Before you read this review, we would like to send a profound thank you to all the staff at NVS Promotions (the company that runs Outlook Festival and Dimensions Festival) and Damo Jones for all their hard work in the build up to the festival and during it. Your efforts do not go unnoticed. You can check out a selection of our digital photos from our time at Outlook Festival here. We also took a few disposable cameras so looking forward to what they may reveal. If after finishing our lengthy write-up you feel like experiencing it all for yourseld, head to outlookfestival.com to register for Outlook Festival 2016 and get priority access to tickets.
After Outlook Festival 2014 (review here), we thought it would be time for a change in terms of options for a late summer holiday. Not because we hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed our time there for the last four years, on the contrary we’ve had incredible experiences, but life is short and we wanted to see different parts of the world. Well Outlook Festival 2015 threw those intentions out of the window when they released the lineup for this year’s festival and we immediately changed our thinking to ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’. By no means an exhaustive listing of all the artists performing but the main hip hop headline acts included the likes of Run The Jewels, Madlib, J-Rocc, Jurassic 5, Pete Rock, Jeru The Damaja, The Beatnuts, Flatbush Zombies and High Focus Records. Great hip hop alongside the best of drum and bass, grime, reggae and electronic music set across a 2000-year old amphitheatre (built in 150BC to be precise) and a 19th century fort on the Adriatic coast. Where else on this planet can you find such calibre of artists in such a beautiful place? If you find it let us know. Now in its eighth year and attracting 15,000 people, NVS Promotions are clearly not resting on their laurels. The directors are clearly proud of their baby as it is well on its way to double digits. During an informal chat with Joe Barnett, one of the festival’s founders, he alluded to the fact that they could get less expensive sound systems for their stages and hardly anyone would notice but they were categorically not willing to compromise. Having the best sound systems is not just a matter of turning it up to 11 and giving half of the crowd tinnitus and Outlook know that; they cater to the music nerd that’s buried inside us. As well as the twelve stages (that includes the amphitheatre) and the boat parties, to further cater to music fanatics such as ourselves they have also introduced a Knowledge Arena. In this area you can now test out new music software and sample new technology from the likes of SubPac and Native Instruments.
For the third year in a row, the festival opened on the Wednesday with an opening concert at the historic city of Pula’s Roman Amphitheatre. The festival site is just outside the city of Pula itself but thankfully the organisers have a cheap boat taxi service that takes you from festival site to a stones throw away from the Amphitheatre. Not only is the setting absolutely stunning from a historical and architectural perspective, it gains a new lease of life as a music venue. With both elevated seating areas with stunning views of the stage as well as a large standing area, whether you prefer to observe music from the comfort of a seat or raving in the thick of it you are covered. The opening concert line up kicked off with the mellow soulful sounds of New York City’s Gabriel Garzón-Montano followed by the sounds of legendary reggae system Trojan Sound. What really tickled our fancy however was the fact that Jurassic 5 were on the bill. In terms of rap music, just as Def Jam, Rawkus and to a certain extent in the UK with Low Life Records represented golden eras, Jurassic 5 and their brand of music was a beacon of light in an otherwise creatively barron landscape of rap in early 2000s. It goes without saying that such opinions are very subjective but that’s ours. The group disbanded for a few years but have recently been touring again and they do not look like they’ve missed a stride. As a live show, it is clear they have gone to great lengths to ensure the crowd remain engaged throughout their performances. Having a large part of their success in the earlier part of the millennium we were sceptical that a large portion of the crowd, mostly in their early 20s, would know J5’s material. We were so glad to be proved wrong. Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, Marc 7, DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist are no spring chickens (sorry guys) but they rocked that stage with more youth and vigour than the majority of artists you see on stage. They played their well-known classics such as What’s Golden as well as some new material but one of our favourites, High Fidelity, wasn’t performed.Can’t have it all. A highlight of their performance was DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist going back-to-back on stage punching drums into beat machines as well as scratching records on some seriously cool turntables. SBTRKT was headlining the opening concert and finished the night off with a bang and some rather mesmerising stage lighting but frankly by that point the overarching feeling was that Jurassic 5 owned the evening.
Thursday is the day the Outlook Festival officially kicks off with its 11 stages and famous beach parties. As with all great music festivals that take artist bookings seriously, festival goers at Outlook undoubtedly are faced with the dreaded set time clashes. This is a testament to the number of great artists performing. Our itinerary for Thursday consisted of a trip to the local Lidl supermarket on their free shuttle bus for much-needed alcohol run (more on the dangers of drinking too much later) as well as tea bags and milk; the essentials basically. After we settling into our surroundings, it was time for DJ Hatcha‘s old school garage set followed by DJ EZ at The Beach. It goes without saying that both are legendary DJs and know how to get a party started so it was the perfect way to start the long weekend. After a further boogie for Catching Flies at The Harbour, we spent the rest of our night raving at The Moat. The Moat we would argue is probably the best acoustic experience you are likely to hear at any festival anywhere in the world. As the name suggests, the large deep trench was the fort’s moat but with a DJ booth at one end and speaker stacks from front to back it has been repurposed as the ideal place to experience drum and bass. You will find few willing to disagree with such a statement, it really is that good.
Friday for us began with the Hot Wuk boat party. The boat run by The Heatwave is the cornerstone of our Outlook Festival experience and we try to catch the guys whenever we can in the UK. Not only do they play incredible bashment music from the Caribbean, they also know how to make the sun come out as demonstrated this year. The forecast was predicting extensive rain over the weekend but when we were on the boat the sunshine came out like we were enjoying the sunny Caribbean. The only downside of the boat party was that it unfortunately clashed with the exact time that BADBADNOTGOOD were playing The Beach so unfortunately we missed out on that. When there are so many great artists to see in one place, set clash is an inevitable downside but the incredible vibes of the people on the Hot Wuk boat ensured we didn’t dwell on it too much. After a 55Kn (£5) pizza at the campsite that was so incredible that we would like the chef to be awarded a Michelin star, we wandered over to The Void with its Transformer-esque sound system. We caught all of Artful Dodger‘s set there and as fun as it was hearing some old school garage classics, a part of us can’t help think it’s not really Artful Dodger the same way The Sugababes weren’t really The Sugarbabes (don’t judge us) by the end of it. You can search the backstory but either way good music is good music and we danced until our legs ached and we craved more beer. Punctuated by the talented bunch that is the Swamp81 gang at The Moat, The Harbour beckoned for Flatbush Zombies, Boy Better Know and Beanie Man. Only some of the Rhyme On Beat crew managed to catch Flatbush Zombies but apparently it was the highlight of the festival because of the energy in their performance. Hometown grime MCs Boy Better Know always put in the work and they had the crowd going crazy especially for Skepta‘s Shutdown. Although Jme wasn’t present, Stormzy coming on stage for Know Me From made up for it. Beanie Man, much like Capleton who we saw at Outlook Festival in 2013, is no young man but he puts in 110% and gets the crowd involved only like a seasoned pro knows how to. By the time the end of his set came around we were all danced out and unfortunately missed what was left of the Boom Bap takeover at The Garden. Admittedly a little bit too much alcohol may have played a part as well but we paid the price for that in the morning. This may sound like your parents talking but no-one wants to miss great music because you’ve consumed too much alcohol too quickly; it is essential to pace yourself and stay hydrated considering the lovely heat of the region. While we’re on our soapbox lecturing adults, we might as well take this opportunity to tell you to wear ear plugs. These tips may sound obvious but are essential wherever you’re raving.
As we nursed our rather painful hangovers (learn our lessons boys and girls) the following morning on shores of the crystal clear Adriatic, we enjoyed the lovely sounds of Shanty and Chainska Brassika. Bit of live ska, reggae and hip hop goes down a treat when you can barely move but this illustrates perfectly how this festival caters to all tastes and moods at all times. After drinking water like a fish and inhaling another pizza (yes a whole one), we had enough life in us to head to The Harbour for The Beatnuts and Jeru The Damaja. Although The Beatnuts were unusually flat in their live performance (we’ve seen them before and they’ve been full of energy on stage), a significant crowd had come to see them play including a substantial chunk of the High Focus Records roster. Jeru was charismatic as always on stage and even though some of his songs are literally older than some of the audience members you wouldn’t be able to tell from the impressive crowd engagement and interaction. Kate Tempest, if you don’t know her please do yourself a favour and utilise the internet, came up next and she was truly over the moon to be on stage. The young lady has talent and confidence in abundance as she has been performing on stages for a number of years, we saw her at Glastonbury 2010 for example, but she was still clearly struck by the fact that she was in a slot between Jeru and The Beatnuts on one side and Run The Jewels on the other. After seeing her very polished performance with two backing musicians we’re definitely going to try to catch her live shows in the UK to fully absorb her performance.
Run The Jewels to us right now is what 1Direction were to 13-year-old girls before Zayn Malik left; these guys can do no wrong. Killer Mike and El-P, the Run The Jewels duo, are probably the performance we were looking forward to seeing most alongside the Madlib Carnival. Their self-titled debut reinvigorated our love for raw well-produced rap music and they followed it up with the incredible Run The Jewels 2 which was equally, if not more so, impressive. The hit the stage by playing Queen‘s We Are The Champions and played every single song we wanted to her including 36″ Chain, Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry), Sea Legs, Angel Duster, A Christmas Fucking Miracle and lots more. The synchronicity and understanding between of the pair of them and DJ Trackstar means us fans get an incredible live music experience. By the time RTJ finished it was 3am and we called it quits for the night and frankly we couldn’t have gone to bed happier. Both Run The Jewels albums are free on digital so make sure you get your hands on both if you haven’t done so yet.
Sunday as far as we were concerned had two priorities; make sure we didn’t miss our Dispatch vs Symmetry boat party and ensure we didn’t miss a second of Madlib at The Clearing. Although we made the boat, one of our team spent pretty much the whole boat party emptying the contents of his stomach over the side of the boat or sleeping. Although we were fairly hard on him at the time, it turns out he was actually unwell with a virus but attending the welfare tent four times during one festival must be a record. Regardless, a line up of Ant TC1, Break and Goldie was always going to be an incredible party on the high seas but it was a bit too much fun and the three hours flew past. We’re hip hop nerds to the core and good music is just good music but there is something so alluring and enjoyable about drum and bass that we always find ourselves being attracted to. Admittedly, in hindsight we should have spent more time in The Moat because as we mentioned above it is probably the best venue in the world if you like you music around 160bpm.
We got to The Clearing on Sunday night a bit earlier than we had anticipated and managed to part-take in our favourite activity: accidentally discovering amazing music. It came in the form of rapper Loyle Carner whose slot time was just before Madlib’s two-hour DJ set. Based on the fact that he’s got a UK tour in November and a sizeable social media following it seems we may be a bit late to the party but better late than never. Whether it was because he was on just before Madlib or because he’s got his own loyal following, there was a sizeable crowd and everyone joined in the ‘ooh-ah Cantona, ooh-ah Cantona’ chant for the song dedicated to his late father. His stage presence and confidence on the microphone were evident. As soon as we had access to the holy grail of any festival abroad – wifi – we looked him up online and look forward to his future releases. The living legend that is Madlib was a bit delayed as they set up and the crowd were entertained by the talented Bambooman. When he finally arrived on stage he started his set with the original version of The Red (a collaboration between himself and late great J Dilla for those that don’t know and definitely in our top 10 songs of all time) followed by a brand new unheard track with Mac Miller. Much like for The Beatnuts, our favourite hip hop artists from the UK such as Pete Cannon, The Mouse Outfit, BVA and Dirty Dike were in the crowd showing love to the great master. As well as playing classics such as Gang Starr‘s Mass Appeal and Mobb Deep‘s Shook Ones Part 2, Madlib dropped Pete Rock & CL Smooth‘s The Creator… to which then Pete Rock jumped on stage and rapped the lyrics. Mind truly blown. Definitely an experience we’ll never forget and to top it off Pete Rock reposted our Instagram video of the whole thing on his own profile. The man also known as Soul Brother #1 then followed with his own DJ set featuring everything from funky James Brown to old school Biz Markie. We kind of regret not staying for J-Rocc’s set because we only heard great things afterwards from fellow party animals and via social media but by that stage we had reached musical nirvana. Sunday was the best time to have the Madlib Carnival because just as it was incredibly exciting, it was also beautifully mellow and just what we needed at the end of a week of non-stop partying. That simple example of how the set times are arranged around the stages demonstrated one of the reasons why Outlook, to us anyway, is different to other festivals of its size. For those like us that wanted to wind down we got to enjoy the likes of hip hop legends Madlib and Pete Rock while for those that wanted to go out with bang the likes of Sir David Rodigan and Shy FX were playing at The Harbour and Renegade Hardware was tearing up The Moat. Outlook Festival, despite its growing popularity, has remained true to its core principles of making it about the love of music first and foremost. That focus is the same reason why a lot of people we met keep on coming back and the reason why people had come from as far as Canada and Australia. Outlook achieves a tricky balance of sustainability whilst delivering quality and it seems it’s still on an upward trajectory. A breathtakingly beautiful location, huge variety of artists from across many genres and sound systems that do their music justice. All the right ingredients but Outlook Festival have brought them together as a musical recipe they have mastered and continue to perfect. This year they raised the bar to new heights but we eagerly await Outlook 2016 to see what further surprises they have for us as we nurse our post-festival blues.