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Friday, 16 September 2016

OUTLOOK FESTIVAL 2016: THE REVIEW

In my preview article I confessed my deplorable failing in never having graced the azure waters of the Adriatic coast that Outlook boasts, so after limbering up, and packing my bags I jumped on a 737 laden with fellow ravers and notable DJs and headed down Croatia way to right my wrong.


Fittingly for Outlook - a festival steadily carving itself out as a long-standing overseas pillar of rave culture is held in Pula - an ancient Roman town similarly proud of its rich heritage. Stocking supplies and mooching around the town ahead of the festivities showed a side of Pula I’d willingly see again freed from the constraints of festival fun. With one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world (the venue for the opening concert), and narrow shop-flanked streets, Pula is a delight all of its own.


After pitching our tent in dappled shade we got down to a sophisticated round of gin and tonics complete with ice from the well-stocked on-site shop, and a very reasonable pizza from the food stands. As is festival tradition, everything is paid for with tokens which are 1:1 exchanged for the Croatian Kuna, but where one-day London festivals suffer from half hour long queues for these plastic chips, Outlook peppered the camp-site and stage areas with enough stands that queues were never more than 10 people deep. Likewise with the facilities, the lavs were never over-subscribed, and while they became increasingly smelly, the bi-daily cleans kept them useable. There was that one time I found a group of errant turds that had somehow landed everywhere but in the blue liquid, but with so many other commodes to choose from I wasn’t a man without a country for long… 


The stages all had a flavour of their own, from the grotty realness of The Garden, to the big-bill arena vibe of The Clearing (taken over as main stage without The Harbour) I found myself reveling in the ambience as much as the sound. The Moat’s high walls and 100m deep walk from front to rear retained a feeling of closeness with the DJ even towards the back. Mungo’s Arena and The Stables had an otherworldly vibe with coloured lights bouncing off the stone walls. All in all Outlook is a festival that’s very pretty to see.


I could go through an exhaustive list of each set seen, but we’ve all got places to be and with the quality on show this review would become a dissertation if I did, so the truly notable sets are detailed below:

The Heatwave brought a taste of Notting Hill to The Void, repping the likes of Charly Black that got the booties shaking. As before they employed the help of a local Croatian dance troupe. A nice touch as it helped fold in some local flavor with the broadly imported artists. 

Father Rodigan was his usual avuncular self, requesting we give some signal and throwing out bangers from down Jamaica way. Offbeat goodness to be had with every spin delivered with unbeatable patter from his textbook raised seat out front.

Swindle played two sets, of different tones. The first in The Void was an urban rampage with wall-to-wall bangers, and tight quick mixing. The second as the sun set on the Beach Stage was his own work with live instruments, and hearing Mood Swings live was a highlight of the festival.


Kode9’s set was a technical masterpiece, seamlessly mixed footwork business that got me so hyped I nearly threw out my shoulder in Mungo’s Arena.

Levelz Crew were their usual fun-loving selves and ended a fun set by singing Home and Away acapella and parading around. Perfect festival vibes lads.

Grime’s kingpin Kano brought solid energy to The Clearing, with a younger audience that proved to be more 3 Wheel Ups than Ps and Qs he effortlessly folded in classics with new bangers. 

Kurupt FM - solidifying their meteoric rise into the zeitgeist, played the now main-stage The Clearing on the final day, after playing The Garden last year. With their cheeky Garage bangers and chucklesome in-fighting they filled the place and kept up momentum. 

That familiar guy, where do I know him from – Stormzy similarly rocked (grimed?) the main stage, keeping the kiddies on their tippy toes alongside Croydon’s finest - Section Boyz, completing the set of South London Sunday.


No Outlook trip would be complete without a jaunt out to international waters (not really) on one of their famous boat parties. We elected to join the crew of the good ship Deep Medi. With 2016 being the year of their 10th anniversary, the big names were out in force. The lads opted for the egalitarian approach of 2 tunes b2b, which meant that excitement was perpetual as each DJ kept up with the flow. With Rider Shafique MCing over the lot, Commodo, Gantz, Kahn & Neek brought the dark grimey bedlam initially with the likes of Kaiju and Silkie providing a wavier purple sound to the proceedings, all with suitably dubby overtones. Mala lead the VIP charge from the outset pulling up one of Jack Swift’s offerings and dropping the bells and whistles version. While many of the records played were dubplates and unreleased bigguns, find in amongst my Top Records Heard, for the ID-able nuggets of 140 fun.


The Knowledge Arena was an innovation this year at Outlook. Brought to us in association with Ableton, Akai Professional, and M-Audio revelers of any prior skill level were able to learn how to produce and mix. Curated by the good people over at CDR, this project gave party people a glimpse into the worlds of their favourite artists, and insight into what it is to be a music professional. Alongside a copy of Ableton Live 9 up for grabs, Outlook really changed the game here - lineups, locations and food stalls aside, festivals can become homogeneous affairs, but this touch really brought something different to the event. Walking towards and back from the stages and hearing peoples’ cursory efforts at production both underlined the skill of full-fledged artists, and reinforced the sense that people at this festivals were true music lovers, and keen to learn.


The new Outlook app that had the most up to date set times and locations unfortunately fell a little flat in execution. Requiring a constant data connection meant that we needed to buy data by the fistful, or resort to using set times at stage entries or the pre-printed, and now out of date, paper list to know where people were playing. With a little tweak here and there it could become a perfect assistant in deciding a plan of action during a festival night.


A thunderstorm on the final night heralded the end of a spectacular Outlook. All told I was blown away with how well executed and curated the festival was. To be sure I’ll be attended again, and would recommend to anyone else who’s never tried it before; to those who have, you already know. Outlook you were smashing.

Words by Sam Jones.