As the doors close on another fantastic year at Dimensions, The Waveform Transmitter‘s Léa Ben Saïd reflects on what she thinks has been the best Dimensions Festival yet, bar none.
No one will not have noticed that the summer is long gone, but the memories of Dimensions are still very much there. Dimensions was one of the most well-rounded festival experiences I have had these past few years, as everything that could make it great was reunited in one place. For the most part, the weather was warm and sunny; the location was a dream, the music was the best I’ve heard this year, and the crowd was amazing. Wherever you looked, you would see someone you knew, or someone recognising someone they had not seen in a while. Dimensions felt like a reunion of the best on the scene right now, with everyone sharing the same values and there for the same thing; I have rarely felt so lucky to be part of such a community.
From the very first day, as attendees were making their way to the site on Tuesday and Wednesday, the atmosphere was electric. On the campsite and the festival site alike, everyone was excited to get things started, blasting tunes out of low quality speakers and already stocking up on £3 cigarette packs. As usual on the first Tuesday night, early arrivers met up on the Beach Stage and at Pacino’s Bar for the first dance of the weekend. We were disappointed to find out the Beach Stage was not open as usual, apparently because of new noise restrictions, which also meant that it closed at 9pm every day of the festival, compared to the usual 2am.
Wednesday marked the yearly rendez-vous to Pula’s 2000-year-old amphitheatre, for the opening concert. This year, the programmers outdid themselves with a line up probably surpassing most of the previous years. In attendance: Debora Ipekel, Nubya Garcia, Josey Rebelle, Moodymann, Nils Frahm, and Kraftwerk. From 7pm, as the sun was setting down over the walls of the amphitheatre, the music started and the evening was truly something to remember. Some scheduling issues raised some eyebrows, as Josey Rebelle played two sets of 20 and 30 minutes each, and Moodymann closed the night, after Kraftwerk, which overall made the night seem disjointed more than anything. When Nils Frahm started playing though, it truly felt like the stars had aligned. Since he was playing fairly early, the amphitheatre was still mostly empty but the connection he had with the crowd made everyone forget about it. Most people were sat down, admiring the performance from afar, while Nils was playing the beautiful music he is known for. All in all, the moment was magical, and he, for me, absolutely stole the show.
Frahm’s performance was followed by the highly anticipated appearance of Kraftwerk. The idea of having some of the pioneers of electronic music in such a setting was the best Dimensions’ booking team could have ever had. The visuals were captivating; from images of Pula overflow by UFOs, to the Tour de France, various waveforms, and the words ‘Machine Man’ when they played the hit. Having the show in 3D could have been a real game changer, unfortunately it did not translate as well in reality. Kraftwerk’s performance, whilst being exceptional and looked so fun for a lot of people, did not quite hit the spot for me. I think this was partly due to the lack of interaction Kraftwerk had with the crowd; at the end of the day, they were just four men (three of which are not the original members) playing music without moving even a little bit. People criticize Nina Kraviz for dancing behind the decks but you have got to admit that it makes you get into it more easily. Ultimately, it was still special, and being able to witness Kraftwerk play in a 2000-year-old amphitheatre was truly remarkable.
By the Thursday, with so much to discover and re-discover, so many names exchanged, and so many reunions, it felt like we had already been there for ages, but the whole weekend was still ahead of us. Being able to chill on that first day definitely made a major difference, and you could tell everyone was itching to get into it by the evening. Overall, my highlights happened to be the boat parties. There is nothing quite like going to dance and chill on a boat, in the sun, while listening to some of your favourite artists play. I had the chance to attend two this year: the one curated by the Pickle Factory, and one curated by Make Me. The London venue and promoters went all out and secured themselves; Hamish & Toby, The Exaltics, and Detroit in Effect; and DJ Stingray and Anastasia Kristensen, respectively.
Warming up for The Exaltics and Detroit in Effect, Hamish & Toby played a set which was simultaneously funky and the perfect warm up for the ravers, who unsurprisingly came on only a few hours of sleep after the first day of the festival. Seeing The Exaltics in his mask and sporting his famous “We Are Not Your Friends” hoodie in such a setting was uncanny for sure, while also being absolutely amazing. Does it get any better than listening to a live electro set in the middle of the Adriatic sea on a boat? You would think it does not – and you would be right, but Detroit In Effect’s set was the most fun I had in a long time and nothing that weekend actually got better than that. As he played all of the hits, including DJ Assault’s Ass N Titties and Sex On The Beach, but also DIE’s Shake a Lil Faster and Work It. The best party for sure.
The Make Me boat party came very close second after that however. Unable to see either Anastasia Kristensen or DJ Stingray in the main festival, catching them playing under the sun made my day. After a great warm up from the Make Me lot, Stingray jumped on the decks and played an amazing set full of wonky and fast electro, just the way he knows how to. As soon as Anastasia took over, he proceeded to share his rider with the people in attendance, pouring vodka in everyone’s drink from the barrier of the elevated stage, before coming down to the crowd and hugging, shaking hands, and taking pictures with everyone. He is truly one of the nicest persons I have had the pleasure to meet. Meanwhile, Anastasia was treating us to the best combination of infernal kick drums and acid basslines she could have, as the sun was setting down behind us. It was truly magical.
The main stages of the festival also provided some memorable memories. My favourite stage, The Moat, was as impressive as ever, with four line-ups, each harder than the previous one. The Trip takeover on the first night particularly stood out for me, mixing up-and-coming talents and more established names. Imogen, who opened the stage, set the tone for the night with an eclectic selection of 140bpm tracks, effortlessly going from 4×4 to breaks. As The Moat filled up quickly, she appeared to be the true revelation of the stage according to the attendees. At only 19, she has the same skill set and the musical knowledge than the artists she was sharing the stage with, and it was a pleasure to witness her take on the label and the way she identified herself with the scene. Volruptus’ live set later on was also a revelation, as The Moat vibrated from the hard electro he was playing. From his releases on Trip and his various live appearances, it was easy to understand that he had more than one card up his sleeves, and the evidence showed that his reputation was definitely funded.
As every year, the smaller stages, The Dungeon, The Ballroom, and The Courtyard revealed to be where the most enthusiastic party-goers congregated. Over the weekend, it is the Thursday which stuck with me, as Saoirse’s impromptu back to back with Courtesy delighted everyone who was there. Playing everything from hard house to trance and techno, the duo made the Courtyard dance more than anywhere else that night. With all the smiles and the chants, both DJs looked so happy to be here and it was definitely communicative.
Courtesy’s solo set at The Moat was also something special. She was playing fairly early in the night, but the stage was almost full when I arrived. When I had seen her play before, her selection and mixing skills were absolutely on point, staying true to her roots, coming from the Copenhagen electronic music scene. This time around, however, she proved herself by playing a wide range of music, going down into the breaks and hardcore rabbit hole, before going back to 4×4 and trance. She managed to keep the audience so interested and captivated in a very subtle way, and there was no way I could have left halfway through her set.
On closing duties that night, following Courtesy, The Exaltics, and Detroit in Effect, was Helena Hauff. She started her set with a beatless and incredibly powerful track which hypnotised everyone in attendance. After that, she kept the momentum going as she played heavy techno and electro. Unfortunately, the weather meant she had to stop playing after just over an hour, and did not get the chance to finish her set. As everyone was walking out and headed towards the exit, Avalon Emerson had just jumped back on the decks of The Clearing to close. With lightning bolts still lurking in the background, she dropped Messiah’s Temple of Dreams as her penultimate track, and made it all better.
The Exit Records takeover of the SubDub Arena was another one to remember. As the weather was still not the best that day, there were some delays in opening the stages, which led everyone in the fort already to wait by the faithful Submarine (those who know, know). As soon as it was cleared however, dBridge was first up on the decks and delivered an amazing set full of the tracks that make him one of the best DJs and label heads of his generation. Following on from him was Fixate, whose incredibly impressive mixing skills made his set one of the most interesting of the weekend.
The same day, the Sheffield label Central Processing Unit was taking over The Void and was something I was particularly excited for. Unfortunately, DMX Krew was unable to attend, but the live performances from Carl Finlow, aka Silicon Scally, and London Modular Alliance were truly enchanting. For me, however, it is Billy Nasty who truly stole the show. As he played in place of DMX Krew, but also briefly at the end, he managed to make me forget the previous performances and take me on an amazing melodic but also hard electro trip like I had rarely seen before.
The Stables also provided some of the best sets of the festival that night, with Skee Mask and Lee Gamble playing one after the other. Skee Mask played a set which was nothing short of exceptional. It was all at once predictable if you are familiar with the kind of sounds he pushes for, while consistently taking the audience by surprise at every track. He played every kind of breaks you may think of, which definitely made me so happy, and was so effortlessly going from garage, to jungle, to techno, without even letting us hear the transitions. Lee Gamble followed, to close the stage, and took it up right where Skee Mask left off. In a recent interview, Glasgow-based DJ, Sofay explained that Lee Gamble’s music would be the perfect soundtrack to a science fiction movie, and she was not wrong. As he played a wide array of spacey techno and broken beats, with drum patterns at the forefront of his track selection, I felt lucky to be able to witness such an immersive set.
The Sunday’s lineups were potentially the ones I was looking forward to the least on paper, but it ended up being a night full of surprises. Ploy was opening the night on The Moat, and his set along Jlin’s were nothing like I would have expected. Not really danceable but captivating, they both delivered standouts sets of mostly deconstructed club music and rolling drums. It was definitely a welcome change from the music that had been played over the weekend.
The real surprise though, was Craig Richards’ back to back with Nicholas Lutz for five-and-a-half hours on The Garden stage. Last year, everyone was disappointed that Richards could no longer make it at the festival because he was asked to play Burning Man at the same time, and him coming back for a pretty much all-night-long set was incredible. I had seen the duo play together once before, a year ago at Fabric, and admittedly had not been enchanted by the performance. But this was so different. I had originally planned on only coming to check them out, but I ended up staying for four hours. They mostly stayed clear of the minimal I was expecting them to play, and instead took the audience on a journey through complex and layered techno and electro, surprising everyone after each track, and playing only vinyl the whole time. It was for me the best way to finish the festival and left me absolutely speechless and mesmerised.
All in all, the 2018 edition of Dimensions Festival only reinforced the place of the festival as one of the most forward-thinking and all-encompassing experience a music lover could ask for. This was my second time going, and will definitely not be my last.