Outlook; Pula, Croatia, 3-7/9/14
I have no idea what I was thinking when I booked a 14 hour journey that included two planes and a coach in order to get to Outlook. Which was then followed by 5 hours sitting outside the press office in Croatian drizzle in order to gain admittance into the campsite. Our moods were dampened, as well as our rucksacks. Apprehensions that had built up during our early morning wait began to dispel, however, as one by one drunken Dimensions punters would emerge from the other side, stumbling to the box office to purchase Outlook tickets and prolong their stay at Camp Brioni for another 7 days. We didn’t know what was on the other side of the looming fence, but we assumed it must be quite good.
The difference between Dimensions and Outlook festivals has always confused me- they take place one after the other on the same site, using the same staging set-up, including Pula’s amphitheatre for both opening concerts. The obvious distinction is the line-ups, with Dimensions hosting acts that lend themselves to techno and house movements, whereas Outlook was curated with music derived from Jamaican sounds in mind, offering dub, grime, hip hop, reggae and drum and bass headliners (we later found out from people who had attended both that Dimensions had a much younger demographic, and Outlook had almost double the amount of attendees). The festivals’ genres often overlap, however, and several acts played both. I have to admit that Dimensions’ line-up was more congruent with my own tastes, and during the lead up to Outlook I cursed myself for not choosing it instead. I was to find out that my preferences weren’t what I thought. Mountainous hills hiding a ruined fort within them, sparkling ocean and a more than accommodating climate was a heady mix when laced with Outlook’s own blend of dubstep, reggae and their musical offshoots. I realised that the music I like to listen to in a dingy club on a cold English evening isn’t necessarily what I want when I’m trying to keep my balance at a boat party, watching a headline act at the seaside ‘Harbour’ stage or sweating out a hangover on the beach. Music just sounds so much better in paradise.
First on the agenda was the Outlook opening concert, held at The Pula Arena, an ancient amphitheatre in the nearby city and headlined by Fatima, Submotion Orchestra, Andrew Ashong and Lauryn Hill. We caught the boat taxi there, which was a fantastic way to see both the city and festival site from the sea. The amphitheatre was a stunning backdrop as expected, and made the atmosphere electric. However the structure didn’t particularly contain the sound well, and I think that this is why the acts were somewhat lacklustre, even Lauryn Hill, who came on nearly an hour late, forcing many people (including us) to leave halfway through in order to catch our return boat taxi. The concert was an incredible, immersive experience; I’m just not sure how much it was a musical one.
Because Outlook sells itself as a beach holiday and music festival combined, live music starts at around 8pm, and finishes up at 6am. It’s a different timetable compared to most UK festivals, where acts go on throughout the day, finishing at around eleven. The dark setting suited the nature of Outlook’s line-up much better, and the various arenas like the Moat and the Clearing were encapsulating when covered by impressive light shows. I turned up to Outlook with a strict schedule asserting what arenas we would be in each night in order to catch certain acts. However the reality is that by 12 o’clock, everyone is in a state of inebriation that makes coordinating where to go and when difficult, particularly as some of the stages are set quite far apart. I also no longer have the stamina to stay up until 6am for 7 nights. The result was that there were so many acts that I’m ashamed to say I missed, like Bondax, Boddika, Snakehips, Jonwayne and man-of-the-moment Kaytranada.
However instead we got to explore the arenas created out of the disused fort with spontaneity and without a timetable, stumbling across artists we knew little about, including Mungo’s Hi Fi, an Outlook favourite (so much so there’s an arena named after them), who’s sound system performance was an energetic display of their unique blend of dub and reggae, along with incredibly talented MCing. On the Friday we were surprised by an afternoon performance by The Mouse Outfit at the beach, drawing in crowds of sunbathers with their frenetic hip hop and hilarious commentary. The most memorable acts for me all came from the The Harbour stage, aligned with the sea. Andy C’s performance was an unanticipated favourite, proving his drum and bass productions can fill arenas like no other. The atmosphere was electrified by his remixes of Major Lazer ‘Get Free’ and Rudimental ‘Right Here’, fellow drum and bass pioneer Renee LaVice’s edit of Usher’s ‘Climax’ as well as his own tracks including the iconic ‘Finders Keepers’ (along with the help of MC GQ). Gramatik was one act I was not prepared to miss, and his eclectic set of hip hop and instrumental confirmed that it was indeed unmissable. Gentlemen’s Dub Club’s recent meteoric rise led to them headlining the final night of Outlook and they tied up the festival with a bang. Notorious for their live performances, GDC took the huge arena in their stride and delivered the best show I’ve seen from them. The disappointment of cancellations from Busta Rhymes and DJ EZ were forgiven and forgotten by the end of the weekend.
Despite the live acts finishing on Sunday night, on Monday we were lucky enough to attend 2 back to back boat parties. The first one was curated by Zed Bias and included sets from Royal-T, Flava D and Roy Davis Jr. Each set was connected by garage beats, but demonstrated the diversity of the genre too. Roy Davis Jr was first on the roster as the boat left the harbour and set off on the three and a half hour trip around the nodules of the Adriatic Coast, and his soul-infused set gave life to the hordes of people swarming the top deck. Royal-T was equally impressive, injecting the atmosphere with grime that felt symbiotic with the beautiful surroundings. The beating sun subsided during Flava D’s set, to stunning effect. When we were finally back on dry land, we had a short wait before we were back on the same boat ready for another 3 hours hosted by Mungo’s Hi Fi. This time the music was strictly reggae, but the trip was equally as enthralling as the night drew in and we watched the twinkling lights of Pula from sea. Both experiences were a fantastic way to drink in the surroundings on the final day, wind down and reflect on an incredible week.
This summer, it was particularly important for me to choose a festival that had much more to offer than just a great line-up. My love affair with my local festival, Latitude, ended last year when I left feeling far too old. For 5 years it was a place where I could nurse my penchant for underage drinking, and it seemed like lots of kids were doing just that. I wanted to unearth a festival that was a little more mature and atmospheric. Apart from the odd group of school leavers who maybe should have considered Magaluf instead, the people at Outlook were the hands down the best part of the festival. The majority of the attendees were British; however there was a significant amount of international punters too. I’m not sure whether it’s the setting, the weather or the line-up, but everyone was so much more approachable and interesting than any other festival experience I’ve had.
Imperative to mention is that the cost of the festival adds up significantly. Festival ticket, camping/accommodation, boat parties and opening party tickets are all entities that need to be purchased separately. And each of these add-ons is necessary in order to make the most of the week. But the sensual experience that Outlook generates can only be described as otherworldly; it’s worth every penny and more. I have no doubt that I’ll be going back, but this time I’m bringing everyone I can with me.