Outlook Festival is, first and foremost, a soundsystem festival. Much can (and should) be said about the remarkable setting, lineup and vibe, all of which contribute to its notoriety. But it’s the soundsystems that are the heart of Outlook, both literally and philosophically. Soundsystem culture started in 1950s Jamaica, and provided the cultural foundation for the music we now call dub reggae, hip hop, dancehall, drum n bass and of course, dubstep. The artists booked to play Outlook come from across that spectrum of genres, as well as techno, house, UK Funky and grime. Hence all the dubplates, emcees, rewinds, and the massive, massive bass.
Yes, it really is in an abandoned fort. Yes, there are massive soundsystems inside the walls, tunnels, dungeons, and even the fucking moat. There are also beaches, boat parties, camping and so so so much booze. And lest we forget – the lineup is out of this world. You can tell that the artists are just as excited to be there as the ticket-holders.
It really is as beautiful as it sounds.
By my count, there are 13 soundsystems at Outlook. 9 on the festival map, plus 4 boats. Though they vary in size, none could be called “weak,” not by any stretch of the imagination. Everywhere you go, you’re greeted with stacks on stacks on stacks of massive subwoofers, mids and tweeters, banging out some of the cleanest, warmest, most powerful bass music I’ve ever heard. We’ve all heard people use superlatives like “bone-rattling,” “chest-caving” and “bowel-loosening” to describe huge soundsystems; for the most part that’s hyperbole.
Not at Outlook. The system at the Fort, for instance. It cut right through me. It made me feel transparent. I’ve felt bass in my chest before, sure, but this I felt in every cell. You know that scene in Jurassic Park where they know the T-Rex is approaching by the way the water glass is trembling? It’s like that; you are that glass of water. All of you is vibrating. So is the ground. So is the sky. It’s like you’re in the speaker. Every hair stands on end. The air becomes palpable, like the fluid medium that it is. This must be what it feels like to be a fish, or a bird. You’re literally swimming in the sound. Even a mid-sized system at Outlook completely outclasses the best soundsystems in New York City (I’d take Mungo’s HiFi rig over Cielo’s Funktion-1 in a heartbeat).
You walk everywhere at Outlook, on dirt roads. From the main entrance, or from the campground, stages are at least a 10 minute walk. So it was a welcome change this year to see they introduced a new venue this year, situated halfway between the entrance and the rest of the venues. The Clearing is where the trail forked: the path to the left took you directly down to the the big outdoor stages, and the path to the right took you to smaller stages within the walls of the fort.
Between the two paths was a massive mural of the festival map, which drunks pondered at length before just asking stewards and random bystanders about the stage they were seeking. Last year the same space served as a de-facto chillout zone, nitrous bazaar and meeting point; it had some of the only outdoor seating in the entire festival, and most of it was poorly lit.
This year, The Clearing was a mid-sized dirt field big enough for a game of soccer, ringed by trees and equipped with a massive stack of Funktion-1 speakers and a generous arsenal of lights and lasers. The entrance sign was well placed, framing the brilliant Croatian sunsets and sunrises as festival goers entered and left the venue area. Around the stage comfortably held close to 1,000 people, or so I’d guess.
The Clearing was an inevitable first and last stop for everyone, and Outlook definitely took advantage of that with the lineups. Koan Sound and Funtcase both went off, playing early on Friday to healthy crowds going appropriately nuts. At 1am Phaeleh played a typically gorgeous set to a rapt Clearing. Sunday was another big night at the Clearing, with Bonobo easing folks into the final night with a 2-hour set. Outlook fam Mosca, Jack Sparrow, Zed Bias and finally The Heatwave closed out the stage Sunday night in suitably epic fashion. Also gotta mention Kode-9, whose set here featured some of the only juke I heard at Outlook 2012 (which was a mild disappointment, as last year it seemed abundant, but maybe that’s just me)
A few minutes past the Clearing, down a rocky dirt trail, there’s a point where the trail switches back before the final descent to the waterfront, and where the above sign frames a killer view of the Harbour stage, the Dockside Stage, and beyond that the actual waterfront where the boat parties load up. Harbour and Dockside are the two biggest stages at Outlook, and a bit of a hike from the rest of the venues situated in the fortress itself. However, both had immense capacity and killer lineups, so it was quite possible to spend an entire evening between the two.
The Dockside stage was in many ways an ideal system. It sits on the docks, as promised, and the audience has a wide open field (of gravel) to occupy. So there was always room to move, and never a queue. The speaker stacks were in towers, elevated enough to project over a wide area, but still powerful enough to give you a rich dose of bass, even 100 feet back. And the big stage, with its distinctive, angular visuals, was great for emcees to prance about on.
Thursday night was a metalheadz takeover, gratifying all the drum and bass heads. Friday was a lineup of all Rinse.FM DJs – big sets in particular from Roska, Oneman and Zinc. Saturday it was back to drum n bass; with the rain pouring down, the Shogun Audio takeover kept kids raving their faces off despite the downpour. The final night was a packed lineup as well – a showdown/showcase with two of the biggest labels in deep dubstep – Osiris and Chestplate. A stacked heavyweight lineup featuring Biome, Kryptic Minds, DJ Madd, Razor Rekta, Cyrus v. Tunnidge, Distance, and V.I.V.E.K. (most of whom played at reconstrvct in the past year).
Comparable in scale to the main stage at any major festival, The Harbour sits right on the ocean, with a massive arch of lights and two speaker towers. It has the largest capacity of any Outlook venue and hence played host to some of the biggest acts. Gentleman’s Dub Club and Fat Freddy’s Drop both played to a packed field on Thursday night. Submotion Orchestra broke 1,000 hearts on this stage, Max Romeo chased the devil off it, and Lee “Scratch” Perry sanctified it with a full band. Saturday saw Souls of Mischief and The Beatnuts rock it, before teenaged house heartthrobs Disclosure stepped up to keep people going despite torrential downpours. The sky cleared reverentially, though, for DMZ. Mala, Loefah, Coki and Sgt. Pokes had people skanking their asses off in the massive puddles. After that, Joker, Skream and finally Hatcha vs N-Type finished off a unparalleled night of classic dubstep.
Ironically, this was the only stage where one could quibble about the sound not being loud enough for certain acts. This was also the case last year, and I think it has to do with the Harbour stage being the most exposed – all the other venues enjoy some form of natural sound insulation from the fort or the hills, but the Harbour is essentially on flat ground.
One of the most talked about stages, the Moat was a long, narrow venue dug about 60 feet into the ground, with the highest stone walls of any part of Fort Punta Christo; it was litch-relly a moat. I chatted a bit with the guys installing the sound there, and they told me they spent 2 days measuring the distance between the speakers with lasers, so as to precision time the speaker delays. That effort paid off – the sound was pristine all along the length of it. Due to the limited capacity and spectacular view into it, the moat typically has a massive queue to get in. One entered via a 2-flight metal staircase, and turned the corner into a harrowing tunnel of bass, lazers and lights.
The Moat was my first stop on Thursday night for the Swamp81 takeover, with huge techno sets from Pinch, Loefah, Boddika, Oneman and Mickey Pearce. Boddika was really the highlight for me though – even the emcee’s moronic chant of “sexy bod” couldn’t manage to put a damper on the energy of his set. Saturday was also a stacked lineup in the Moat, with Ben UFO, Pearson Sound and Blawan all playing extended sets.
The Fort / Arena1
This was probably my favorite venue at Outlook. A perfect balance between spaciousness and sound insulation – the Fort was the biggest area fully enclosed by the fort’s original stone walls. The distinctive purple Void soundsystem provided the largest sweet spot of any system at Outlook, comfortably enveloping a few hundred ravers in deep, lustrous bassweight.
Notable sets here included Addison Groove, who rocked the place with a mix of hybrid bass sound, George Fitzgerald with some upfront house, Hatcha’s history of dubstep set, and basically all of Sunday Night – the GetDarker takeover. Von D and Kromestar both brought extra-heavy sets. Extra special shouts to Chefal, who completely flipped the vibe with a rousing set of house that had me dancing my ass off. Then Silkie and Quest hyped up a capacity crowd with straight party vibes (ie: mixing “Do the Jazz” into “Source 16”). Finally Jay 5ive and Truth played the last sets there.
Outside the Fort
Just past the entrance to the Fort was the cleverly-named Outside the Fort stage. Basically a big flat dirt pit about the size of a tennis court, dug out sort of terrace-like, with its own bar and massive Blackboard Jungle Soundsystem. Outside the Fort played host to all-night soundclashes between the Blackboard Jungle residents and parties like Dub Station, Hot Wuk, and OBF (the latter of which was a dream-team of Nicky Blackmarket, Remarc and Lion Dub with MC Navigator).
Mungo’s HiFi is a travelling soundsystem that ranks as one of the finest in the world. As a longtime collaborator with Outlook Festival, Mungo gets his own stage for his bespoke wood paneled soundsystem. Situated the furthest afield of any stage, Mungo’s is worth the trek. A footbridge takes you over a moat, through an arch and into a courtyard. The layout is unorthodox; two massive banks of speakers sit diagonally from each other across a rectangular courtyard; front left and back right. But this creates a much wider sweet spot, cutting a wide swath across the middle of the space. Which, incidentally, is right where you enter, putting you right into the vibe. Across the courtyard from the entrance is a staircase up to one of the best bars at Outlook. This is definitely the highest point of any publicly accessible area of Outlook, providing a stunning view of the ocean, the Harbour stage, and of course the dancefloor below.
The programming at the Mungo’s stage had an emphasis on dub and reggae. Jah Shaka played an epic 6 hour set here, and Sunday night it was a Dancehall Science takeover. Standouts for me included a classic dub set from Earl Gateshead, some live gameboy PA from Disrupt, and the Scottish badgirl swagger of Soom-T. Mungo’s also hosted a massive techno night on Friday with Walton, Damu, Girl Unit and XXXY. Mungo’s deserves special recognition as one of the friendliest vibes of any venue. Bigups!
The Courtyard, Noah’s Ballroom, The Dungeon
Deep within Fort Punta Christo, these 3 rooms provided the most intimate venues at Outlook. Entering through the high stone arch, the Courtyard is a roughly rectangular space, comfortably holding maybe 200. Every wall was lit with amoeba-esque projections. A small stage and 2 modest (by Outlook standards) stacks of speakers make for a medieval version of your favorite club back home. The Black Acre/ Tempo Clash night here was the one for me – all manner of beats from Blue Daisy, Kelpe, Kutmah, as well as some more techno-ish stuff from Fantastic Mr Fox, Hyetal, and a special late-night set by Dark Sky.
From there, stone tunnels burrow deeper into the fort, bringing you to Noah’s Ballroom, a circular stone drum with one speaker stack and an open ceiling, pictured below. Deeper still is the Dungeon, where the sound loops spookily around a figure-8 shaped vault of tunnels.
For a lot of folks, myself included, the boat parties were a huge highlight. 4 yachts were equipped with soundsystems, each hosting 3 parties per day. That’s 12 boat parties every day, making for 48 boat parties across the 4 days of the festival. With 3-6 artists per boat, that’s something like 200 sets.; practically a whole other festival, happening on the ocean. The boats held roughly 100 people each, making for a much more intimate experience, and more risk-taking sets from the artists. However, boat party tickets were extra, and sold out quickly.
Though tickets were gone in a matter of minutes, we managed to snag a spot on the Vagabondz boat, featuring a very housey lineup of Night Owl, New York Transit Authority, Disclosure, and Lil Silva. The boat shoved off at noon on Sunday, and after 2 days of rain the sun was finally back in full effect. As folks loaded in, Night Owl warmed things up with a little hip hop before transitioning into some easy 4×4 selections. New York Transit Authority was up next, starting off with his Off The Trax VIP, and laying down one of my favorite sets of the entire festival. Jubilant, sunny house music was just what the doctor ordered. Disclosure stepped up after that, dropping a nice selection of their tunes as well as others. Then we were all treated to a fun b2b session from NYTA and Disclosure. Focusing on well known party tunes, everyone sang along to classics by Biggie, Destiny’s Child and Grandmaster Flash.
Finally, Lil Silva stepped up. While I’ve never been a huge fan of UK Funky, and was pretty tired after dancing for 3 hours in the sun, I still couldn’t help but dance my ass off. His infectious energy, quick mixing and huge basslines had everyone in a frenzy. By mid-set, there were rewinds happening on nearly every tune. When the boat finally pulled in to dock, the crowd was so hyped that they refused to get off, chanting ONE MORE TUNE! ONE MORE TUNE!
Things always get silly at Outlook. Not much else could be expected, given that you have so many sun-starved, booze-soaked British youths partying their asses off for 4 days straight, with the surreal backdrop of a ruined Mediterranean fortress. Add to that 2 nights of unexpected, torrential rain, and you could well say that shit got ridiculous. Unlike Burning Man (which happens during the same week in Nevada), there’s not much in the way of costuming (or fancy dress) – but when things got wet, people started wearing some pretty silly items to stay dry. Below, you can see the traditional Croatian rave-poncho (as modeled by the WompBlog crew), the trash-bag cloak (very popular this year) with bespoke zip-lock hat, and a minimal cardboard box-vest. I WISH I had a picture of the two guys who were just wearing their tents, poles and all, with their heads poking through holes cut in the top, or the young MacGuyver who fashioned himself a bubble-wrap ghillie.
Between 20k and 25k attended Outlook this year – most of us college age to late 20s. I’d guess that guys outnumbered girls, but only slightly. Roughly 4 out of 5 people there were from the UK. The non-UK minority was largely European – French, Germans, Italians and Belgians were prominent, and obviously there were a lot of Croatians (who I believe got discounted admission, and were a bit more at liberty to buy day passes) as well as Hungarians, Serbs and I think I heard some Hebrew as well. Last year at Outlook, I could count the Americans I met on one hand. This year we were still quite rare, but exponentially more of us than last year. Running in to some of my NYC fam (shouts to bassfaced!) while out there was definitely a welcome change.
The people who did come were absolute nutters. For the sizable student bloc, this was their last weekend of holiday before classes started again, so the youngest were also going the hardest. Gotta say, these kids handled their alcohol vastly better than their American counterparts would have. In 2 years of going to Outlook, I’ve seen precisely one person throw up. ONE. However, seeing folks passed out drunk on the side of a dancefloor or half in their tent was quite common. At 11pm on Saturday I saw a young lady curled up on the ground near the Clearing stage, using her half-empty 40 as a pillow.
To what can we attribute this European superiority in the inebriate arts? For starters, they did they have several years head start (the drinking minimum age is 18 in the UK). But they also came up in a culture that values marathon drinking; in contrast, American’s take more of a sprinting or powerlifting approach, valuing impressive short-term accomplishments over stamina. Most of the Brits I talked to couldn’t relate to the concept of a time of day when you started drinking – if you were on Holiday, there was never a time to not be drinking. This method is not without its consequences though; more times than I can count, I overheard stories of partying nonstop for 2 days, then returning to the tent to change clothes, passing out, and missing a whole night of music. I didn’t hear anyone say they regretted it, though.
Due to the many country borders and customs inspections most people had to go through en route to Outlook, there was a remarkably scant presence of drugs. Spliffs and Nitrous balloons were ever-present, but I didn’t see a whole lot of people overtly tripping, nor would random sketchy people solicit your business. If anyone managed to bring drugs in to Croatia, they weren’t looking to share. While I heard plenty of kids complaining about the lack of pills, I’d like to think this actually enhances everyone’s experience, even the grumblers. By cutting out all the time and energy people typically do devote to finding drugs, the focus was inevitably on the music.
Outlook Festival is in Pula, Croatia, on the beautiful Adriatic, which you can sea here *rimshot.* Venice Marco Polo is the closest major international airport, and from Venice you can either take a ferry or a bus to Pula. The bus was around 5.5 hours (and was on time, both ways). The ferry I heard was a bit faster (also pricier).
More specifically, the festival happens here, at Camp Puntižela, ostensible in the city of Pula. The marker for Camp Puntižela on the map below is the entrance, and camping happens all along the north edge of that little dongle of land, with the main soundsystems on the south side, in the ruins of the fort and on the docks.
- the dongle in detail – note the docks, and fortress ruins
Camping onsite puts you right in the center of the action – 24 hours a day. It’s cheap as chips – £9/$15 a night, and there’s a beach (with a soundsystem, of course), and many, many bars. There’s also tons of mediocre festival food, and a decently stocked grocery. Good luck getting any sleep, though. Pretty much anywhere you put your tent, you’ll be hearing at least one soundsystem going till well past sunrise, as well as ~10,000 elated, drunken maniacs returning to their camps from 1-8 am. Which means you need to either get pass-out drunk yourself, or get your tent in the shade so you can sleep a bit during the day.
If that’s not your cup of tea, you can find places to stay in the city of Pula, which is several kilometers away (bottom right corner), or the next town north of there, Fazana (not on this map but actually a bit closer to camp than Pula). This year, The Outlook website had apartment rental listings in Pula, Fazana, and other towns further afield. Which is a great idea in theory, but the listings were all pretty vague, had 1 exterior picture, and were all listed as being 5km from the festival site. They were, however, all the same price (£25/$40 per night).
My advice: get an apartment through airbnb. There are decent options at around £20/$30/night, and that will usually sleep at least 2. Another option is Bi Village, which you can see at the very top of the map there. It’s is a family-oriented resort, but probably the closest possible lodging (about 3km away). It’s a bit pricier, £56/$91 for a 2 person suite, but there’s also a big-ass pool and a private beach, it’s a resort hotel, linen service, etc. I don’t know what Crazy Beach is but it sounds awesome.
Bus lines run to and from the festival site to both Pula and Fazana about once an hour, for 11 kuna per trip (<$2). There are also cabs – local cabs will take you to and from downtown Pula for about a hundred kuna (about $17), which ain’t bad, especially with a few friends. Then there’s Taxi Cammeo, representing 12 out of 13 cabs waiting for you at the main entrance to the festival. Taxi Cammeo is a new company this year pretending (not very hard) to be yellow cabs. On their website it says the first 3km are 15 kuna, and 6 kuna/km after that. That would make a trip to downtown Pula (7.5 km from Camp) cost 45 kuna. However, when I talked to these guys in the parking lot, they quoted that same trip as 150-250 kuna PER PERSON. One of these ass-clowns tried to explain the per person pricing by saying “Iz like hotel, but driving.” I heard a steward muttering about how they were all Croatian mafia; I believe it.
Last year Outlook came under some pointed criticism after the festival ended. Having doubled in size to 25,000 people, there were some inevitable issues: inaccurate set times due to poorly run stages, long lines for everything, rampant littering, and poorly maintained campsite bathrooms sullied the experience for some. There were allegations of campsite theft by the Croatian security. In the wake of this, Outlook Festival made a lot of promises about how things were going to be different this year. And I gotta say, they really delivered.
The campsite was dramatically cleaner – I saw barely any rubbish on the ground. There were signs posted encouraging folks to clean up after themselves, a cups-for-beer exchange program, and many, many more bins. I can’t vouch for how the bathrooms held up this year, as I stayed offsite, but there were noticeably more porta-potties at the venues, and I didn’t spend any time waiting in line for a free one. I also noticed a lot more stewards this year – volunteers who do 2 days of work for a free festival ticket. They were posted every 50 meters along the hike to and from the venues, ensuring that even the most plastered attendees wouldn’t get lost.
The programs this year were much better designed. The map was vastly more readable than last year’s. Instead of a bound booklet of set times (that would fall apart in your sweaty pockets), the schedule was arranged like a poster, that folded up so you could see the complete set times for all stages on the front and back, and slip that into a laminated pouch that hung on a lanyard around one’s neck. The stages were running somewhat more on time, though nothing was clockwork, exactly. The one major scheduling disappointment for me was that Planas‘s set got moved to the Harbour stage, but at the appointed time and place there were no signs, nor any staff who seemed to know where it had gone. I also heard some boat parties were at the wrong times.
All in all though, the festival was much better run than last year, while maintaining the same incredible setting, soundsystems and a similar calibre lineup. Maybe it was just better staffing and shorter queues, but it seemed like there were actually fewer people this time around. The only thing that wasn’t as good as last year was the weather – had it not been for the rain (the first in Croatia in 6 months), I think you’d have a lot of folks proclaiming this the coming of Festival Jesus. Hell, even with the rain, people were clearly having the time of their lives. The only major areas that could stand improving would be the food, keeping the scheduling as on time as possible, and posting notices when set times get rearranged or moved. The music, the venue and the people couldn’t be better. In short, I know I’ll be back next year – I sure hope some of you reading this join me.