Dimensions: From 2012 To Infinity

Gabriel Szatan helps us reflect on 8 memorable years at our fortress home...

It might seem strange now, but when Dimensions Festival began in 2012, its success was by no means assured.

The festival’s founders didn’t have to look far for a site to hold it on, at least. In 2010 sister festival Outlook had made their home at Fort Punta Christo after two nomadic years. On a jutting part of the north Croatian coastline, near the town of Pula, with über-scenic views and a crowd that swelled from 800 to 11,000 in just three years, Outlook was already well-established as a global hub for the various mutations and manifestations of soundsystem culture.

But a festival built on a deeper shade of music? Could it work? For much of the 2000s, house, techno, disco, jazz, funk and various other electronic and soulful micro-genres were usually experienced with a side-serving of glitz and glamour on some sun-kissed (and expensive) island. Out of the summer season, these records were digested by a dedicated, but aging, set of lifers. A new generation, too young to be seasoned but old enough to travel for what they love, didn’t have a readymade outlet.

Enter Dimensions. The first edition came correct with a readymade infrastructure – each area bristled with its own character, energy and locked-in tribe. Exactly the foundation a festival should rest on. As well as established draws, Dimensions placed their faith in a new generation of stars were on their way up: scour 2012’s line-up and find Nicolas Jaar, Todd Terje, Objekt, Ben UFO, Four Tet, Floating Points, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Blawan, and John Talabot in varying font sizes – all now surefire headliners the world over, most of whom forged a relationship with Dimensions that carries on strong to this very day.

The festival’s capacity for eclecticism would grow from there, but the bedrock was fixed: take pride in the stars of tomorrow while paying testament to the pioneers, both adulated and unsung, of the past. Add a genuinely international audience, which helped insulate from the Brit-propelled Croatian festival bubble, and a strong loyalty to the artists Dimensions see as family (amongst them Petar Dundov, Mala, Josey Rebelle, all of Hessle Audio, dBridge and the full Exit crew, Dan Shake, Gilles Peterson, and the much-missed Marcus Intalex – rest in power) and you get a few of the things the Dimensions team pride themselves on to this very day.

As a celebration of Dimensions Festival to date, below is a rundown of potted history and choice highlights over seven magical years at Fort Punta Christo, with quotes from key players in the story to guide you. This is not to exclude sundown specials on the beach, the unbelievable life-giving refreshment of jumping into the water after a long night, larking about in the campsite with mates, or any of what we didn’t get to. There’s more than we could possibly have time and space for. Such is the variety found within Fort Punta Christo’s walls, you can – in the timeless words of 2016’s guests Mood II Swing – do it your way.

First Impressions & Special Stages

For so many, what brings people back to Outlook and Dimensions year on year is the way Fort Punta Christo gets used. The Fort, which dates all the way back to 1836, and the natural environments that flank it are idyllic enough to make a down payment, but the care and consideration that goes into the production of the festival seals the deal. It hasn’t always been that way though…

Joe Barnett (Managing Director): Awe is the first word that springs to mind when I arrived at the Fort. Awe at it’s untouched splendour and excitement at the opportunity we had to build something incredible with this unique venue. Then a headache swiftly came after, at the realisation of how much work it was going to take! 

Dimensions Team: The site has developed each year from 2010 when we first arrived. In our first year, our main stage was originally the Stables (formerly Arena 1) with parties also taking place within the Mungo’s Arena (now Subdub Arena), the Ballroom and the Courtyard. Today, with more stages than ever, each has a unique, considered sound, layout and programme.

Ed Walsh (Former Sales Manager): I actually went as a punter before I joined the team – the Moat was the thing that blew me away.  Looking at it from the top and walking down and feeling the sound was a memorable moment.

Alex T: Literally nowhere can compare to The Moat in terms of a techno experience… except maybe Berghain.

SNO: The whole feel of the festival, the connections, the conversations and the unity amongst revellers. There was also a mystical air to the surroundings which made the place poetically spiritual, if there is such a thing.

Dan Shake: I’ve never seen so much energy in a festival crowd.

Ed Walsh: The lightning striking for Stormzy’s Outlook set at The Clearing was pretty memorable.  Anyone who has ever been knows the storms can be impressive and sometimes shut the music down – but on this occasion Stormzy, a relative newcomer at the time, dropped a banger just as a lightning strike bolted down and it blew everyone’s mind. It almost looked scripted!

Dimensions Team: Yeah, the weather in Croatia is incredible each year, but that’s not to say we don’t get hit by the occasional storm. There was a moment of magic in 2014 when Motor City Drum Ensemble and Floating Points performed an unplanned back-to-back as the heavens opened, unsure how long they would get to perform while the storm raged. What followed was five hours of musical greatness, all while a resilient crowd danced the night away.

Joe Barnett: It’s been a lot of work. A hell of a lot. There was untold foliage to scale back, walls to mend and areas to be made safe in order to make it habitable for Outlook (and later Dimensions) to take place. Our Croatian partners were crucial in making this dream a reality.

Putting the D in Dimensions

Detroit and Fort Punta Christo lie 7300km away, but once a year the ocean between them parts and an unlikely intercontinental expressway opens up. No edition of Dimensions would be complete without some exports from Michigan’s singular hub of musical innovation. To name but a few of the Detroit natives who have made the journey: Omar-S, K-Hand, Jeff Mills, Kyle Hall, Ash Lauryn, Aux 88, Model 500, Jay Daniel, Octave One, Underground Resistance, Dopplereffekt, Amp Fiddler, and DJ Stingray, who will live up to his reputation by playing wavejumping electro on the literal waves this year.

Then there’s the pair who sent shocks through the first edition, and have more or less become patron saints of Pula ever since. As the Dimensions Team recall, “Theo Parrish was playing all night long in 2012 when he slammed in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, creating a mosh pit. And, the same year, Moodymann took a call from his uncle halfway through his appearance, even putting him on the mic.” Add this to Rick Wilhite dropping “Standing In The Rain” as the heavens opened over Moody, Theo, Marcellus and Rick’s nine-hour Three Chairs set in 2013, and you get a sense of how this ensemble of Motor City deviance feel at home. And they’re not the only ones.

Living Legends...

Dimensions’ de facto main stage, The Clearing, has seen some phenomenal artists over the years, bringing ladlefuls of heritage and cross-cultural exchange: Azymuth & Marcos Valle, Roy Ayers, Mala In Cuba, Cymande, Ata Kak amongst them – not to mention the first Mr Fingers live performance in over 20 years, confirmation of which pushed some members of the team to genuine tears of happiness. But the addition of the 2000 year old Pula Arena to Outlook and Dimensions in 2013 opened up a whole new way to celebrate the classics.

When mapping out the musicians who have truly changed the face of modern music, you could start with Kraftwerk and Grace Jones as the top two and more or less stop there – Dimensions had them in 2018 and 2017 respectively. And over the years, the twinned festivals have gone above and beyond in bringing history to the Adriatic shorefront: Massive Attack, Tony Allen, Ms Lauryn Hill, Grandmaster Flash, The Wailers, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Damian Marley, who Ms. Hill even helped convince, having been so impressed by the Roman amphitheatre in front of her.

What goes down at the tail-end of summer has become its own universe, to the extent that an Orchestra playing Outlook anthems new and old can not just exist but make sense as a flagship product (one that wolfed up much of 2016-2018 for the wider Outlook team, and even led to a full on tour). It is but one of the unique elements of Outlook and Dimensions’ programming.

...And Future Ones

Here is another. No festival of its stature goes quite so far as Dimensions in supporting young, hungry and worthy talent. It’s not just about gifting peak time slots to unsung talents, dreaming up b2b clever combinations, or doing European tours to bring local talent to light – though these are all handy gambits that come into play. But as the 2010s rolled on, a key trend was exposed: the barriers of access to club culture were systematically demolished, allowing a new wave of non-white, non-male, non-Anglo faces to rise to prominence, and fertile scenes to surge. From the second comings of grime and jazz, to the musically omnivorous approach of labels like Brownswood and Rush Hour, to every terrifyingly young hot new techno or electro star, it has never been so important to nurture talent appropriately.

Dimensions has excelled by making sure lesser-known musicians are elevated to the wider public, and joined up behind the scenes through a custom network. Add that to boat parties hosted by small record stores and eager blogs, as well as major record labels and clubbing institutions, and you get a natural co-dependent ecosystem, where rising talent do more than just filling time and space before the big bookings roll in. We’ll let the pros explain more:

Vinyl Factory: Whether through its DJ Directory, which provides a platform for emerging selectors, or in the revelatory billboard roll-out that flipped the traditional headliner-first line-up on its head, the festival has sought to build on its reputation by booking DJs from a tight knit community in the UK and beyond.

Stamp The Wax: Not forgetting the Ballroom, an intimate 80 capacity space at the heart of the fort, favoured each year by members of the DJ Directory – returning each year to soundtrack the space. The vibe in there is unlikely anywhere else on-site.

Mixmag: Perhaps the best thing about Dimensions though is the line-up and the programming. This lot really know music and they really know how a night should flow.

Ilija Rudman: That keeps Dimensions right on point, taking care and value on quality music, giving respect to old but always discovering new talents.

Sound of The Underground

Finessing a tantalising line-up is one thing. Making sure the performers you bring to your event are able to give the best show of themselves is quite another. It was little wonder that the team that began with the sub-loaded Outlook Festival would treat sound with due diligence when they were planning Dimensions. But presenting hazy techno, nuanced electronica and bargain-bin funk on the same systems that hammer out dubstep, jungle and roots reggae? Were a more mixed set of frequencies translatable in the same way – and would this new audience care about audiophile quality? Once again, the proof was in the pudding.

Dimensions Team: As well as a unique place to party, the Fort offers some world-class sound systems. Take the aptly named Void stage, full of the latest Void Acoustic technology; or the Moat’s Noise Control speakers, which line the towering walls.

Pearson Sound: As well as the very knowledgeable programming, I think Dimensions’ focus on the sound is key. The Moat stage probably has one of the best festival soundsystems I have played on.

Dimensions Team: Over the years other soundsystems have also ensured stages like the Beach, Stables (now The Garden) and Subdub Arena are sounding their best. Shouts to Dub Smugglers, Mungo’s Hi Fi & Sinai.

Simon Scott (Dimensions Soundsystem): We don’t have the strangling sound restrictions that exist in the UK and other countries. Quite simply, our sound systems can’t be beaten!

dBridge: What’s special about the place? Firstly the sound and secondly the sound. The Mungo’s crew had that area dialled in. I mean, they had to with us [Exit Records] and Mala’s crew in there. Now Sinai have taken over where Mungo’s left off and kept up the quality level. It’s just a joy to play in that space.

Sinai Sound: Dimensions gives us the opportunity to present dance music in a traditional sound system style. Clean and precise mid tops, with sub-bass that shakes you to your soul.

Dimensions Team: No stage feels underwhelming in the sound department and that is pretty rare. Visually, the architecture adds an intimate feel to a stage when you are in it – but as most are open air, it is not like being in those big top tents you often get. Instead, you get the feeling you are in a very good, loud, powerful underground nightclub…then you look up and realise you are outside in an old fort. It’s pretty mad.

The Last Dance

All good things come to an end, and so too Outlook and Dimensions’ time at Fort Punta Christo. The far future is yet to be revealed, but the immediate future looms with massive promise. Dimensions 2019 has an embarrassment of riches, from specialist sets (Josey Rebelle does jungle; Mr Scruff and Gilles Peterson tag-teaming for 5hrs; the return of Larry Heard with Fatima and Paul Cut in tow) to familiar faces pulling multiple shifts (Nina Kraviz closing The Moat on the same day she plays The Clearing; Hunee at the Opening Concert, Beach and Clearing; Jeff Mills both DJing and playing live with Tony Allen). Throw in everyone from Alienata and Anderson .Paak to Zip and Zakia, and there are the makings of a knees-up for the ages.

Contrary to what Robert Hood tells us, ravers do grow old. Real life responsibilities come into play, belts get tightened and summer schedules fill up with work, spouses, kids, the works. More power to anyone out there reading this who has made it for each edition of Dimensions since 2012 (big up) but the same appreciation needs to be extended to those that made the jump just once, but paid the lessons forward. Because no-one forgets the education they get at Fort Punta Christo. Musical memories made, associations forged and never forgotten.

Let’s go out with a bang.

Ben UFO: The last Hessle boat party at Dimensions is going to be emotional.

Larry Heard: Sorry to see it ending, but we’ll be with you to share the moment.

Children Of Zeus: We love Dimensions. The vibe. The crowd is knowledgeable and willing to listen to music they may not know. Most of all, the location and the sunshine make it one of our favourite places in the world. Can’t wait to be on there again this year.

Simon Scott: Artists react like the main guests when they experience it. They love it and they want to come back each year. It can be a tricky logistical journey to get there, which can make things difficult for some artists, especially those with big touring parties. The journey makes it even sweeter when you arrive at this amazing Fort on the edge of the Adriatic Sea.

A huge thank you to all our friends, family, the dancers and partners worldwide who have helped make the Fort our home. We’ll see you soon for beach, boat, and tunnel parties over 4 days and nights of music to say a proper goodbye to Fort Punta Christo.