Outlook Festival Turns Up the Bass on Sound System Culture
Outlook Festival, in the beachside city of Pula in Croatia, has elements that make it an experience beyond what is capable in the United States. When a festival starts out with an opening concert in a 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater, you know you’re not in for your average festival weekend.
Damien Marley’s feel good reggae and Slum Villiage’s classic hip hop vibe brought in a perfect calm before the storm. The next four days and nights were filled with Drum & Bass (DnB), UK Garage, Dub, Dubstep, and Future Bass that satisfied the need for bass therapy in all.
Outlook Festival returned to its iconic Fort Punta Christo location. Located on a small peninsula in an abandoned fort, the stages all have their unique feel, truly setting the stage for the immersive potential the DJs and Musicians came to provide. The focus on sound system culture is a large contributor to this as well. Every stage had deep clear projections from sound systems that have been thoroughly vetted throughout Europe, each with their own uniquely tuned flavor by crews mentioned in more detail below.
During the day, Outlook brings everyone together for a “one stage, one vibe” party on the beach. Besides the boat parties (more on those later), this is the only music going on until about 8pm. A perfect decompression/recompression before the night ahead, the shore is filled with bars and food for over a quarter mile with people enjoying the sun and water.
Festival goers can also run on the inflatable water-bound obstacle course or take out paddle boats with a built-in water slide. While this is happening, a large balcony with a sandy dance floor hosts many stand out acts that get re-amplified all up and down the beach for all to enjoy.
The tunes here ranged from Drum & Bass to on point beach reggae to Hot 8 Brass Bands funky stylings. Funky definitely showed its face at the beach stage, and Swindles stand out sunset live set really epitomized the genius of the beach stage. Center stage on his dual Roland synth setup, he was flanked by a drummer on one side, and a brass section composed of a trumpet and tenor sax on the other.
They opened with “Long live the Jazz” and everyone was instantly hypnotized. Between the brass sections “choreographed” dance moves and the consistent smiles on the face of all four members of this unique quartet, it was hard to tell who was having more fun, the crowd or the performers. Traveling all the way from Los Angeles to Croatia, it was especially rewarding when they dropped a no holds bar version of “London to LA” that got the crowd properly riled up.
After the sun set, the festival came to life throughout the fort. The main stage, “The Clearing”, brought proper large festival stage production for some big acts. Beyond the amazing sounds, the width of standing room for the crowd created a great atmosphere, leaving room for all to dance to the fire lineup it hosted every night.
The Drum & Bass on this stage Friday night satisfied everyone itching for their fix, but one of the highlights of the weekend here was Sunday night’s Kurupt FM performance. Their mix of comedy and UK Garage stylings are unparalleled by any act out there. The fact they can hold down such a large stage with a massive audience and be a highlight of the weekend truly makes them a unique force in the world of live bass music.
While the uninitiated are sure to enjoy the beats and banter, their inside jokes and purposeful mistakes can only be appreciated by those whose lifetimes have consisted of one too many rewinds.
The other stages all had their own standout vibe, mostly utilizing the fort in creative ways. The Moat stage started with a decent down many stairs to the moat floor. Surrounded on all sides by the steep stone walls, with a guardhouse in the corner utilized for the stage, you truly felt immersed in a fantasy. The UK Garage lineup there on Friday night felt right at home in the grungy moat basin.
Other stand-out fort immersions utilizing the fort included the ballroom, a small, ceiling less, circular room with an elevated stage, and Mungo’s Courtyard, which is entered through a drawbridge and has overlooks in the surrounding fort walls when you want a breather from the dance floor madness. This stage also holds a large capacity, which was clutch for standout acts such as Kode 9, Mad Professor, and Ikonica.
Mungo’s Hi-Fi represents a Glasgow collective that is known for multiple facets, most notably their appropriately named label, Scotch Bonnet, and their sound systems they lug around Europe. They truly represent the roots of sound system culture, pioneered originally in Jamaica and featured prominently by Outlook Festival.
Outlook brings sound systems from multiple crews from all over the continent, providing different flavors of full frequency immersive experiences all by bass lovers with their own unique perspective. As a result, every stage at the festival, whether it be on land or one of the many boat parties throughout the day, have a fresh breath of aural bliss, keeping the hi-fi heads continually impressed and engaged.
In addition to Mungo’s system, the Void sound systems throughout were without a doubt standout features of the festival, and their namesake stage, “The Void,” lived up to their reputation. Being the second biggest stage at the arena, it succeeded at bringing more intimacy with a mainstage vibe. One standout act was Goth Trad, who closed out Saturday night with his heavy flow of Japan-based dubstep to a crowd heavily locked into the beats, shown throughout with syncopated dancing and affirmative nods.
The Boat Parties
After a night of bass music throughout the whole range of genres, nothing gets you ready to do it all again like one of the aforementioned boat parties. One stand out party was Roni Size’s “Full Cycle” day cruise which ended just as the sun came down. The party started with Swindle doing a DJ set, which was a real treat considering he was one of our top acts to see over the weekend.
He played a variety of tracks, ranging from his own productions to classics as well as newer bangers such as Flava D’s remix of “Rythm & Gash”. You would think there would be no way to start a boat party off better, but a party’s atmosphere is not made by the DJ alone. Having a legendary MC such as Dynamite MC taking us along for the ride from beginning to end really brought everything to next level.
All three DJs kept the crowd begging for more throughout the ride, and Dynamite MCs relentless on point rhymes and hype really kept everyone locked in. Despite all that top game, Roni Size found a way to bring it up even higher, inviting the entire crowd, a few people at a time, to be on stage for some prime rage time with the artists themselves.
The family vibes were strong, which was also shown by the large variation in genres that were played without losing the crowd. After Swindle’s set filled with UK Garage, Dubstep, and other funky, bass-filled gems, Krust took us all over. The continued delight from the crowd could be heard starting from his classic hip hop opening tracks through him increasing the BPM range, moving between genres before ending with his notable DnB stylings.
This set the stage for Roni Size to bring it home in true Full Cycle style, giving us all our evening DnB fix to energize us for the night ahead. If you ever get the chance to visit Outlook Festival, the boat parties are a must!
Bringing It Back
One of the initial curiosities that lead to the conception of this journey and review was to compare this festival to ones in the United States. The similarities and differences were striking at times, and begs the question of what can be learned cross culturally by both promotors and festival goers.
To start, the similarities were quite positive. Outlook was reminiscent of the passion-driven festivals back home, as opposed to the ones that feel purely revenue driven. The sound system culture that was present at Outlook is also found in many similar festivals in the States. These festivals all have the love of music in common though.
While larger festivals like Coachella or Glastonbury may have some nice large sound systems, they feel more driven by minimum specifications than a vibe and sound. Outlook’s pride in the vibe of the sound is echoed especially by festivals in California including Lighting in a Bottle, Boogaloo, and Raindance. Similarly, the never ending quest for that ideal sound that can be felt by Mungo’s and Void’s systems, characterized by rich tones throughout the frequency range without a hint of harshness, are reminiscent of California based crews like Motion Audio and Chino Sound.
The other commonality these festivals all have that was present in Outlook was a love and trust of the music. Giving local crews and labels with little ego and lots of passion their own nights on stages created special atmospheres that don’t ever leave you once the festival ends. It was a special treat at Outlook to see a stage dedicated to some lesser known US artists Sunday night, including Los Angeles hometown hero Dela Moontribe who helped closed out the festival with one of her telltale, DnB heavy, mind trips of a set.
Another welcomed similarity was the positive attitude and conscious vibe of the festival. While the concept of “Leave No Trace” is foreign to most people so far from the West Coast, there was less trash on the grounds than your average festival. This stemmed from a respect for the festival that came through on the dancefloor and elsewhere as well. All of this made Outlook feel quite like home and it reverberated with some special US festivals, thus cementing its place on the list of hidden gems.
There is one more thing that gets a big hat tip to the production, and it is something that would not be easily mirrored in the US. This venue was one of a kind, a true gem with a lot of heart and vibe embedded in it. It seems that while the fort itself had so much going for it, this was achieved even more by the vision and execution the production team created and had grown over the past six years within this venue.
From the one vibe beach party with all the activities, to the professional and punctual boat parties, to the festival opening up to a maze in a festival filled fort, which only exists at night, Outlook has broken away from the mold to truly re-envision what a festival can be. Festivals and venue owners back in the states can learn from this.
Building a relationship with a site, taking ownership of it, and creating an experience and vibe that isn’t exactly intuitive has really paid off here. Typical US festival growth simply follows mantras more along the lines of “Do it bigger and smoother next year,” which is necessary, but perhaps too simple.
Outlook creates a world that’s true to its values, showcasing DnB, UK Garage, Dubstep, Future Bass, Hip-Hop, Dub, and more, so that it feels like you are visiting a fantasy land where these genres were born. The synergy can be felt throughout the festival, and it’s worth it for anyone who loves these bass-centric styles of expression to take the journey to this temporary homeland and celebrate with your fellow tastemakers.
Ben is an entrepreneur who specializes in early-stage start-ups, with experience in a variety of industries. He has worked in Biotech, M&A, Commercial Real Estate, Film &TV Production, and has founded multiple web start-ups. He is currently attending UCLA Anderson for his MBA.