Monday, November 11, 2013

Outlook Festival 2013 * Event Review * ATB in Croatia

Over the past few years its become patently evident that CROATIA has become the go-to location during the ever expanding and mightily competitive Festival season. Croatia's varied islands offer everything from scuba diving to skinny dipping, nudist beaches to 24-hour parties which combined with an endless array of additional offerings begin to make this hotbed the perfect location for a 4 day party. Did we also mention it's outside the Eurozone? Time to say hello to the cut-rate Croatian Khuna, making those all important alcohol supplies a cut-price reality.

Although much of the early season furore centered around the equally popular getaways of Hideout & Soundwave, for us this summer was all about OUTLOOK FESTIVAL. Set in the heart of Pula's Fort Punta Christo - a purpose built battlement designed in the mid eighteen hundreds - its stunning coastal backdrop makes it an all round idyllic location for 15,000 bass-hungry revellers to enjoy an extended European summer through a battering ram of soundsystems designed to blow your head (or ears) off. Sounds good to us.

Entering its sixth year, there's hardly a native in site as the campsite itself is comprehensively congested with British backpackers which, by the Wednesday night, is ram-packed with everyone evidently ready to party. Once the sun had set the festival exploits immediately began as the beach parties got into gear, bellowing out obscene amounts of bass from a rack of speakers that quite simply have to be seen (or equally heard) to be believed.

With proceedings officially kicking off on Thursday, those lucky enough to arrive early & turn Outlook into a week long venture can actually begin the fun as early as Monday. With DJ's showcasing everything from Dubstep, Grime, Trap to UKG & House on the beachfront judging by the amount of revellers already enjoying the vibes well into the early hours it would seem 4 nights for many is simply not enough, and judging by the standard of set being projected from each stage the excitement for what was to come had seldom been so tangible.

Away from the site itself and its exquisite decor which this year, it's worth mentioning, had been carefully curated through the wonderful work of Ashes57, there was a party to attend to in the city of Pula within the breathtaking confines of a 2000 year old Amphitheatre. If the locale couldn't get any more historical, not that we were complaining...

Broadening Outlook's musical exploration in honour of it's sixth year, the decision to host an exclusive warm up concert in one of the largest Amphitheatres in the world was as bold as it was brilliant, as 5,000 opted to take part and fill out the stunning venue in what was a complete masterstroke by the event organisers. With everyone in visibly buoyant mood not least by the surroundings it's Madlib's go-to DJ J-ROCC who set's the tone early on spinning a healthy dose of instrumental Hip-Hop that warms the place up nicely for the original scratch-master himself GRANDMASTER FLASH.

As one of the game's founding fathers, its no surprise the New Yorker put's on a show that works the crowd into a frenzy, staying on the mic throughout as he effortlessly cuts from genre to genre with Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' & Dead Prez's 'Hip-Hop' getting notable spin-outs. It was as if the organisers knew the more relaxed tone's of THE ORIGINAL WAILERS would be the perfect remedy to round off a night's raving, as the reggae innovators take us through an unforgettable back catalogue of hits that couldn't have been performed in a more suitable location. An unforgettable & historic performance from one of the most legendary groups in music, it was no surprise JOEY BADASS could be spotted watching through the crowd & haze of ganja smoke.

As Thursday came round it became abundantly clear how Outlook retains its loyal base of followers and that's partly down to the impeccable (although annoyingly pebbley) beach which, in such glorious weather becomes a populous hive with nothing but bikini's, trunks & giant inflatables to be seen. Accompanied by a backdrop of DJ sets to keep the party vibes flowing, the baking sun may have you forcibly up & about by 10am but a healthy dip in the sea along with a decent chicken burger to chow down has everyone ready for a long first day & night of music ahead.

Despite the late exclusions of TALIB KWELI, ANTONY B & XXYYXX, one of the major draw-in's to this year's line up was its bigger roster of Hip-Hop acts, with Pro Era's JOEY BADASS ensuring everyone made it out early for one of the set's of the weekend. Fresh off the release of the excellent 'Summer Knights' mixtape, the New Yorker punches through a hit list alongside DJ Statik Selektah that has much of the crowd in singalong mode with even JAY ELECTRONICA jumping into the crowd to sample a slice of the action with the AboutToBlow crew.

From then on it was all about the legends with everyone heading down to the festival's biggest stage, The Harbour Arena, to sample the MBE honoured Reggae legend DAVID RODIGAN. Skanking on stage defying his 60 years, the dub veteran ploughed through classics including & Collie Budz's to give the bass frequencies a stern work out. Back over at The Clearing the power failure that had cut DUSKY'S set painfully down to just 8 minutes was threatening to spoil one of the best stage line ups altogether however the ill-fated feeling of disarray was short lived as service was promptly resumed in time for TODD 'THE GOD' EDWARDS to deliver his expertly euphoric take on House & Garage, dropping recent refixes of to compliment classic crowd pleasers likebefore making way for another legend & without doubt the set of the night.

A mainstay on KISS for over 15 years, the brilliantly mercurial DJ EZ has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in recent times that unquestionably stems from his ability to mix & scratch like no other. Perilously shifting between house, garage, grime to UK Funky often within the space of seconds EZ has the crowd in complete pandemonium in what has to go down as one of the sets of the weekend, even if it only lasted a meagre 45 minutes. Luckily the enigma that is ROUTE 94 kept everyone bopping with the welcome decision to drop crowd pleasures in the shape of &as the sun rose to complete what had been an unbelievable first night of music. A night that in our view will go down as one of our most satisfying nights spent at a festival thus setting the benchmark for the rest of the weekend.

One aspect we've been repeatedly informed about over the last year or so is the site's notable expansion which in turn has brought about a plethora of large-scale stages that provide a welcome contrast to the traditionally intimate settings of the The Dungeon & Mungo's Arena. Enclosed by ancient mountainous walls, the confines of The Moat & Noah's Ballroom are a stunning sight & become the point of interest for Drum & Bass heads with DISPATCH RECORDINGS & EXIT RECORDS two of the more notable label's giving the heavily armed sound systems a run for their money. With The Clearing, Outside The Fort & Fort Arena 1 being the more familiar type of festival set-up, open air stages with thousands of ravers sprawling as far back as possible these played host to the biggest names in Hip Hop, House & D&B & even after one year its near impossible to think of Outlook progressing without these stages.

Another crucial element in Outlook's make-up is its wealth of boat parties on offer. Playing host to every conceivable club night, brand or label on offer we took the time to sample the delights of the ETON MESSY boat, packed out with enthusiastic teen's intent on two-stepping to the familiar House & Garage delights that have become inherent to the channel.

As fans & friends of the channel, EM know how to put on a show & have enjoyed a wonderful rise over the past year which has enabled them to make their first Outlook appearance. Gathering APPLEBOTTOM, SLY-ONE & MARIBOU STATE together for an afternoon at sea with a full capacity of adoring ravers only too happy to get into the swing of things. Although the lunchtime boats can be a shock to the system having been partying only a short few hours before, they offer a chance to take in the wonderful Croatian croastlinebeautiful weather & like minded people culminating in all round good vibes. Maribou State were the real highlight & brought the boat back to the port in expert fashion, opting for Outkast's 'Roses' as the final song, a memorable ending to a memorable party.

After an afternoon of blissful vibes out on the Adriatic it was a welcome surprise to witness one of the biggest beach sets of the weekend in the shape from The Artful Dodger. Managing to conjure at least a couple thousand ravers visibly intent on reminiscing, the original UK G maestro raced through a wealth of singalong classics from the early Garage years. The term guilty pleasure comes to mind with continuous screams of "energy vibes" & "oggy oggy oggy" in practice throughout its duration. Admittedly everyone in attendance were more than happy to oblige to the MC's calls.

With the sunset & that steady bass rumble signifying the start of another night all eyes were on this years headliner, the artist we still (& always will) refer to as MOS DEF. Draped in all white, Yasiin led us through a complex set of old & new, surprising with a crowd pleasing rework of The Motto delivered with that signature flow that rightfully commands so much respect from rap fans the world over. If making us wait until the penultimate song to hear the classic 'Travelling Man' wasn't enough, the rather bizarre ending which involved a spin-led dance routine to a retro indie beat sort of summed it up. Bringing Yasiin Bey to Croatia may have been alluring, but his new persona curates a different rapper & leaves everyone with mixed feelings over a lyricist that used to rule the underground scene. Maybe a Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q or Kendrick Lamar would have slotted in to headliner status more seamlessly.

For straight party vibes the talent on offer across the DEVIATION & MADTECH RECORDS stages could not be ignored. Collectively these two have become key figures in the UK Club scene & encompass just about everything we love about bass culture. With a 30 minute queue out the door, The Courtyards infrastructure was under intense pressure to deal with the House & Garage in session from ATB favourite APPLEBOTTOM. Shifting through the gears alongside the label's biggest name in CITIZEN its their ability to offer up dance-friendly selections that will always work the crowd up. One of our festival highlights came from our request for Citizen to drop Rosie Gaines' 'Closer Than close' which was duly received with audible cheers, big up's to Citizen!

One room away within the nestled-away confines of Noah's Ballroom the grime-led basslines from Manchester's MADAME X were a must-listen. Having gained a recent slot on 1Xtra's late night schedule Miss X knows how to start a party, keeping a visibly hyped crowd moving with dubplates synonymous with the BUTTERZ imprint which is fitting as label heads ELIJAH & SKILLIAM were in attendance.

Having missed JAY ELECTRONICA's outrageously ballsy attempts at complete crowd participation through a series of stage invasions due to Yasiin Bey's performance on the main stage, it was a welcome sight to witness the entire Deviation crew getting down to MARTELO's night-ending set of seminal Hip-Hop & R&B jams for the singalong crew which in many ways sums of BENJI B's brilliantly inimitable brand. Very much focusing on substance which in turn brings an effortless style to the way the crew conduct themselves, it's a stage for the real music lovers.

Intent on sampling as many acts as possible, the final set of the night was left to Glaswegian party animal JACKMASTER who, alongside Manchester's CHUNKY on mic duty, tears through a stream of singalongs from the likes of Skream & The Streets (surprisingly) that deter's any of the remaining Harbour crowd from leaving before the end. Having witnessed enough Jackmaster sets over the years, this was undoubtedly one of the best, with the crowd reaching fever pitch as Chunky raises the levels with a polite request for people-on-shoulders whilst throwing out cans of beer, a definite sign of a special special set.

After an afternoon of absolutely ridiculous vibes from LOEFAH'S SWAMP 81 clan (separate review for that to come) it was time to get over the initial disappointment of missing Ossie & Maribou State & head over to Outside The Fort for TREVINO & HAPPA. It's still hard to believe amid the rolling techno thunder that Happa is only 17 years old, giving us a lesson in cast-iron four-to-the-floor monstrousness that shows us what a special talent this boy is.

With Saturday catering more to the progressive Tech House followers, it was a welcomed change by 4am to embrace the legendary sounds of original-garage head ZED BIAS.Teaming up with fellow Mancunian MC Chunky, Mr Bias ensures we're all here to party, shifting through the motions which culminate with a special floodlights-on UK Funky rendition of Joy O's 'Hyph Mngo' that creates scenes of mayhem on the dancefloor. You can actually recreate the moment & listen back to that set here.

With a residency on Mistajam's 1Xtra show & now an emerging figure within the Grime scene, it's great to see the efforts of DJ BARELY LEGAL over the past year have been rewarded. With a 90 minute set of Grim & Garage both past & present the largely male-oriented crowd are all too happy to raise their trigger fingers in appreciation as the ATB favourite sums up the SB:TV ethos perfectly.

The last night however is all about the takeover of a label that has gone from strength to strength over the past year or so. Consistently creating some of the most exciting & engaging releases it's the unique nature of SWAMP 81 that make's it such an important label in today's underground scene thus making it an essential element to the Outlook index. With the entire night hosted by resident MC's Jonny Banger & Chunky, the sparse beats & moody basslines of PINCH set things up nicely for head honcho LOEFAH who, complimented with continuous whales of "Loefah, Loefah'' from that man Chunky delves deep with an assortment of 808 fueled half-step beats. Exactly what the capacity crowd had been waiting for.

With the set of the night coming in the form of a special impromptu B2B from ZED BIAS & the unstoppable PALEMAN, the real highlight came in the form of the two MC's who make the SWAMP parties so entertaining. There's a likeability factor that comes with the ever-hyped Jonny Banger whilst hype man Chunky's uncanny knack of creating simple singalongs is another reason why Outlook was so memorable. Quite frankly, if you managed to escape Outlook without hearing chants of Chunky's "there's a party in Croatia" rhyme then that tinnitus must have kicked in early.

Although Dimensions festival, the newer born younger sister has that added lure for House & Techno enthusiasts, the breadth of choice available at Outlook is ever increasing & caters meticulously for all bass lovers making it the supreme festival of it's kind that's yet to be rivaled for choice & value. From the historic opening party to the beach & boat parties there's an abundance of major headlights to choose from that didn't even occur during the night's entertainment, exemplifying how euphoric a festival it actually is that some of the week's best moments can happen far away from the main stages dancefloors late into the night.

For an industry that's become so heavily saturated over the past year, its testament to the festival organisers that Outlook continues to reign supreme over it's competition largely due to it's stunning locale, artist bookings and ridiculous sound system setup (6 weeks on & my ears are still ringing). With so much emphasis focused on attention to detail, it's great to have the opportunity to savour the moment with 15,000 like minded people which is exactly why Outlook has been our favourite festival experience yet. It may not be a Glastonbury, Reading or Bestival, but the added incentive of serious sunshine, glorious surroundings & a beach ensure it offer's more than just music.

With over 1000 artists playing over 7 days all in, Outlook is a party that doesn't play by the conventional festival rules, making it a unique & essential venture that all lovers of Bass music quite simply have to experience.

With our official highlights video soon to come, you can check out the best of our Outlook adventures via the slideshow below.

Words & Photography by Mikey Corrighan
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