Last year we hopped on two planes and a coach each way to get to Outlook Festival but the amazing time we had made the exhausting round trip worth it; read our review of Outlook Festival 2012 here. Before we go through our Croatian adventure for this year, remember to check out our Instagram account and Facebook page for all our snaps from Outlook Festival 2013. It’s now a full month since this year’s festival finished and we thought it would be good time to publish our review, not only for those that couldn’t be there but for also those that shared the experience with us. Read the full review of our week on the Croatian coast below and assess whether or not you fancy giving it a go in 2014.
For Outlook Festival 2013 our trip was rather less painful due to the fact we managed to get on a direct flight to Pula (the nearest city to the festival), from there it’s a short taxi ride to the festival around the site of Fort Punta Christo. Arriving at the festival we felt much fresher than last year even if we did fly with a certain airline, that shall remain nameless, known for being particularly chaotic and uncomfortable. Rather than going for the apartment option as in previous years, this year we opted for camping to enjoy (or not as the case may be) the authentic festival experience. Arriving Tuesday afternoon we were one of the earlier campers on site so managed to strategically place our tent in the shade and right by the shore; pitching our tent remarkably quickly for a couple of city boys. Apart from enjoying the sunshine by the beach not much was done for the rest of Tuesday until the biblical storm that came along in the evening. Now, experiencing heavy rain with thunder and lightning was nothing new to the two of us that headed to Croatia but adding some ridiculously powerful winds and the fact that we were in tent made it a rather tense situation. Thankfully we were dry when we woke up and unlike the rain we get on our shores the sun was shining the following morning and continued to shine for the rest of the festival. Wednesday evening we hopped on a boat from the harbour to the historic 2000 year old amphitheatre in the city of Pula. Queuing for the boat aside, the trip itself was rather quick and rather more comfortable than expected. Think along the lines of sitting in the first class carriage when you only paid for a standard ticket (we’ve all done it).
Music aside, the visual spectacle of the amphitheatre itself is amazing and credit to the festival organisers for securing it as the venue for the opening concert. With the lighting illuminating the amazing architecture and the music from the heavyweight lineup of artists filling the venue, it really does come together as a breathtaking package and something to remember. J.Rocc held it down with the finesse you would expect from a founding member of The World Famous Beat Junkies, with his own dubplates (via Serato of course) he really got the crowd going. Grandmaster Flash was next up and believe us when we tell you would be hard pressed to find a set as varied and energetic. Just from memory he played everything from Naughty By Nature to Dead Prez to The Fugees and even gave Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit a spin and my goodness what a reaction that got. From the upper reaches of the amphitheatre where we were seated we could see the whole crowd pulsating with energy and singing along. His set was rather safe and to be honest there wasn’t that much mixing as such but when you consider the number of classic songs that he spun with most of the crowd singing along to it doesn’t really matter, everyone that made the effort to come to the opening concert will remember the time they saw Grandmaster Flash for a very long time. The Wailers were the last of act for the night and as expected was a much more mellow affair. Playing both classic Bob Marley era tracks as well as some of their newer material it was a perfect way to wind down the evening. Minus the unfortunate technical difficulties that temporarily immersed the whole arena in darkness during their performance it was a performance to remember especially considering the amazing solo. The crowd even took the slight technical gremlins in their stride and lit up the whole arena using their lighters and mobile phones as the band continued to play.
Thursday night came along and to start with The Fort hadn’t opened due to the after effects of the storm that was no concern to us as we were heading straight to Capleton at The Harbour. Although a heavyweight reggae artist, we weren’t expecting a gentleman of his age (he’s pushing 50) to put on a very energetic show but he really did prove us wrong. He literally ran on stage and opened with That Day Will Come; with the live band and the energy that he had the song had a completely different tone to the original recording but the crowd loved it. He went on to perform some more material from his back catalogue and had the crowd the whole way even when the intensity came down a notch or two for Mama You Strong.
With Outlook Festival’s lineup of artists this year there was no time to hang around and we had to leave The Harbour early and headed to The Clearing for one of the best new school rappers to come out of New York City Joey Bada$$. We’ve seen Joey live previously and the performance he put on then along with the music he has released meant that there was no way we were going to miss him. On a side note The Clearing stage didn’t exist in previous years but it replaced the Dockside Stage that wasn’t present and to be honest it was a wise trade considering how busy it got by The Harbour in previous years. To our surprise we realised that Jay Electronica was in the photography pit alongside J-Rocc watching the new kid on the block rock the crowd and side stage The Pharcyde were watching proceedings. Jay enjoyed it so much that after taking some photos with the ladies in the front row he jumped into the crowd and started moshing along with them to the sounds of Survival Tactics featuring the late Capital Steez. Props to the sound engineers at The Clearing, those guys had the microphone/backing track levels perfect. In terms of set list he mixed it up with both older material (by that we mean his 1999 material) as well newer songs such as 95 ‘Til Infinity from the Summer Knights project. Although he’s still in his late teens he’s got a lot of dedicated fans as the enthusiastic crowd at The Clearing were testament to.
Friday night was the hip hop fans’ highlight with High Focus Records, Task Force and Mos Def jumping on The Harbour stage and J-Rocc and Jay Electronica making appearances at the Deviation takeover Outside The Fort. High Focus as a label and as individual artists have been a huge force on the UK hip hop scene for a couple of years now but we’ve never had an opportunity to see them live but thankfully in Croatia we got to see them twice, once on their boat party and secondly at The Harbour. We love UK hip hop but most gigs consist of a largely male crowds bopping their heads to the music and not much else, High Focus doesn’t play by those rules. The crowd was varied and energised by their individual performances both on their boat and at their label showcase at The Harbour; so much so that apparently three ladies decided to part with all the clothing on their top halves. It’s great to see Outlook Festival such a huge platform to this talented bunch of artists. We heard from the whole High Focus crew including Rag’n’Bone Man and Four Owls (both as a group and individually) and we would definitely go as far to say it was definitely one of the top highlights of the weekend. With a combination of clever rhymes delivered with impeccable flow and impressive beats and stage presence these boys have the package. Big up the whole HF family and we strongly suggest you try to catch them in a town near you at the earliest opportunity. Task Force (minus Farma G but replaced with his son Remus) followed the HF boys on stage, understandably not as hyper as the HF boys on stage (purely because that’s not the nature of their music). Chester P as always worse his heart on his sleeve and sent out a heartwarming message to Farma’s newborns with the help of the crowd.
We unfortunately didn’t get to stay for the whole of the Task Force set as we literally had to run to Deviation Outside The Fort where Benji B had enlisted J-Rocc and Jay Electronica to rock the crowd. Under the sobering grey skies of London now that the festival is finished it’s easy to see that running around a festival site with expensive camera equipment was probably not the best idea but there was so many acts to see. J-Rocc, being the experienced and versatile DJ that he is, had a different set than to the one at the opening concert and suited the Deviation stage much better. We headed back to The Harbour again, those that went will testify to the fact that getting there is much easier than coming back due to the fitness testing hill that leads there, to catch Mos Def for a performance you would expect from an artist of his calibre.
The man we were really excited to see was Jay Electronica due to the fact that even though he lives (or possibly lived) in London, this guy is a bit of a ghost. He rarely performs, he has the musical output of Andre 3000 (not much at all) but still keeps us hooked and craving that apparently finished album of his that has yet to even get an approximate release date. With a track list released roughly a year ago there is still no sign of the album we thought the chance to possibly hear some new material was unmissable. He came on stage with a huge bottle of Jack Daniels and said that he still gets nervous performing so he uses it to take the edge off, with the vitality that he came on stage with we would argue he didn’t need it at all. After the opening track he introduced TJ The King on the turntables and proceeded to talk to the crowd who were clearly as excited as were to see him on stage and individually gave the front row swigs of Tennessee’s finest export. A huge shout out to the guy with the Exhibit C t-shirt who Jay invited on stage and promised to hook him up backstage.
“If you don’t know the words, you can read it off his shirt” – Jay Electronica
Shortly after inviting one person on stage he jumped into the crowd, which by now appears is a habit of his, and was crowd surfing as he continued to rhyme. Once back on stage he invited the whole crowd over the fence and onto the stage, at which point the production team went into a panic fearing a stage collapse.
— Benji B (@TheRealBenjiB) September 3, 2013
After the chaos of a stage invasion the production team had enough and switched off his microphone and all in all he only got four or five tracks in but the antics made it not only a funny spectacle but also an experience to remember. Due to the technical issues arising from the stage invasion, Benji B was rather late to come on stage but when one of the first songs played was Collard Greens on that amazing sound system how can you complain?
Saturday night was a bit thin on acts that we were excited about apart from The Pharcyde, Pharoahe Monch and Digital Mystikz. However earlier in the day we unexpectedly ended up on the Butterz boat party (big up Elijah & Skilliam) that covered garage and grime from the very beginnings of the culture to the present day. Back to The Harbour, Outlook Festival have made habit of bringing back the golden age of hip hop back into the present; last year Souls Of Mischief were one of the headliners. The Pharcyde shipped the sounds of Los Angeles in the early 1990s to Croatia in 2013. The crowd, most of which probably weren’t born yet or in nappies when Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was released, thoroughly enjoyed the classic songs that defined an era in rap music (R.I.P. J Dilla). Pharoahe Monch was undoubtedly going to hit the stage with a bang because we saw him on the same stage in 2011 when he did a tribute to the Nate Dogg and finished with the riot inducing Simon Says (you know the next four words). No Nate tribute this year but he got Mos Def on stage to perform Oh No, a sight and performance that we as well as the crowd thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a shame that Talib Kweli wasn’t able to make it to Croatia (due to Visa issues) otherwise we may have been in for a Black Star reunion at The Harbour.
After we had a quality dose of rap music we headed to The Clearing for the sounds of true musical pioneers Digital Mystikz. Now that Mala, Coki and Loefah are all involved in divergent genres of music with their own projects it is a rarity for them to spin back-to-back and what a treat it was. If you have ever been present at a DMZ night, which now seem to be a once a year event, you will know it’s something special. The took take us back to an era when dubstep was in its infancy and even dipped into playing some Boy In Da Corner era Dizzee Rascal tracks. The worry with such bass heavy music is that only a top notch audio setup will do the music justice but with the quality of the sound systems at Outlook there’s no fear of that.
By the time Sunday came along we were really starting to get down about the fact that the festival would soon come to an inevitable end but our bodies were crying out for a nutritious meal and a warm bed; there is only so far your body will go surviving on alcohol and chicken fillet burgers (as nice as they were). As a result we decided to take it easy before we ran the risk of burning out before the end of the festival and chilled at the Beach Party to the sounds of Eglo Records head honcho Alexander Nut and Kutmah. If you follow Alexander’s Rinse FM show or Eglo Records then he doesn’t need an introduction, if you don’t know then we suggest you check the Eglo roster and listen to his radio show where he plays such a great variety of music that’s always mixed seamlessly. You really can’t go wrong with chilling to great music on a sunny beach with a drink in your hand; it was a great moment to reflect on how much great music and talented artists we had heard and seen. Saying that, we’re as tolerant to mother nature as the next ecologically away man or woman but the wasps who seemed to love us were driving us around the bend. We weren’t the only ones suffering either by the looks of it but avoiding the sugary beverages kept them away for slightly longer. It was rather amusing hearing the numerous voices who had suddenly become experts in the behavioural psychology of wasps and their theories on how to avoid getting stung.
Being the last day, the evening was not a wind down day by any means; we managed to catch Gentleman’s Dub Club, Barely Legal, Broke’n’£nglish with Skittles (read our review of his album), Swamp81 showcase and The Heatwave. We started the night at The Courtyard as we hadn’t actually headed that far into the festival but it’s the area where the most breathtaking areas of the festival are (The Moat, The Fort, The Dungeon) and managed to catch DJ Barely Legal playing some old school garage mixed in with a bit of grime followed by the boys from the “Costa Del Salford”. Broke’n’£nglish were accompanied by fellow Estate Recordings artist Skittles; we really liked his Poor With £100 Trainers album last year so didn’t want to miss him.
Swamp81, although not a hip hop label, are never a disappointment. Founded by Loefah it has artists such as Boddika, Mickey Pearce and Zed Bias signed to it. We got there when Mickey Pearce was just finishing his set Outside The Fort and what a good match it was to the vocals of Jonny Banger and Chunky who kept the crowd moving after four days of dancing.
Gentleman’s Dub Club have performed every year since Outlook Festival started and the crowd always welcome them back with open arms. Live brass instruments, great drummers and a frontman with the energy of a seven year old with ADHD is bound to be a recipe for a great live performance. Dub Club‘s leader singer Johnny Scratchley also doubles up as the Creative Director for the festival. Our favourite track has to be High Grade; sounds incredible live.
In terms of official acts on the line up our festival ended at 4:30am on the Monday morning to the sounds of The Heatwave accompanied by their own dancehall queen on stage. We don’t know who else would have been able to make us feel like we were at carnival but in Croatia. Mashing up rap, with dancehall and soca had us bouncing all over the place especially for the finally that was Palance that got everyone skanking, what a great time that was! If anyone remembers how many reloads that tune got please get in touch. Gabriel of The Heatwave is a magician of mash ups even having the audacity to mix Pon De Floor with You’ve Got To Show Me Love; try to catch their Hot Wuk nights if you can.
Monday consisted of us taking snaps of those that remained on the beach to enjoy the Dub Smugglers sound system with Alexander Nut jumping on as selector once again and later instigating a soul train. By now most had packed up and leaving but our flight from Pula wasn’t until Tuesday so we hung around and captured the mellow vibes of the smaller crowd down at the Beach Party. That extra day down at the beach really helped us to recharge our batteries after an enjoyable but exhausting weekend. If you do make it out to Outlook Festival in 2014 please make some time to visit the city of Pula; with it’s history, architecture, great food and a random bronze statue of James Joyce sitting in a cafe it’s definitely worth a visit. We took the opportunity to take in the sights on the way back before we headed to the airport. A word of warning however, try to avoid the illegal taxis. We got into a ‘taxi’ that was at a designated taxi rank but when we got out at the airport we were stopped by the police because it was an illegal taxi apparently. There was a moment when we worried that our experience may be soured at the last hurdle but fortunately the officer let us go about our business. Not knowing the laws of the country it could have ended differently. Entering Pula Airport felt a bit like entering a homeless shelter. Most of us in there were disheveled and exhausted so ended up crashing on the floors and using our bags as pillows as the pensioners who had obviously been on a group holiday looked down on us both literally and metaphorically. The way back basically consisted of us dreading our seven hour stopover at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, it’s not even the larger airport in Frankfurt so this one basically consisted of a McDonald’s and a cafe and that was it. Thankfully the McDonald’s had free wifi, which when you’ve been obsessively avoiding using any data on your phone for a week felt like a blessing from the corporate Gods. The free internet connection and the mains plug we managed to locate made the seven hours on the outskirts of Frankfurt fly by and although we got back to London late Tuesday night we learnt something: flights to Pula are always better than being on a coach for several hours. Always.
In conclusion, the one worry we had for Outlook Festival 2013 was that camping would make life difficult but we were determined to be ‘ballin’ on a budget‘ to quote Apathy. The first night’s storm really had us worried but we stayed dry and for the rest of the festival being that close to the festival site was really ideal; minus the wasps killing our vibe but that’s mother nature for you. It was clear the management had learned the lessons of last year and they had replaced The Dockside with The Clearing and moved the location of the Beach Party Dub Smugglers Soundsystem slightly to allow more room for dancing. I’m sure there’s some financial management reasoning for it but the token system at Outlook is still inconvenient especially because you can’t trade unused tokens back into cash. It also doesn’t help that the 50 Kuna tokens are the smallest and equate to about £5.50/€6.50, try finding one of those at 3am when you’ve had a couple of alcoholic beverages.
Outlook Festival is not a Leeds, Reading or V Festival, it is a musical experience firmly aimed at people who love music and to some extent who are music nerds (guilty!). That said, the added ingredients of sunshine, a beach and historic surroundings make it more than a musical event. These guys put a lot of effort into ensuring their sound systems are top notch for the type of music that will be played, credit is due to the sound engineers too. One quarm we regularly have with live hip hop is that the levels are all over the place and it becomes a nightmare trying to make out lyrics over beats but that’s never been a problem for us in the three years that we’ve gone. Expense wise you can do Outlook Festival on a budget but make sure you get flights and accommodation sorted as a first priority as these go quickly and the laws of supply and demand dictate that the prices will hike just as fast. Drinks and food are cheaper than UK festivals but alternatives can be found both in the local towns and in Pula itself. What we noticed amongst the festival goers we spoke to was that for a lot of them it wasn’t their first time and that clearly says something about the whole experience; they’re leaving with memories that make them want to come back and clearly that’s the same for us. Even though it was our third time, the whole experience still felt new and refreshing. The line ups are always right up our street with a balance of established names and underground artists from the genres of drum & bass, hip hop, grime, dub, reggae and dubstep. Our highlights for this year were Joey Bada$$, High Focus Records, Jay Electronica and The Pharcyde. From non-hip hop aspect Digital Mystikz and The Heatwave really stood out; all delivering great performances to remember. Lastly we just want to say a big thank you to Outlook management and Listen Up for their help both before and at the festival, hope to catch you guys in 2014.