Photo by Dan Medhurst
A few years back, while on time off from a study abroad period in Morocco, I was able to attend MS Dockville, a smallish festival in Hamburg featuring the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, Holy Other and Michachu and the Shapes. Having only attended American festivals to that point, my opinion of music festivals was bleak to say the least, literal fights for space and air in what could easily be described as gigantic cesspools of humanity. MS Dockville was a welcome reprieve from the glut and general decrepitude of the American festival, both in terms of programming and general respect on the part of attendees. There was no more space at the festival grounds in Hamburg than a midsize US soiree, but the way attendees interacted with the music and each other gave the whole event a neat, cozy overtone.
Since that weekend, I’ve been aching to return to a European festival and when a friend proffered the idea of making the trip to Pula, Croatia for Outlook Festival, the soundsystem culture-focused event happening across five days in an Austro-Hungarian fort on the Adriatic Sea, the opportunity was almost too good to pass up. The legend of Outlook and Fort Punta Christo runs deep and feasting on the lineup, especially names like Boy Better Know and Kromestar that us Americans can only dream of seeing on normal terms, became a regular activity in the months and weeks before the festival, the anticipation becoming almost overwhelming as we began our 30 hour jaunt across ocean and land to reach the small coastal city.
Looking back now, a week after Outlook’s world class soundsystems finally shut down, it’s hard to imagine we were on a beach watching Hatcha and DJ EZ play out classic-laden sets or at the festival’s unmatched Moat stage brucking out as Acre and Mumdance shook down the entire Fort at the Tectonic 10 party. And more than any individual set, the opportunity to attend a festival with near-total support for its modus operandi. In short, most of the people at this year’s festival were there because of their dedication to soundsystem culture and/or its various modern forms. With a few exceptions at the top of the bill, Outlook’s lineup was composed of labels, parties and artists outside of the general public eye, meaning the likes of Amy Becker, Parris and DJ Milktray having the opportunity to lay down high energy sets in front of huge, adoring crowds.
Hit the jump for a full run down of The Astral Plane team’s experience at Outlook Festival in Pula, Croatia…
As far as highlights go, the first two nights of the festival offerred up an almost unconsciable amount of can’t miss acts across the board, from the Deep Medi crew heaping it on at Mungo’s Arena to a murderer’s row of MCs including Stormzy, Novelist, Flowdan and P Money ratcheting up the energy higher and higher at the Butterz throwdown in The Clearing. Stormzy’s recitation of “Shut Up”, the South London MC’s vocal special over “Functions on the Low, was a crowd favorite, bringing out a sentimental side to one of the younger crowd’s the weekend had to offer. Meanwhile, Compa, Kaiju, Mala and Kahn (I missed Gantz and Commodo unfortunately) nearly started a riot at Mungo’s with percy after percy, bringing it extra hard on what might have been the festival’s best system.
Friday was our opportunity to jump on one of Outlook’s legendary boat parties, our choice Resident Advisor’s sunset occasion featuring Parris, Acre and Kode9. The two former DJs took the opportunity in stride, laying down a loose mixture of old school hip hop, R&B and more recent grime and techno standards. Prince Will’s blend of Acre’s “Physically” and Justine Skye’s “Never Leave” was particularly memorable, although by the time Kode9 jumped into an assortment of classic and unreleased footwork numbers, this passenger was feeling a little bit green and was forced to sit below the party as not to let it all out.
Friday night was special for our group for several years, for me the opportunity to see Boy Better Know (knowing full well Wiley and Jammer wouldn’t take part) and for the rest of my group, the chance to finally catch the legendary DMZ 10 parties that have been clattering Europe all summer. After dinner and an early look at DMZ at The Clearing’s triangular stage, I managed to drag the group down the hill to The Harbor, arriving just as Skepta, Frisco and a host of others lept on stage in their all black ensemble, hammering through “Man Don’t Care”, “It Ain’t Safe” and the proverbial “Shut Down” and “That’s Not Me’. The absence of JME, while stark, was lightened by another appearance from the absolutely on fire Stormzy, laying down “Know Me From” and another resounding call-and-response version of “Shut Down”.
The rest of the night was spent stumbling around the Fort in between the Swamp81 party in The Moat, which despite Paleman, Mickey Pearce, Klose One, etc.’s considerable skill (their Rinse show is one of my week-in-week-out favorites), failed to reach the levels of hyper surrounding them on other stages, whether by means of MC led bacchanal or the rewind fest that was going on all night at DMZ. And speaking of DMZ, Hatcha and Youngsta, trading off records, might have been the highlight of the ten year party, bringing renewed life to a crowd covered in dust and battered by dubplates, thunderstorms and 8+ hours of continuous dancing.
Saturday and Sunday were hardly any less packed than the first two days of Outlook, although our legs, bodies and minds were weathered from two straight 6 AM nights. Tectonic 10 in The Moat on Saturday was a particular highlight, featuring what might have been the best set of the festival from Mumdance and another rising set from Acre. The former ran through The Sprawl-esque noise manipulations, early 90s hardcore classics and, of course, each of his hits with Novelist, all aided by the ferocious Riko Dan on mic. Fighting through some early sound and power issues, the Tectonic crew provided what might have been the festival’s best pound for pound showcase, Pinch’s crew coming correct with a varied lineup of artists from the label’s past and present.
The Void, one of the festival’s larger stages placed towards the back of the fort, was our home for much of the rest of the weekend, playing home to the Just Jam showcase on Saturday night and the Contact party Sunday night and hosting everyone from Crack Stevens to Elijah & Skilliam to Sherwood & Pinch’s rousing live set. While nearly empty early on Saturday night, the aforementioned Crack Stevens brought a refreshing change of pace, lowering the tempo from Outlook’s revered 140 to around 130, which allowed for a fun loving array of UK funky, ballroom and afro house numbers. Later in the night, Elijah & Skilliam stepped back up for another multifaceted set of grime, garage, bassline and everything else under the Butterz sun, keeping the Just Jam acolytes grinding and drawing passerby to the stage with ease. Spooky closed out the night as only he can, mixing funk-laden grime at breakneck pace, barely stopping to wipe the sweat from his brow and keeping the crowd in a frenzy until the early hours.
In a way, the heat/thunder storms surrounding Fort Punta Christo with lightning embodied what was going on inside the fort, in terms of the raw energy coming from each and every MC on mic, the ruthlessly idiosyncratic nature of sets from Mumdance, Acre, Kahn and more and the general enthusiasm the crowd brought from all corners of the globe. We traveled some 6,500 miles and 50+ hours to get to Outlook, but at no point did it seem like an imposition to make our way around to Pula. There’s nothing that holds a torch to Outlook in the United States and, in a sense, the festival holds itself on rarified ground as one of the only “roots”-focused events that still manages to book modern labels, artists and parties, still manages to hold court in a wildly unique location and still manages to throw an efficient, well run event with ever larger crowds. On a fan boy level, the opportunity to hear “Pulse X”, “Ghetto Kyote”, “Ice Rink”, classics we rarely have the opportuity to hear out in the US, rinsed over and over and over again had me gassed all weekend and more motivated on a personal level than I’ve felt in quite some time. It’s entirely possible that I’m still sun and dub dazed from last week’s event and even more likely that my lack of a frame of reference for competent festivals sways my opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that Outlook was quite probably the best festival experience I’ve had yet.