Dimensions Festival 2016: A Glittering Mash of Genres on Croatia's Fort Punta Christo

Read all about this year's edition of a fixture of the Croatian festival circuit
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Claire Hubble
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Read all about this year's edition of a fixture of the Croatian festival circuit
Dimensions Festival 2016 photo by Marc Sethi

Photo credit: Marc Sethi.

Sucking in the glitter and dust-tinged air as we stare across a throng of gyrating bodies crowded around a band, it’s easy to see why those in the know have tittered with shared excitement since we snapped up tickets to Dimensions Festival all those months ago. How long it seems to have been since handing over £140 in return for the promise of six days of festivities and a little more for shelter in a nearby village. 

Meanwhile, braver and more resilient swaths of the 7,000 punters choose to forgo the luxury of a restful sleep and a solid barrier from the world's most persistent mosquitos, woken each morning to the baking hot rays of Pula, Croatia. I perspire a little just thinking about how clammy those tents must have been come 8:00 AM; even the artfully constructed wooden cabins look as though they'd cook you alive, albeit for a slightly higher price.

Perhaps it's the ephemerally poverty-stricken nature of festivalgoers that forces so many into sweat-drenched tents next to the site, or perhaps it's the lure of Dimensions' peculiar setting. For those who are already familiar with Fort Punta Christo, the odd jagged remains of crumbled stone walls, first pulled from a local quarry in 1836, will fail to raise eyebrows, but for any Pula first-timers, it's a sight to behold. 

Clambering through ruins of a fort built centuries ago to protect the port town of Pula seems forbidden. It's the kind of place you'd love to stage an illegal rave in England, but resist doing so as the mere whiff of an aux cable would make the boys in blue descend upon you in mere seconds. And yet here we are, bathed in a technicolor array of lights and hopping from one thudding stage or arena to the next.

Dimensions 2016 Marc Sethi

Photo credit: Marc Sethi.

The first of which those exploring the fort will happen across is the Clearing, planted in the middle of the campsite, fort and beach. It's the largest and very possibly the loudest too, often where ecstatic partygoers will find themselves headed for one last jaunt before turning in. 

As with all of Dimension's setups, the artists to take to the stage are incredibly diverse. Here hosts Moodymann's second set of the festival - one of few artists who are worthy of watching twice in a matter of days - a stellar performance by Daniel Avery, and a blowout finale lineup on Sunday. The incredibly lively Hiatus Kaiyote is followed by disco favorites from Nightmares on Wax, culminating in eardrum-shattering goodness from Giles Peterson Featuring Earl Zinger and Motor City Drum Ensemble.

The Void, the area with a feeling most akin to an ordinary festival stage, hosts heavy sets from Ben Klock and Zenker Brothers, along with variety of other techno acts over the weekend, its impressive bass vibrations able to knock the socks off even the most seasoned speaker huggers.

The Moat, with its seven metre high walls and limited capacity, feels more like an open-air exclusive club than a festival stage. This little space is home to everybody from Ben UFO to Richie Hawtin over the span of the festival and its enclosed nature makes for surround sound quality.

Another favorite is Mungo's Arena, a miniature, open-air arena which plays host to a selection of the more dub-oriented acts. Its walls seem almost as though they were constructed with the echoing bass of Mala and Kahn in mind, its floor built to absorb the shake of a thousand bobbing dancers. A daily appearance from Glaswegian Soundsystem and Outlook favorites Mungo's Hifi is an excellent addition to the lineup and ensured that no day of the festival goes by without a selection of beautiful Jamaican sounds.

Breaking the boundaries of genres is the one and only Loefah, who somehow manages to cram in three sets on different stages following very different themes; one of dub, another with a hint of Chicago-influenced booty house and jungle, all of which he absolutely smashes. The man is a machine.

By far the most mystical of all is the Dimensions opening ceremony party, hosted in a 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater in the heart of Pula. In true Dimensions style, this monumental venue's lineup features none other than jazz mastermind Kamasai Washington, house DJ Moodymann and atmospheric band Massive Attack. While Washington's tuneful set warms up the crowd pleasantly, it is Massive Attack's politically-charged set that really steals the show, climaxing in a striking and moving "JE SUIS" tribute to all the victims of terror attacks since Charlie Hebdo - a chilling reminder to music lovers that it really could have been any one of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time, whose life was tragically stolen by a meaningless act of cowardice.

After a thought-provoking and somber mood settled on the crowd, Moodymann has quite the task on his hands to provide a mix that will once again raise the spirits of thousands, but Kenny Dixon Jr. did not disappoint.

Occasionally the cracks do begin to appear in Dimensions's century-old foundations. Yes, it boasts an absolutely stellar lineup, but on occasion its cobbled-together nature is a double-edged sword. It's strangely refreshing to stroll through a festival so gloriously unglamorous; the lack of gourmet kangaroo burgers or Ikea bags repurposed as £20 bucket hats here.

Yet it also feels odd for a festival to offer so little in the way of extracurriculars to its attendees. Of course, taking a dip in the ocean and drying off on the nearby jagged rocks or stone beach were options, and the always lively Beach Party stage eats up much of the day, but there is little else to do in the way of entertainment unless you were willing to part with more money for a four-hour jaunt on a boat party. A little more cash will buy a cab ride to the nearby picturesque village of Fazana, home to miles of stunning beach and delectable seafood. If you're happy to dance, nap and blow your Kuna on the onsite inflatable obstacle course for your entire stay, you're in bliss. If you want to do anything else during your stay, you might want to pack a few extra Kuna.

Another slight downside to Dimensions is the numerous technical problems reported by fellow music lovers; a boat party was disrupted by a blown speaker and a DJ's set in the Clearing was haunted by a constant crackle every time he touched the decks, most likely due to a faulty aux cable. Several other annoying, but not show-ruining errors were noticeable.

The shrunken size of Dimensions compared to its older brother, Outlook, is both a blessing and a curse also; yes, it's hard to make barriers on bits of stone look beautiful, but occasionally in the deceiving pitch blackness it is easy to forget that we were, in fact, inside a centuries-old fort.

Dimensions 2016 Marc Sethi

Photo credit: Marc Sethi.

That said, its impeccable mix of electronic, world, house, techno, drum and bass and more made Dimensions a treat to ears that one just doesn't get at more focused festivals. With its friendly crowd, exquisite setting and promise of excellent music year round, there's no doubt that Dimensions will continue to cement its name as a must-tick box on the foreign festival checklist. See you in the fort next year.