Set around the picturesque and historical site of Fort Punto Christo, Outlook Festival returns for its ninth year and raises the festival bar even higher.
Running back to back with sister festival Dimensions, Outlook has established itself as one of the finest purveyors of underground drum and bass and hip-hop music, both for its audio and visual elements and ever-expanding, eclectic line-up.
Following the tradition of previous years for both festivals, the opening ceremony was held in the 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater, situated in the heart of Pula. Known now as one of the last remaining, fully-retained, pieces of Roman architecture from around the world, it was impossible to ignore its beauty. What was once the arena for bloody battles and performances for spectators is now a bass rave for Londoners. A State Of Mind and his three-piece brass section successfully fused hip-hop and brass with cinematic performance and gave festival goers a taste of what they were in for – danceable, innovative, and honest music from the bass domain. Their high energy was unmatched by any of the following acts, with Detroit brothers Slum Village doing more to reel off cliche hip-hop lines with a pretense, rather than comment on anything substantial. Damien Marley capped off the night’s proceedings to a now almost full amphitheater, throwing out his dub-fused reggae to an elated audience.
The beach stage acted as a sound precursor to each night’s frivolities over in the fort arena, with more reggae/dub acts playing from midday until 8pm. Located just a stone’s throw from water’s edge, it acted as the perfect backdrop to cool off and relax and catch some stand out performances by Hiatus Kaiyote, Eva Lazurus, Hot 8 Brass Band, and Twinkle Brothers, to name but a few. Gentleman’s Dub Club brought the house down on Friday night, making us forget that there was even a festival to head to afterward. Their big, brass sound, fused with Scratchley’s one love inspired vocals was the perfect sound to a glowing red sunset over Stinjan’s shore.
The Knowledge Arena was a well-received addition to day-time proceedings, with DJs, MCs, and sound-system builders all performing talks and giving demonstrations throughout the festival. Crash courses in Ableton were on offer, and so was the opportunity for “free play”. Those were wanted to avoid the all-consuming noise of bass and banter could hide away for an hour or two and gain some invaluable knowledge from professionals and mentors.
The largest arena, The Clearing, is a large grassy area fronted by a mammoth triangular frame hanging above a cliff. It acted as the gateway to the fort, and a congregation point for people moving around the site. On Friday night Noisia performed his fully immersive ‘Outer Edges’ record to a post-midnight crowd. London’s Hospital Records curated Saturday night’s line-up, delivering a mix of smooth, multi-textured drum and brass, as well as more ethereal material. It came as a welcome, less aggressive turn to the proceeding night, which was guided by veterans like Kano and packs of meaty, adrenaline-fueled 20-somethings with their shirt’s off.
The Stables was tucked away between the descent to the Moat Stage, and the bridge passageway that took you inside the Fort. Friday evening saw high-energy, textured sets from the likes of Henry Wu and Eliphino, carrying on under the Dimensions name in a sea of otherwise drum and brass.
Mungo’s Arena was unassuming but brimming with attitude. Once walking over a drawbridge, suspended above a moat, you pass under the arena’s towering, stone-built entrance. Situated in the small arena was Glaswegian dub outfit Mungo’s HiFi, again giving dub and reggae fanatics a place to find solace in.
The Arija Stage was perhaps the smallest of the lot, situated opposite The Garden and next to an abandoned stone house. Underground Arena hosted Saturday night’s proceedings, throwing out some high energy Italian drum and bass that was working its small crowd perhaps better than some of the larger stages. The mood was close-knit and friendly, with an MC keeping acts flowing seamlessly.
For a portion of the festival, it seemed like the smaller stages were emanating more positive vibes. At times, stages like The Void and The Moat were delivering a harder, more aggressive style of drum and bass that was attracting people of a similar disposition. The overall crowd of the festival, however, definitely seemed attracted to this style, so Outlook programmers and promoters have nailed their demographic. Yet for some, their presence can be rather off-putting.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Croatian festival without boat parties cruising around the Adriatic. On board Thursday night’s Detonate, Alix Perez, Commix and Transit Mafia swung an amalgamation of groovy, liquid drum and brass and harder-hitting, fist-pumping material. The energy was higher than on the mainland – and more crowded too, to some dismay.
Overall, one can’t fault the near perfect delivery and management of a festival of this magnitude. Croatian security were keeping the area safe and managing crowds tastefully, whilst first aiders were spread thickly around the site to manage anything from a broken toe to heat exhaustion from passing out on the beach. Festival prices weren’t too high, and there was a good range of both veggie and meat food available. One area for improvement, however, could be on transport between Pula and the site itself. With just one local bus coming every 20 minute (and sometimes not even that) you could see the strain being put on drivers to manage the task and also manage the crowds.
Another downside was the apparent disrespect of many festival-goers towards festival workers, town residents and even each other. Too many times did I hear remarks that simply put these people down, instead of respecting them for allowing 15,000 drunken British youths to party on their otherwise quiet coastline. The average age of the festival (around 23) is most likely the sole reason for this, and whilst not much can be done to eradicate idiocy it definitely left a sour taste in one’s mouth as we caught the bus out of the town. Many need to remember respect when walking into someone else’s home, and perhaps the odd word in Croatian so that their entire population doesn’t write us British off completely. For the rest of us, this goes without saying, and I hope the people of Pula continue to welcome back festival-goers for years to come.