As the dust finally settles on Fort Punto Christo after another festival double-header, Geoffrey Chang takes a look back at a memorable programme of workshops and masterclasses in the Knowledge Arena at Dimensions Festival.
‘Creation by day, conversation by night’ is a phrase that perfectly sums up what was on offer at the Knowledge Arena.
The opportunity to just jump-in and ‘have a go’ at producing with the array music equipment at hand – midi-controllers, Machine Studios, laptops loaded with Maschine and Ableton plus other pieces – definitely captured the imagination of many. And that’s what the Knowledge Arena is all about – inspiring inclusivity and creativity. It’s a natural extension of the CDR philosophy to create, develop and refine ideas in an open-minded, friendly atmosphere. Within a few minutes of opening, all the workstations were filled up by keen and curious festival-goers.
There was a wide mixture of people coming throughout the day, from the slightly more experienced producers through to the complete novice. And there always seems to be few beginners who just have the knack and natural talent for producing. This year a young couple who’d never produced before came and created a track from scratch on day one, saved their progress and came back each day to develop their ideas – the outcome of which was a decent track!
Throughout the festival, artists also dropped in and shared their technical know-how. Deadbeat spoke in great detail of his enjoyment to sit in bed for hours-on-end, tinkering with Reaktor and it’s modular capabilities; while K15 treated the crowd to a deconstruction of his forthcoming release on Dimension Sounds 2015. Prismic, complete with broken toe, arrived via festival truck with enough hardware to make you drool, and demonstrated his live setup to a lucky crowd huddled around one desk.
Native Sessions with Mala
Each evening the Knowledge Arena was transformed via a furniture reshuffle into a place for conversation. But securing artists to give up their free time to speak to an audience at a festival is never an easy task. One of the first to put their name down was a name that needs no introduction.
“I actually had a deal with EMI in 2000…” Mala reveals, something few dubstep producers can claim to have achieved. He also admits that he’s a jungle head at heart and even used to do some MC-ing. But he’s not too keen on giving a demo after someone in the crowd calls him out.
As well talking about his career, Mala speaks about his approach to music production and says for him the real rewards in production lie within the process and creativity along the way, rather than the actual finished product. We also discovere how Mala and good friend Coki earned their names. Self-baptised, their names were coined from two popular drinks among early teenagers. One alcoholic, the other full of sugar: Malibu and Coke. It turns out the two of them were big fans back in the day.
An Audience with Underground Resistance
The Friday night session saw techno innovators Underground Resistance take to the Knowledge Arena sofa. Two sofas were lined up this time to accommodate all the members of UR’s band, Timeline.
The atmosphere was highly intimate and the anticipation perfectly poised. It couldn’t get more up-close-and-personal with a group that is notorious for keeping a low profile. On their website you’ll find a mission statement that claims techno is “music for the future of the human race”. You will hardly find any candid photos of individual members online, let alone press shots. And there is one strict condition for this talk to even happen: No filming and no photography.
Why the low profile? The answer is simple to band leader and original co-founder, Mad Mike. “To get out of the way of the music. The first time you meet us, should be through the speakers. Judge the music, not the people behind it.” The logic is solid. “What can my face do for the music?” he asks rhetorically.
Mad Mike and his fellow band members offer impassioned responses about the machines and the music. “We’re tapping into something deeper than music, we integrate ourselves in the machines.” It’s intriguing to hear them describe their relationship with technology in such human terms, resembling something both ritualistic and reverential.
They definitely see themselves as a band, likening their Timeline setup to a rhythm section. A band on a mission to “bring jazz back into the clubs, as it was 100 years ago”, they remind the crowd that “jazz is dance music”, before it became generally known as a pedestrian-paced soundtrack for dinnertime.
Improvisation is the human element that they add to the technology at their fingertips. They speak of finding the ‘lock’ during a live performance, which is explained as some kind of perfect state of harmony from all the chaos – the musical zenith of what they’re trying to achieve. They tell the crowd “The show you’re going to hear tonight is the first time we’ll have ever heard it. And you won’t hear it ever again.” It’s a statement of intent that resonates, and as with everything they say, you get the sense that larger forces are at work.
An audience with George Clinton
“With Funkadelic, we went out of our way to not make sense,” stresses George Clinton to a packed crowd of festival-goers, spilling out of the tent.
It’s Saturday night and nothing but just few dim lamps are setting the ambience under the intimate confines of the Knowledge Arena tent, while George Clinton – P-Funk God, founder of Parliament and Funkadelic – is chattering on about his drug-influenced past and escapades on the Mothership.
Indeed, for Tony Nwachukwu chairing the conversation, making sense of reality at that moment proved more difficult than he might have hoped. Visibly awe-struck, it is clear that sharing a sofa with Mr. Clinton was an extra special event for the CDR founder.
Clinton was not shy to mention his substance experimentation of yesteryear – the man is now 74 years of age, yet, there’s nothing ‘elderly statesman’ about him. He’s just as flamboyant as younger fans would hope, well into grandfatherhood. No doubt he wouldn’t be the person he is now if it weren’t for a carefree liberal attitude in his younger years. Nor would hip-hop, R&B, or various other music genres be where they are now without Clinton and his bands’ influence. One could say, youth well spent.
Free your mind, and your ass will follow
“Acid!” answers Clinton when asked about his influences. Cue uproar of laughter. “We ended up being hippies for 45 years. All we were tryin’ to do was make love.” If they weren’t convinced before, the open-minded crowd is now completely and collectively seduced.
The conversation is punctuated by play-outs of Clinton’s hits. First ‘Flash Light’, then ‘Atomic Dog’. For those who were in any doubt about the latter, they now know where Snoop Dogg’s whole identity came from. Meanwhile, no one can resist grooving in their seats as Clinton immaculately plucks the bassline of ‘Flash Light’ into the air with his fingers, bursting into song over the microphone as and when he sees fit.
“I wanted to make the handclap so loud that I could feel the groove on the vinyl sticking out,” he laughs. He goes on to explain how there was no obligation to make a hit record, since Motown was striking the charts commercially, one big hit at a time. Of course that’s not to say Clinton didn’t end up with a load of his own hits, though his, it seems, were sometimes the result of experimental accidents. “That was a song I never intended to record,” he continues. “It was the song I sang when I went fishing.”
Clinton’s response to where he sees the future musical landscape stays true to his funky character. “If I see booties moving, if it works, then I don’t care where it’s coming from.
“It’s gonna be a party,” he says, reflecting on the following night’s performance. “We’re gonna play until they throw us off!” With that, he’s sealed himself a standing ovation and the Knowledge Arena is buzzing in a way only possible with the presence of a living legend.
It goes without saying how rare it is to hear artists like George Clinton, Mala and Underground Resistance speak publicly, in such an intimate outdoor setting, in the same weekend. Those lucky enough to attend any of the talks, workshops and open play time will surely have left Croatia with a lasting impression, something a little bit different for the golden memory bank.
After another successful year, it’s clear the Knowledge Arena is fast becoming a treasured part of the festival, adding to the all-round experience, as well as helping Dimensions set itself apart from the rest.
Words: Geoffrey Chang
Photography: Elizabeth & Luke of The Hatchbackers
*Thank you to Native Instruments, Ableton, and Urban Ears who made it possible, and also a special shoutout to all our hardworking volunteers.