I’ve always encouraged friends to go check out Dimensions. If you’re a fan of electronic music and don’t mind trekking abroad for your festivals, it should be on the bucket list. The market for similar events catering to electronic music has never felt so oversaturated and that head-turning USP has never been so important, but it’s something something the Croatia-based festival has in spades. Sure, the lineup is consistently strong year in, year out, and the crowd has always been friendly, but I’d covered all of that comprehensively in another review, so this time around, I’m focusing on what I feel makes it stand out from its competitors (in particular, its Croatian counterparts that take place a little further down the coast in Tisno).
Before we go any further, here’s a quick history lesson about Pula, the city Dimensions calls home, and the wider region of Istria it’s situated within. The largest peninsula in Croatia and a meeting point for Slavic, Romanic and Germanic cultures, conquest has been central to shaping the region over the centuries (fun fact: it’s also where the earliest traces of human life in Southern Europe have been found). The Romans transformed Pula into an imperial city, erecting arches and temples, while the Austro-Hungarians recognised the Adriatic coastline’s strategic importance, building a series of fortresses, the largest of which would preside over their principal naval port in the city.
Today, Fort Punta Christo is largely abandoned, while, a few miles away in the heart of Pula, the only Roman amphitheatre with four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders preserved (whatever that means) dominates the skyline. How these structures, in particular the amphitheatre, aren’t protected sites of historical significance, I’m not sure. Even less so how the people behind Dimensions and its sister festival Outlook have been allowed to use these locations for several years. Coming from the UK, where anything with a whiff of historical relevance is bound in metaphorical red tape, and specifically London, where ongoing licensing battles with local authorities makes it near-impossible to organise anything with decent sound, this has always felt almost too good to be true, or at least, something with a shelf life. Ultimately, all good things must come to an end. This is why I’ve always recommended people check the festival out under its current guise – who knows how long you’ll be able to dance to Helena Hauff or Detroit In Effect in a fortress moat, or catch world-renowned artists within the walls of a Roman amphitheatre.
Onto the pre-fort festivities that actually take place in the amphitheatre: the opening concerts. Grace Jones, Massive Attack, Caribou, Nils Frahm; previous years have seen an array of household names grace the amphitheatre stage which reflect the eclectic nature of the festival’s programming since its inception. No matter how Dimensions grows in stature though, almost every single one feels like a coup. Nowhere does this feel more apparent, however, than when you consider the 2018 headliners, Kraftwerk (in 3D!). As I explained to the dude I shared a taxi from the airport with, if it weren’t for the band formed in Düsseldorf all the way back in 1970, there probably wouldn’t have been a Dimensions Festival to begin with. One thing’s for sure, the evolution of electronic music could well have followed a very different path if the krautrock innovators hadn’t played their part in popularising it.
Picture, if you will, a two-thousand year old amphitheatre where, at the height of the Roman empire, gladiators would fight to a gruesome end in front of huge crowds baying for blood. Now fast forward to 2018 and replace those crowds with a sea of festival goers sporting 3D glasses, waiting eagerly until four elderly jumpsuit-clad Germans take to the stage. It’s surreal to say the least. The show begins, and maybe it was the half tab I’d just eaten, but it felt a bit like a UFO had just descended on Pula for the evening. As to be expected, all the classics were played: ‘Trans-Europe Express’, ‘The Robots’, ‘Computer World’, ‘Autobahn’, the list goes on. It was basically a 3D performance of their greatest hits, and it exceeded all my expectations. The sound was incredible, the setting absurd and the whole occasion felt special, like something I would remember fondly for years, if not decades, to come.
A little bird told me that 2018 might signal the the end of Dimensions’ stay in Pula, but I hope that’s no more than a rumour. If it is, I urge you to book a route out there before it does truly become a reality.