mon 20/05/2019

theartsdesk in Pula: Dubstep's Croatian conference | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk in Pula: Dubstep's Croatian conference

theartsdesk in Pula: Dubstep's Croatian conference

As the post-dubstep generation grows up, can their festivals? We report from Dimensions

Fort for the day (and indeed night)All images © Graham Turner

It's a truism in dance music culture that “everyone's a DJ nowadays”. It's generally meant in a flip, pejorative sense – suggesting that cheap technology means every man Jack and his dog can put a sequence of records together and the role is somehow devalued. But it hides a rather more positive truth, which is that dance culture is intrinsically participative, that the line between industry and punters is so blurred as to be non-existent, that those punters truly are easily as important as the hallowed DJs they look up to.

Certainly at the Dimensions Festival, the boundaries seem pretty fluid. I was there to DJ myself (with the Sound Of The Cosmos and Slugrave collectives), as well as to interview artists and simply to hang out and enjoy myself for five days – and though there were plenty of people were there just to do the latter, a very large proportion seemed to have some connection to a DJ, crew, label or “club brand”. Which gave it the air of the laziest conference in the world, with the most laid-back networking you have ever seen going on round resort swimming pools and behind stages in the 19th-century fort that housed the festival.

Daytime revellers on a party boatDimensions is the new little brother of the Outlook Festival, which in just four years from 2008-11 grew from a jolly by the seaside for a few hundred to being “dubstep's Ibiza”, a vast, sprawling mega-party for nigh on 20,000 riotous ravers. With its success came a desire on the part of the organisers to go a little way back towards their roots, so on the weekend following Outlook this year, they bravely put on a smaller festival in the same area for a slightly older, more cosmopolitan crowd of about 5,000.

That crowd might be older, especially in the case of my raving-dad DJ colleagues and me, but it's still “up for it” as we used to say in the Nineties. Each day, several boat parties helmed by different record labels or clubs set sail for four hours at a time, while beach parties rage, then from 8pm to 6am each night, the soundsystems are fired up in the various parts of the fort – from its main courtyard to an old ballroom to the actual moat – for revelling to be ratcheted up another notch or five.

It isn't for anyone who wants nothing more than to sit down a nice glass of wine and a Joni Mitchell album – but within the various flavours of techno and post-dubstep beats were a lot of variety. Veteran Andrew Weatherall pulled dance music down to a slow chug, enacting a brilliant hypnosis on his huge audience. Young techno prodigy Blawan pummelled the moat with a sound which a friend of mine described – accurately – as “like eating metal crisps”.

A tunnelNewcomer DJRum whipped an audience in the smaller Courtyard stage to a frenzy using just good old-fashioned vinyl records. Arty Brooklyn singer/songwriter/producer Nicolas Jaar held the crowd in a state of extended suspense with his jazz-infused bass-scapes and film noir narratives. Carl Craig went back 20 years to his roots in the first flush of Detroit techno's creativity, and wowed at least two generations of dancers. Dubstep progenitor Mala pulled off the unique trick of creating a relaxed but hyped atmosphere while his molecule-loosening low end-notes gave us a brutal massage as they emerged from the Mungo's hi-fi soundsystem.

In fact, the soundsystems themselves were part of the show, as much as the crowd and the DJs/performers. Each arena, more than for any other festival I've seen, was perfectly serviced with sound that brought out every tone and texture in what anyone on stage put out. It seems like a simple requirement, but it takes real musical love and expertise to understand what a venue needs rather than just producing maximum volume for the sake of it. And for all the democratisation of the dance scene, the people who can create the infrastructure for the social and musical meltdown that occurs at an event like this are crucial to the mix, more than anything else – so the Dimensions organisers themselves must stand as the true stars of the weekend.

Follow Joe Muggs on Twitter

The soundsystems themselves were part of the show, as much as the crowd and the DJs/performers.

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