Dimensions and Outlook 2019:
Final Thoughts form Fort Punta Christo
I’ll admit that I was especially excited for Dimensions and Outlook in 2019. The sister festivals, held for the last decade in an ancient fort 20 minutes outside of Pula, Croatia, pair an iconic seaside venue with a well-financed and tasteful selection of artist bookings. The lenient (or altogether absent) Croatian licensing laws allow competing sound-systems to push for their dream set-ups, often to downright scary results, and the encompassing surroundings, a Summer campsite peninsula on the Adriatic, make your next-day comedowns quite literally a breeze.
The quality of artistry this year lived up to the expectations set by previous iterations. During Dimensions, house and techno fans were spoiled with choice selections from superstar headliners (this year, sets from the likes of Hunee, Nina Kraviz, and Jeff Mills) down to must-see up-and-comers (Ciel, Solid Blake, Chekov). Outlook the following weekend, a worldwide gathering place for bass music fans of all types, highlighted drum-and-bass honchos (Grooverider, Alix Perez, dBridge) through to dubstep’s continually celebrated old guard (including Loefah, Youngsta and Mala). For any punters lucky enough to witness both weekends, you’d have about as strong a grasp of the current state of underground dance music as one could possibly get.
Event productions of this quality do not arise out of nothing, and both festivals are, as I learned, the product of years of refinement, growth, and team building. Many of the same staff have been working year on year, and much of the event’s upper management and operations started out as volunteers in the event’s early days, giving the entire production a sense of pride and of family. Outlook, the older of the two festivals, started out with smaller stages and decidedly less forethought – for example, these days, the more dangerous parts of the fort, laid near 50m cliff edges, are carefully fenced off, but much of the fort was previously climbable to any punter daring or intoxicated enough to try.
However, the present-day versions of the festivals felt extremely well-run, safe, and meticulous; even the sound-systems are finely-tuned to make the most of this ancient venue —the Moat’s sound engineers reportedly calculated some years ago the density, size, and width of the adjacent stone of the stage for optimal frequency response. Whatever refinements they made, the system is simply the clearest and best I have ever heard, although some nights it often felt too loud to properly enjoy: each drum kick felt like a kick in the teeth. I leaned more towards Subdub’s Sinai Soundsystem: a much warmer, dub set-up that feels purpose built for low-end heavy vinyl plates from Mala’s or perhaps Vladimir Ivkovic’s wide collections.
The fort itself plays a role in the experience of every set – there is nothing quite like raving between pillars of centuries old stone – and there was a definite feeling that artists bring their A-game to the festivals. Hessle Audio’s closing set in the moat on the Sunday evening, for example, felt like an unmissable grand occasion. The illustrious trio effortlessly see-sawed between banging techno – Pangaea blended into a lethal off-kilter cut by Spanish producer Oscar Mulero – and upbeat rollers – Ben UFO luxuriated, for instance, in Digital Justice’s 1996 ambient trance classic ‘It’s all gone a bit pear shaped’. At Outlook, Loefah played a stellar ’10 years of Swamp 81’ set, celebrating a decade of his famed label. The crowd gleefully sang along with Bodikka and Joy O’s acid workout ‘Swims’ – a sterling entry from the early Swamp catalog.
After all, this year’s celebrations were marked with particular importance, as it was announced early on that these would be the final festivals held at the iconic site. Much of the talk around the bars and on the beach was devoted to the topic of where the festivals would go in the future — decidedly, nothing would quite match up to Fort Punta Christo. Whispers abounded of Portugal or another spot around the Adriatic, while others wondered if the whole thing was just a publicity stunt. Regardless, emotions were high – many of the attendees had been visiting the fort year on year, some for almost a decade. On the final night of Outlook, a massive thunderstorm (a common occurrence in past years) gave the evening a real sense of finale, although closing sets were sadly cut about 45 minutes short as a result.
Certainly, any replacement venue would have to be someplace sunny — the festivals are also made famous by their daily boat parties, 3 hour excursions into the bay, each curated up by a reputed promoter. The experience can be slightly disorienting – you are often fighting both a hangover and mild sea sickness, but each party gives crowds an intimate and picturesque setting to witness what may well be their favorite DJ. During Dimensions, I opted for The Pickle Factory’s boat presenting Eris Drew and Jane Fitz, both of whom lived up to the golden possibilities of yacht music – Eris Drew live scratching an obscure Fatboy Slim banger was a highlight of the whole weekend. Less knowledge of bass music (and its myriad crews), meant I chose more randomly for Outlook, but I seemingly lucked out and ended up witnessing a sunset garage set for the ages giddily played by N-Type.
Still, the event’s excellent production staff could not control for all factors of the experience: the local police force and security services knew this might be their last time to make a bit of cash off of unknowing punters and there were rampant reports of random unwarranted strip searches and several instances of assault. Hefty fines ranging upwards of £400 were doled out for measly amounts of drug possession. The token system, meant to replace cash, sometimes felt instead like a ruse to swindle more money out of you. And crowd wise, Outlook felt somewhat rowdy at times, with notably more instances of attendees being less than respectful of their friends or of strangers around them when compared to Dimensions.
But these minor weaknesses belie the true qualities of Dimensions and Outlook. Make no mistake: these are electronic music festivals of the highest order, delivered with care, consistency and thought. Its repeat visitors often spoke to me about the family feel of the festivals, and how many singular memories had been forged there. Where other festivals have perhaps tokenized that cliché, I am completely convinced of this aspect, and am now equally devoted to it – bring on 2020, wherever that may be.