week prior, I settled with practically stalking the festival’s Instagram feed, fully knowing I was in for some of the same treatment, as both Outlook and Dimensions are organized by the same blessed masterminds.
Once I stepped onto Croatian ground, at the airport in Zagreb, my first task was to find a bus 3 hours south to Pula, where the festival was hosted and where my friends were awaiting my arrival. I was very fortunate that Dimensions had organized transfers from several points outside of Pula to help make the commute easier on travelers and I managed to snag the last seat on the last shuttle bus of the day. Instantly, I was amidst conversations focused on the festival and knew I was headed to the right place with like-minded people.
My first taste of Croatia was of not finding any available free WiFi and walking around the center of Pula; all while an intense dance competition was being held in the middle of a crowded street fair. After being happily distracted by new surroundings and overtired from traveling, I finally snagged my first cab ride to the apartment we’d be calling our temporary home for the trip.
Instantly, my favorite detail of the apartment was the actual grapevine sheltering a picnic table outside. Our apartment was (thankfully) perfect for what we needed it for: a place to sleep, recharge, cook meals and hang out low key in between our time at the festival. Our host Marianna was absolutely great, and she gave us a bottle of home-brewed wine (which we enjoyed during our last Croatian sunset from a beach we rode borrowed bikes to), as well as insisted on cooking us a family meal Croatian-style (amazing). Croatia was one of the friendliest countries I’ve visited this summer and everyone we ran into (mostly taxi drivers) seemed very welcoming of the festival and its attendees.
As you may have gathered from the photo gallery above, my first couple days were spent exploring the beautiful countryside of Croatia. If you are planning on attending either Outlook or Dimensions next year, I highly recommend giving yourself some time to rent a car and explore some of the country. For those doing both Outlook and Dimensions, like my friends did this year, this was a perfect decompression period in between festivals.
Our main destination for our road trip was to check out the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is both Croatia’s largest national park and the oldest national park in Southeast Europe. The sixteen lakes that make up the park are formed by natural dams and are separated between upper and lower lakes, with waterfalls connecting them.
Simply put, it is a paradise all its own and we all joked that we hit our waterfall quota for the next solid year, spending several hours at the park. A wooden, manmade path stretched throughout the entirety of the park and was raised above the lake at some points, really giving the visitors a natural and intimate hiking experience. The water was so vibrantly colored, with ranging hues of azure and turquoise, while simultaneously being clear and the cleanest-looking water I’ve ever seen. This park has very minimal human interference in that the area’s natural beauty and resources have been preserved to the highest capacity possible. Step into this real-life Avatar setting if you ever have the opportunity; as it felt both rare and glorious to have visited.
Other highlights of our road trip included checking out remnants of World War II in a small park, ordering from an all-Croatian menu (aside from “pizza”), staying in a relatively inexpensive room in someone’s house in a village called Slunj (these quaint apartment hostels are littered all over Croatia) and driving an extra hour in search of the most intriguing, obscure memorial structure I’ve ever seen. (In the photo gallery above, this is the weird Sci-Fi looking thing in the middle of a vacant field).
As I’ve read, the Podgarić Monument was built in 1967 by Dušan Džamonja, as a memorial to a 1941 uprising in Croatia. The Millennium Falcon-resemblant monument was not advertised anywhere surrounding the hilltop area it is hidden in, and there were minimal signs of others visiting, such as a couple aged beer cans and burned down religious candles. The Podgarić Monument is part of a series of abstract monuments meant to symbolize power and triumph, which have since been unmaintained and left to decay. With my mind also on the festivities ahead of us, I couldn’t help but daydream about how weird and surreal it’d be to host a party at the site, as if some ancient Aztecan ritual would accidentally be spoken and the massive architectural feat would take off in flight.
After getting back on the road and soaking in Croatian country landscapes, Dimensions had already undergone its first day of session and we agreed catching Alexander Nut was our first goal for the night.
Walking onto festival grounds that first night, there was a lot to take in, both sound-wise and location-wise. Time and time again, I found myself reminding myself I was in an abandoned 200-year old fort. In Croatia. With thousands of other people. All here to experience a top-calibre line-up exploring a wide range of sounds and frequencies found in modern electronic, bass-driven music. It’s easy to both romanticize and appreciate how each person in attendance traveled distances both great and small to convene for this festival and how there are so few that could make this happen in a location such as Fort Punta Christo.
In my experience, the crossover from Outlook, which hosted about 15,000 people, to Dimensions, which capped off around 5,000, was quite impressive. Only several signs that a raging festival took place in full-force a week before were evident on the grounds. For the most part, everything was completely transformed. As my friends mentioned to me, Outlook had the vibe of a more-crowded (obviously so), younger, mostly-British crowd, whereas Dimensions seemed to appeal to a perhaps older, more diverse European crowd.
Either way, for me, right off the get go, I could sense that the crowd was in attendance for the music itself first, and partying second. In my experience, it could be garnered as cynical but it isn’t difficult to tell instances where the opposite is true in American festival culture. Even simply standing in line to exchange Kuna (Croatian currency) to the festival token system, you could overhear conversations of people discussing acts on the line-up or excitedly plotting their next move. Also, while mentioning the token system, I particularly enjoyed it. I wasn’t keeping track of how much I was actually spending and for me, it was one less thing to think about; I either had tokens on me for drinks, or I didn’t. Paying a cab driver in festival tokens instead of actual currency made for an interesting story and a next-level personal achievement for my silver tongue as well.
The festival was divided in several areas: the main Fort Arena, the Moat, Outside the Fort, the Ballroom, the Courtyard, Mungo’s Arena and of course, the Beach and Boat parties. Each location had enjoyable and distinctive details about it, with its own customized sound system to meet the specifications of each unique space. Ashes57 also had a dope contribution on site (simply put) that doubled as both an art installation and a unique photo booth. Be sure to check out her photos from the weekend over on the Dimensions’ Facebook.
The quality of sound was a component on the same plane of priority as the festival’s location, line-up and vibe, and played an influential role in the experience, whether you were consciously aware of it or not. Prior to Dimensions, I’ve experienced leaps in sound quality ranging from Funktion One to that of an almost-barely-counting-as-a-sound-system sound system found in a dive bar. I’ve always just simplified the matter to, “Yes, this sounds fine/great/excellent,” to “Yep, this kind of sucks,” but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I started paying closer attention. Seeing Mala play for the first time will do that to a person.
Additionally, you can flip through the gorgeous programme guide, which was written, curated and graciously made available online by Big Up Magazine, to see a thorough break down of the sound systems at Dimensions, as well as their relation to their space on location and other pertinent details, all successfully and artfully capturing the essence of the festival.
At Dimensions, we were spoiled entering the garden of Mungo’s and indulging in their capable custom sound system sans divine punishment. Like I said, I don’t have any insight to the techs and specs of any system, but I could hear and feel the music in a way that I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. Again, spoiled. It was unanimous within my crew that Mungo’s Hi Fi was the reigning champion of the festival sound system-wise, and we posted up for the entirety of its stage’s Exit Records showcase on the last night of the festival, no questions asked.
While Mungo’s was a magnetic force, the other stages of the festival were just as captivating. The only queuing that seemed to be questionable regarding length was outside of the Moat. For one example, due to the queue’s length, I was only able to catch portion of Scuba’s set from above overlooking the sardine crowd, before moving onward into the night.
To get to the Moat, you had to go down a couple flights of steel stairs, which lead to a long corridor with massively high stone walls. At the brink of the Moat was a raised DJ booth and when you looked up you could see the empty, black sky with trees illuminated by colorful LEDs, and a sliver of moon. From the front row rail, the artists behind the raised decks got lost in a sea of colored fog and you couldn’t quite see who was playing, which put the focus entire on the building of the sound itself (and, of course, the vibe of the crowd).
Some personal highlights from the Moat include getting lost in the crowd there (being serious, it was as enjoyable walking through a swaying, meditative crowd during some of the minimal techno and deeper dubstep moments as it was being camped on the front row rail), as well as catching sets from Shackleton, Lone and Untold; all of whom were on my must-see bucket list for quite some time prior to the festival. Lastly, looking down at the crowd from above without being compromised of being able to hear the music, (at least only a little bit), was quite memorable as well. Taking a moment to soak in the scene while also being distanced from it all was quite the zen moment for me.
I didn’t end up spending much time at all inside the Fort’s main arena, which hosted the largest names on the festival, such as Carl Craig 69 Live, Four Tet, Nicolas Jaar, Little Dragon Live, Ben Klock and Levon Vincent, to name a few, as well as 2,000 festival goers. In fact, I only ended up catching a tiny fragment of Four Tet’s set before moving onward.
The other stages were also quite special, with the Ballroom (a circular chamber in the fort) acting as an enclosed pocket for an intimate sound and dancing experience. I also quite enjoyed the Courtyard, which was also of a smaller capacity and was surrounded by high walls with an open ceiling exposing the night sky. Looking up occasionally one would also see bursts of fire escaping from atop the walls, which was one of the coolest elements of the festival’s production. Seeing Kozee cap off the first night of the festival was another personal highlight. It was great to finally catch live mixing from someone I’ve become friends with through music and whom I have the upmost respect for. She also managed to play a fresh assortment of tracks that gave me a second wind at 5 a.m., which is quite the feat in itself. You can check out the interview we did prior to the festival here and also be sure to check out some of her mixes and original productions as well.
The first night of the festival was a bit overwhelming schedule-wise, and at that point, it became clear that the inevitable and unfortunate part of attending a festival where sacrifices must be made was upon us. This was especially the case during the midnight to 3 a.m. time slot where the Fort’s Arena 1 hosted Nicolas Jaar and Four Tet, while Sub:stance hosted Scuba, Shackleton and Surgeon; all while Mungo’s Arena featured Mala, Jack Sparrow and Pinch as the Ballroom hosted Visionist. Whatever route you landed upon was a solid choice and complaints weren’t really that long-winded. After all, as SP:MC pointed out throughout the festival, “it doesn’t get much better than this! Look where you are!”
In addition to Thursday being the most packed of the festival, I also managed to make the most rounds, catching more artists (although some in snippets) on this night than I did the other two nights. As you can imagine, a good percentage of the music I heard was completely new to me, (especially in the drum ‘n bass category) and even the tunes I did recognize still came off as new, for it was the first or second time presented to me through a proper sound system. The festival was also my first exposure to artists such as Indigo, Amit, Consequence, D-Bridge and Space Dimension Controller, as well as to DJs such as Moxie and Josey Rebelle, who have all since been filed under my “keep tabs on” folder. The festival also put a good dent in my aforementioned bucket list with the likes of Blawan, Kode9, 2562, Joy Orbison and Benji B. Not to be redundant, but regardless of what your experience ended up being, the line-up read like an open-minded bass music enthusiast’s dream and you couldn’t really go wrong wherever you may have ended up.
Mala‘s set on the Mungo’s HiFi system was arguably worth traveling to Croatia alone and was an absolute highlight of the entire weekend. His seemingly at-ease ability to be a performer, a selector and a teacher, all while clearly enjoying himself, is unparalleled. His set was balanced, pristine, refreshing and high energy. Teasing the crowd with “Anti-War Dub,” stopping it sharply before allowing it to ease and erupt, made it feel like an obvious welcome festival staple. This was also the first time I’ve seen Mala alongside an emcee and he was joined by Chunky for a good chunk of his hour long set. I personally didn’t mind Chunky joining him, though I overheard several say Chunky was their only complaint from Mala’s set aside from scheduling conflicts with other acts. I just enjoyed incessant reminders that we were in Croatia, of all places, seeing Mala, of all producers.
Mala rinsing several tracks from Goth Trad, such as “New Epoch” was also a highlight, considering I had recently gone on a binge listen of Goth Trad’s productions in advance of his recent US debut at reconstrvct in August. Additionally, following the festival, Mala’s new album – the first full length release from the producer and one of the most highly anticipated projects of the year – “Mala in Cuba,” was released, which you can preview here and purchase here.
For me, Dimensions really shined with its label-curated boat parties and it wouldn’t have been the same festival experience without capitalizing on these opportunities. I made my way onto the Deviation Boat with Moxie, Josey Rebelle, Ossie, Joy Orbison and Benji B on Friday, and the Exit Records Boat the next day with Indigo, Consequence, dBridge, Loxy, Synkro, Marcus Intellects, SP MC and MC GQ. Now that I’m back in the States, I’m fairly confident there isn’t a comparable hangover cure such as spending time in the sun on a boat gliding through the Adriatic sea for hours at a time, and also, well, drinking some more. It was pure bliss and a rare opportunity to see sets from the DJs and producers play together in such a setting. Shout out to the London crew I met on the Deviation Boat who made the boat a bit rowdy and somehow more fun than I had already anticipated.
The only decent video I took the entire weekend.
The Exit Boat the next day was also a moment of recognition for me – having very minimal exposure to modern drum ‘n bass – that I absolutely am into it. SP:MC was a great host and was one of the rare MCs who actually looked like he was having a blast without overdoing it and didn’t annoy or distract me. As a disclaimer, my personal experience with MCs is more along the lines of intoxicated 20-somethings being handed microphones at inappropriate times, and Dimensions Festival was one of my first times listening to an actual MC guide the performance, aside from catching Juakali at on.the.sly in New York earlier this summer (which I also enjoyed thoroughly). Regardless, the Exit Boat absolutely did it for me and although I needed to sit for roughly 20 minutes at one point out of exhaustion, I can’t think of any other artists I’d have rather been stuck at sea with. Immediately hopping off the boat, we walked over to the Beach party spot, to catch a glimpse of the stunning Croatian sunset before the festival’s finale.
This year’s Dimensions Festival was well worth every dish I had to wash in order to afford the last-minute trip abroad and I couldn’t imagine doing everything in my power to be able to attend again in the future. I’ve joked in the days following that I didn’t know it was humanly possible to have a vacation that wasn’t the least bit stressful (especially considering my Bloc adventure) but that’s how this trip happened and I hope that I radiate gratitude for it. Couldn’t recommend this adventure more.
They’re really onto something out there.
Much love and gratitude to Ben, Collin, Emmet, Luke, Katya, Scott, Kozee and everyone I met along the way. Thanks out to Oliver and the Dimensions Staff for their hard work and executed vision.
Croatia, until next time.
Overview of Dimension’s, KC Edition:
Caught sets from: Alexander Nut, Moxie, Shox, Shackleton, Mala, Jack Sparrow b2b Ruckspin (Author), Four Tet, Pinch, Kode9, Blawan, Kozee — Deviation Boat Party with Ossie, Josey Rebelle, Moxie, Joy Orbison, Benji B — Zed Bias, Space Dimension Controller, Nathan’s Fake, Jimmy Edgar, Lone, Pearson Sound, Untold, — Indigo, Consequence, D-Bridge, Loxy, Synkro, Marcus Intellects, SP:MC, MC GQ – Exit Boat Party — Mungolian Jet Set, 2562, Ryan Elliot, Morgan Geist, Amit, D-Bridge, Loxy and Dub Phizix.
Tune stuck in head following the festival’s conclusion: Gentlemans Dub Club – High Grade (Ruckspin Remix)