Outlook Festival is a world-class celebration of soundsystem culture held annually in Croatia during the first week of September. This festival explores the ongoing connections of Jamaican roots music to its modern-day counterparts as powerfully expressed through massive soundsystems on many unique stages set in a warm and beautiful seaside place. More than 400 acts played over the course of five fantastic nights and days.
Now approaching its seventh year, Outlook is considered to be Europe’s best and biggest bass music and soundsystem dub culture festival. Attending this party promised for us to be an exceptional experience, a memorable musical holiday and special summer vacation rolled all into one. We’d never been to Croatia before and we’d never attended Outlook. The festival couldn’t musically be more impressive or persuasive yet every year we didn’t go because Outlook occurred exactly when Burning Man did and our loyalties in previous years went to Burning Man.
This year Outlook was scheduled to begin just when Burning Man ended so we actually briefly planned to attend both events. We soon realized going to both parties would diminish the highest possible enjoyment of each, we wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared to ensure a maximal experience, we had too much to do before leaving and so sadly sacrificed half of our plans. Pressure was on therefore for Outlook to be 100% worth this year missing Burning Man.
Would it measure?
How might it compare?
Attempts were made to do some research and planning beforehand. We spent some time learning a bit about Croatia, studying the Outlook website and going over the incredible list of artists booked to play. We also researched the geography, currency, accommodation possibilities and local cuisine. The end goal was to ensure we didn’t arrive clueless and helpless, we didn’t want to fuck things up, we wanted to really make Outlook count, especially as regards having to miss out on Burning Man.
We chose to board at a pretty little place in Pula based on the beautiful pictures we saw of the space and the very high rating received from past tenants’ praise and positive reviews. Staying in Štinjan was briefly considered since that was where the festival was actually held and being able to walk to and from the site would have been nice. None of the available places there seemed right for us however, even if they were cheaper and closer to the festival. We didn’t want to rent a house that required sharing with strangers because we had no idea how that would turn out and it seemed taxiing to the festival from Pula would be cheap and easy. We chose not to camp onsite either because nearly all the people attending Outlook were wild and British and we had heard some interesting things about what it’s like to really party with the English. There was for example candid mention of cups full of piss being gleefully flung high into the air above massive unsuspecting crowds. There was some other thing too involving an ill-famed female urinating in a stranger’s tent and for toilet paper gamely using a slice of bread. We weren’t keen to situate ourselves too closely to such potential incidents, these types of detail did not appeal. Our own private apartment in Pula seemed preferable and more ideal.
The night before leaving we were horsing about in Georgia with a fun bunch of Canadian bass music djs. At the mention of a connection in Paris for our flights to Croatia, one of these blithe lads said, “Well let’s hope they don’t lose your bag. CDG is really good at losing bags.” “Hm,” I responded, concerned. “Well let’s hope they don’t lose mine.” We were flying Delta which gave us no great reassurance. Delta has a long and consistent history of pissing us off.
Later at the airport, we tried to reconfirm everything with an apathetic Delta counter agent, from our being seated next to each other on the plane to verifying our dairy-free vegan inflight meals. After an hour of wrangling with this disinterested woman, we went through security and off to board. On the plane we were confronted with maddening facts that despite all additional discussion we weren’t seated next to each other and our special meals weren’t properly prepared. We had to figure these damned things out for ourselves. A congenial Frenchman switched his seat with one of us and for food we scarfed down bars and snacks from our own last resort starvation stash.
At Charles de Gaulle we attempted again to confirm that our suitcase would follow us correctly to Venice. Some languid official offered bland assurance and suggested we could also talk to Air France counter personnel if we wished but that things should really be “quite fine” and anyway the connection between flights really didn’t give us for these kinds of additional checks sufficient time.
Finally we arrived in Venice. Many suitcases leisurely circled the stile. Our suitcase did not. It was lost. The goddamned motherfucking thing was lost. Unfortunate. Grim. Not the most auspicious beginning to our trip. We raged and despaired, felt vexed and upset, reported the case and then spent the night at a last minute Venice airport hotel.
A 700AM phone call to the hotel front desk the next day offered hope with the news that our suitcase was located. After breakfast, we hurried back to the airport and were immediately locked into a maddening time-consuming bureaucratic Kafkaesque nightmare. Our luggage was found and ready for retrieval from a certain department but this department wouldn’t open until 10AM. Our previously booked and nonrefundable shuttle from the airport in Italy to the festival in Croatia would leave at 10AM. We explained the situation to whoever would listen but no one had apparent authority or desire to accommodate or assist. We waited first in a long line of others locked and lost inside an atmosphere of impatience, hopelessness, frustration and angst. Our appeals to be helped before 10AM fell on deaf ears and being first in the queue wasn’t actually of use. After almost two hours of waiting in this demoralizing line, we answered questions, flashed our forms, submitted to special security procedures and repeated ourselves many times.
At last the bag was returned. The 10AM festival bus meanwhile actually stayed back the whole time because an Outlook volunteer sympathetic to our case made the shuttle wait. This wonderful woman deserves special commendation, she was the true heroine of days. Without her help, we would have missed seeing Ms Lauryn Hill headline the opening concert that night at the famous old amphitheater in Pula which was one of the main reasons we had skipped Burning Man in favour of Outlook and flown halfway across the goddamned world all the way to Croatia to see.
We rushed over at last to the bus with our bag. No one there including the formerly impatient driver indifferent to our distress seemed upset, instead they were surprised by our excessive attitude of apology and thanks. Our Canadianness in these regards was apparently a bit much. We nonetheless were happy and heartened. The bag was got. Shit was back on. The thinking now was that the worst was over, there could be only up. Someone knocked on imaginary wood with a flourish clearly meant to convey a refusal still to count chickens. Someone else resisted the noteworthy and continuous desire to roll eyes. Atheists are as superstitious as the next guy, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The shuttle arrived in Štinjan five hours later and parked outside the festival gates. The ground was sandy, dusty and rocky, the weather was bright and hot. We piled out of the bus, stretched our limbs and then hurried to fit ourselves into another bus about to leave for Pula.
Nearly everyone present was young, white and British. We became brief friends with an attractive, tanned and barefoot young man in line behind us also waiting to board the bus. He looked like a skateboarding graffiti artist from San Diego but he in fact was also English. We didn’t have local currency to pay for the bus and could barely maneuver with all our things. Our new friend paid the fare and helped us with our bags and fateful suitcase. “Thanks,” we said. “No problem,” he said. “I feel sorry for you guys,” he mysteriously added. Our acquaintance then spoke of Dimensions Festival which happened the week previous, he was in Croatia for both events. We asked him about the parties and he shrugged. “Actually I don’t really like Outlook,” he said. “Why?” we asked. “Because British people are dicks,” he said. His tone was placid and his manner was matter-of-fact. So stated probably the sweetest nicest mildest kindest Englishman ever. We peered at him to see if he was joking. Apparently he was not.
A half hour later we were in Pula. Pula is a laidback little town right next to the water and very pretty. We arrived at our private apartment at Apartments Antons and it was every bit as perfect as advertised. The address was centrally located on a little cobblestoned picturesque passage that was lined with charming restaurants and quaint boutiques. Our second floor rooms were comfortable and immaculate, the owner was attentive, thoughtful, efficient and exceptionally sweet. She didn’t charge us for the night we missed staying there when we were languishing instead at that unpleasant Venice airport hotel the night previous waiting for news of our missing bag. This excellent lady held our place in Pula despite the late arrival and had it stocked far beyond expected basics. She had a local phone ready for us to use, raincoats for us too because it had rained a bit earlier in the week, she even had a bottle of chilled wine for us to enjoy to help offset how upset we felt from the recent stress of losing luggage. This lady was good. Her place was perfect. We felt happiness, gratitude, excitement and relief.
Up next: the opening concert!
We embraced. We made it.
The opening concert was held outdoors in an enormous 2000 year old Roman amphitheater that was just as magical as it sounds. We thought ahead, purchased a couple bottles of wine and slipped them into our festival backpack to enjoy at the show. The amphitheater was a five minute walk from our perfect place, we were showered, fresh and refreshed, the night was beautiful and clear. Security at the concert though was rigid and rigorous, they were like an army of Cro Cops and they took our wine. We weren’t expecting that to happen. There was no reentry allowed so we couldn’t slip out and then return after elsewhere enjoying our illicit drinks. We just had Euros too for cash and the concert vending only accepted the local currency so we were stuck and bummed and got rained upon. We grew tired, cold and wet.
We had fun still with people watching the Brits and furthering our education in what it would be like to party with many thousands of them for a week. There was much chainsmoking and slinging of beer. There was drunken swaying and teenaged toppling. British females cheered and clamoured, British males hollered and roared. We were as amused as we were thirsty and damp. Things improved when we unexpectedly ran into American friends. They gave us drinks and we moved up into a much better VIP area closer to the stage. We revived and began then to have a more marvelous time.
Submotion Orchestra started everything off right and beautifully. Hypnotic performance, wonderful band. Fatima was confident and charismatic but not really our thing, Andrew Ashong nearly put us to sleep, Ms Lauryn Hill changed everything. She was monumental, pure talent and beauty and utterly powerful. Hers was the performance of the night and threatened to be the performance of the week. Ms Lauryn Hill was so good we wondered how Outlook in its entirety could compete.
Early the next night we took the bus back into Štinjan. The stop was mere minutes walk from our place and easily located. Young people lounged about waiting for the shuttle and almost all of them were stylistically dull and British. Our comparatively unorthodox attire received some looks. We became then rather abruptly aware that this wasn’t New York or the west coast of North America, it was a different festival scene entirely. Nobody dressed up. We were momentarily abashed. I defaulted into an attitude of public neutrality, then we huddled murmuringly together on the bus as it careened toward Štinjan. The surrounding British were already in states of lilting and lurching and other loose behaviours. There was a widespread readiness to holler and vomit even though the clock had barely cleared 9PM. Every time the bus pulled aside for someone to puke, people cheered.
Upon arriving again at the festival site, we escaped the bus and ran into some new friends from America we earlier made on the shuttle along the way. As we moved in to exchange quiet greetings and demure embraces, I was with grisly suddenness brutally bodychecked by a drunken marauding Brit that came flying at me from literally nowhere. I was such a ninja that I didn’t instantly fall over in broken bones pieces and managed even to save most of my drink. My airborne assailant afterward picked himself with rough stupefaction up and screwed his face dazedly into squinty-eyed readiness for melodramatic wailing, much like a small inconsolable child entering the strained throes of an imminent fit. This public aftermath was so pathetic we desisted from any kind of retaliatory gestures like honour defense or negotiations toward demanded apology. Our first real taste of the Brits. We were disturbed and stunned. The Americans were concerned but unsurprised. They had partied previously with the English. “You get used to it,” they said while they checked my vitals to ensure I was alive and well-functioning.
Now that we had a window into what to expect, we learned quickly how to negotiate the Croatian version of Great Britain while also fully immersing ourselves into the lights, the sound and the music. There was all around us a continuity of chainsmoking, shoving, shouting, drinking and littering. Such energy and aggression, alacrity and briskness, there was to it all a challenging beauty. We spent the nights enjoying ourselves and musing upon the British. The British were so full on they made Americans seem Canadian.
The festival required a constant conversion of Euros into Outlook tokens which alone were accepted for making any purchase. We initially felt powerful, cool and good with our mighty USD because of mistaken thinking in the currency exchange. Once that error was corrected, we became far less cavalier.
We were warned that the vending at the festival would be overpriced and that options for food were unsatisfying. We did encounter a burrito that might as an eating adventure be decisively dismissed but we also found an incredible food truck that gave us the first and best hemp burger experience of our lives. Finding food to eat anywhere is difficult for us as we are fish-eating vegans with a whole disruptive host of food limitations besides. Also, one of us has recently defined food allergies that are so unfortunate, far-reaching and wide, we wondered if he wouldn’t be better off just dining on air and for drink taking sad small salty sips of his own sorrow and tears.
We strolled each night all around the pounding frenetic spacious grounds deciding which stage to attend, which favourite artists to enjoy, which new music to discover and find. We marveled, maneuvered and moved among thousands of revelers racing and rushing, shoving and shouting. The ground was covered in garbage. The many waste compartments and recycling containers dotting the landscape remained impeccable and empty since the marauding Brits preferred to fling all manner of plastic cups, bottles, food and trash straight onto the ground because fuck the bins. The English shoved and shouted, glowered and grimaced. This seemed to be the British way of appreciating life and having fun. We reverted a few times to hovering and cowering. The British swarmed us as we huddled with some discovered Canadians. “These Brits,” said a Canadian in a low voice. “I know,” said another, “so impolite!” Someone added, “And the littering.”
The British are aggressive even when they are complimenting. One British man lunged at us and after a pregnant and forbidding pause he barked, “I bloody like your hat and I bloody like your glasses.” The complimented articles received one curt finger jab each so as to dispel any possible confusion. A young British female later gave a warlike twirl to my aforementioned liked and blood-blessed hat. She made a loud and forcible “OY” sound. My responding smile was feeble and vague while I pretended to not be scared. Despite all this British aggression and English angst, everyone always does love my hats. The moose and bunny ones are especial favourites. They bring an irresistible cuteness even to scenes of private terror and friendly abuse.
Aside from aggressively enjoying my hats, the British also aggressively enjoy drum&bass. The most ruthless enthusiasm from basically everybody was for sets by S.P.Y. and Andy C. People swarmed in from all over the festival grounds and recklessly shoved each other aside to get right in there and contribute to the martial flailing of many thousands of limbs. No wonder the British have been so successful at world domination all across history. This level of mass fervour, frenzy and furious feeling was to our hypnotized Canadian eyes an overwhelming sight that both stunned and seethed. We circled round and wide so we could regard it all from safely away and above. There we gazed into the writhing crowd, we gazed at each other, we marveled and we grinned.
The Outlook festival site required a great deal of walking and the uneven ground was covered in thousands of hard sharp stones. Comfortable footwear was a must and I was privately glad to have left my 6" stilettos at home. There were many stages featuring many artists and every night offered the excitement and challenge of trying to be in the right place at the right time, finding the right people to spend time with, keeping everyone together, staying unscathed and happy. Everywhere we went offered something loud and bassdriven and great. The quality of where we were could be measured in the quality of the music. If a music festival can be judged by the worst song played, then Outlook is the best there is. The music at Outlook was so high level we can’t say if a worst song even happened. The worst that musically occurred was our enjoying ourselves somewhere but feeling sad for missing someone else we wanted to see who was performing elsewhere simultaneously. Sometimes we were rushed off to catch something new but were hesitant to leave because we were perfectly happy with where we were and with what was already happening. A couple times too an overly chatty MC would ruin an otherwise perfect set with too much sauntering and talking. The British seem to have a higher tolerance for these periodic points of perplexingly poor MCing.
Some of the stages were less ideal than others. What these stages lacked however in adornment, sound, size or power, they shone in other ways. Shows at these stages were more intimate and memorable but the Harbour Arena without question dominated everything. It had the best soundsystem, stage and light show. The Harbour Arena formed the festival’s musical focal point, it provided most of our favourite moments, all main live acts and headline artists played there. We danced at the Harbour stage to incredible sounds surrounded by thousands of others diligently doing the same beside dark still waters under a black majestic starlit sky. There was almost no reason to ever leave. All night even as hundreds of people streamed away, hundreds more streamed always in. This was the best place.
After the immediate and jarring incident of the first night, and once we learned to adjust and adapt, we understood that the British are badass and fun. Their bold and boisterous presence was as much a part of what made Outlook memorable and intense as did the incredible music. There was one dj who was seriously fantastic and an instant favourite even though no one could tell me who was playing. Pain was felt when we were dragged away. Action Bronson’s ridiculous 80’s vibe was messy and entertaining, he capped all of what silliness we saw off with his signature wrestling and pummeling an in-the-know fan off the stage. Jah Shaka+Blackboard Jungle were a massive highlight, DJ Premier was consummate, commanding and cute. Premier reset the bar as to how many times you can affectionately call your audience motherfuckers, casually, with confidence and pretty much willy-nilly.
Andy C as mentioned whipped the masses into a tumultous unrestrainable drum&bass frenzy. Horace Andy was an adorable delight and absolutely made our Friday night. “Rastaman don’t need no passport,” said Horace, “Give Rastaman free passage.” We amused ourselves picturing Mr. Andy try these lines at the American border and making just such jolly statements to the barrel of laughs that is Homeland Security. If there’s any group of light-hearted humans with a well-developed sense of humour always prepared for a good knee slap and chuckle, it’s Homeland Security. By the end of his thoroughly endearing set, Horace Andy was cutely roaring into the microphone like an elderly dreadlocked little lion of Judah. It felt like our faces would split from love and smiling.
Congo Natty also intensely delivered, wonderful energy, pure happiness was offered and received. David Rodigan gave a fantastic and educational roots reggae and Dancehall experience, Rodigan is the David Attenborough of Jamaican music. Phaeleh was slow magic and delivered a magnetic performance, what we caught of Digital Mystikz was magnificent. Gentleman’s Dub Club were all style and class and Flowdan forgive me but there’s something extremely handsome about that man. Mungo’s Hifi delivered hugely and effortlessly multiple times all week, Pinch offered a carefully handled elegant set that was pitch perfect, Author too was beautiful and moody, but we definitely could have done without his MC. Stylo G rearranged our minds and gave an outrageously incredible definite favourite set, his in fact might have been set of the fest. Newham Generals were so good that even though they played at a smaller out-of-the-way stage, they still had a dense crowd of active appreciators resiliently negotiating a difficult dancefloor that consisted of sharp rocks, plastic bottles and garbage. The shocking amount of widespread littering was especially a problem at the stage where they played.
We also never did manage to experience much daytime fun even though a couple times we tried. Our jetlag carried through the whole week so our few attempted daytime plans were not successes. Each day we arrived at the festival no earlier than 9PM, partied and afterpartied till almost 10AM the next morning and slept the days away. We were sad to have missed experiencing the beach entirely as we imagined the water was warm and beautiful and listening to wonderful music on wonderful soundsystems by a shimmering ocean as the sun brightly shone and brilliantly set sounded by all accounts relaxing, gorgeous and perfect.
We did manage to get ourselves onto one of the “infamous and intimate” boat parties even though all the best boats with the most anticipated acts scheduled to dj sold out immediately. As we lined up to board our boat for our only daytime Outlook outing, another much more popular boat was also simultaneously boarding. We felt a slight sense of FOMO as the two boats boarded. By all evidence we were missing out on the bigger better boat but our own boat was still sweet and worth the effort of experiencing. We ran again into that group of nice North Americans with whom we took huddling shelter from the marauding Brits the previous eye-opening evening. The sunset that night wasn’t as spectacular as we would have liked but we were much too Canadian to criticize God for tossing off a sunset that failed to completely please. There were a couple of Indian Brits though whose energetic enthusiasm and excitement for Hatcha was infectious and charming. Also a sweetheart from somewhere like Calgary seemed to know me, she was a second year cheerful Outlook volunteer and glowingly shared with me the details. We became fast friends for the few hours the boat sailed and swayed, she gave me many secret sidelong smiles as we danced and afterward we gossiped about the Brits.
Walking arm in arm every day under big bright sun and clear blue sky along the cobblestoned lane to our pretty Pula place after twelve hours of dancing and partying to such amazing music was as sweet and darling and beautiful as everything. My various big furry animal hats, oversized dark sunglasses, strange outfits and crazy shoes amused the locals who were just opening their shops and restaurants for the day. They smiled and waved, nodded their good mornings, shaded their eyes and grinned. They got to expecting us as each bright morning our days ended while theirs were just beginning.
Outlook came at length to a close and though five days sounds sufficient, we were a bit devastated to leave. We had such a really magical week and a categorically magnificent experience. This includes everything from the lost luggage incident, the unceremonious British bodychecking, the unending English wildness, vomiting and littering, missing out on certain special shows, losing various important items and generally not really being able to eat—but goddamn wow Croatia and holy shit Outlook. Beautiful place, beautiful festival, beautiful music. Did we love it? Yes. Will we return? Yes. Because long live Croatia, long live Outlook, God bless Jamaica and God bless the Brits. Sorry for bringing God into this. Outlook. We hit it. And we’re bloody glad we did.