03 Oct Outlook Festival 2019 – The Final Fort
So here we are. After 10 blissful years at the Fort Punta Christo, all good things must come to an end. 2019 was dubbed the “last dance” at the fort for this highly innovative and benchmark setting festival adored by sub frequency lovers worldwide.
On a personal note, Outlook Festival was the reason I started producing music. Back in 2010, my first visit to this festival ignited a fire that fuelled my decade long obsession with music production with the desire to one day hear one of my creations at this festival. Never before had I witnessed such cutting edge music in such an idyllic setting and most importantly such clear, powerful and intense sound in my life. I decided to dedicate thousands of hours learning music production and as a side effect, my local chiropractor became a millionaire.
Anyone who has visited this festival can affirm that there is nothing quite like it. Feeling levels of bass pressure in your body provides an indescribable sensation like no other. I often joke that sound system music producers use bass frequencies to legally touch people in places they would normally get arrested for – but I digress!
Outlook has, over its 12 year existence developed itself into a brand, movement and platform that is built on showcasing the world’s most cutting edge sound systems and the leading festival at the forefront of Sound System Music in Europe. The brand prides itself on authenticity and has always sought to trace and represent the origins of the culture. From the streets of Jamaica to the bedrooms of Croydon, a lineage has always been drawn throughout the years to build a clear picture of the past, present and future. It has been evident throughout the years that this festival is carefully constructed and curated by true lovers of music and sound with a real respect for the culture. Every year we return from Outlook with gratitude to the organisers for putting this annual celebration together. From Dawn Penn to David Rodigan, Mos Def to Capleton, Busta Rhymes to Youngsta, Digital Mystikz to Barrington Levy, Lauryn Hill to dBridge.(ok, you get the idea!) – Outlook has always curated from a huge spectrum of local and internationally renowned artists to deliver an unforgettable spectacle each and every year with very little compromise. A brief search online will find Outlook listed amongst the top festivals in the world and an undisputed leader in bass music.
Historic Photo of the Outlook Festival garden stage with a world class Void Sound System installed
I would often speak with seasoned festival go-ers year after year at Outlook who would be both impressed and surprised that there is “relatively” little production at each of the stages compared to other festivals. No excessive lasers, LED screens, graphics, fireworks or other gimmicks yet it draws such a big and dedicated crowd. This is a testament to the fact that the absolute foundation of this festival is quality sound and cutting edge bass music. Those that make the pilgrimage to Croatia every year come with the dedication and trust that this is the one festival that will prioritise these elements over everything and make no compromises. Outlook doesn’t always get things right, but over the years they have constantly tweaked many elements and consistently built on the previous year to improve. Outlookers don’t travel to Croatia to LISTEN to music, they come here to FEEL it.
2019 came as quite a shock for the wrong reasons. I’ve often heard whispers that this festival had financial difficulties and like any business it is important to break even or make a profit in order to be sustainable. Money is obviously a key concern in any organisation and forces it to innovate and find new ways to raise capital whether that’s through selling add-ons, increasing prices, increasing capacity and/or cutting back to save costs. It’s important that these elements are tweaked and that a fine balance of these ingredients are added to the recipe with care.
Nostalgic photo of the beach when the Dub Smugglers Sound System was enlisted
This year Outlook chose to cut back. 2019 was an extremely stripped back version of all previous years. The village vibe of the daytime beach experience was no longer there. No education zone where visitors could listen to lectures and play with the latest music technology and a much smaller selection of food vendors. The removal of the customer friendly contactless payment system was another sad loss as this eliminated lost tokens and enabled customers to get their unspent credits refunded. There was less staff this year, less volunteers, less art, less attention to detail…the list goes on – but here’s the killer: they cut back on SOUND in terms of both quality and expertise. They chose to cut corners and involve companies that have little or no experience in presenting the type of Sound System Music experience people attend this festival for – essentially just hiring PA systems. Anyone at the festival with no background knowledge could see that the Void and Sinai systems were run by experts in sound system music, and the Garden and Clearing were not. Had Outlook taken a longer term view of their brand and valued it’s customer experience, it would have made ZERO compromises in the area of sound and budgeted accordingly to maintain its high standard by making cuts elsewhere. I love a bargain, but having been coming to this festival since 2010 I can honestly say that it is a relatively affordable ticket for what we (used to!) get. The professionals who have provided most of the world class sound for the festival since 2011 continue operating to an exceptionally high standard to this day, so my question is: why change an absolutely winning formula? The answer – to save money. They put money before the music.
Elaborate and creative visual art has always been a mainstay at the festival.
- 2019 was the year that the 2 main stages at the festival were so lackluster and quiet that it was comparable to any other middle of the road festival.
- 2019 was the year that Outlook parked up a lorry that converts to a stage with a tinny speaker system and called it “Jacks Corner” – an area dedicated to promoting the brand Jack Daniels and very little else.
- 2019 was the year that the speakers at both beach stages sounded so harsh in the 1.5k-5k frequency range that I felt earplugs were required to protect my hearing for the first time in my 8 years of visiting.
- 2019 was the year Outlook used social media and the festival app as a 1 way communication tool – ignoring all customer questions.
- 2019 was the year I heard from more people than ever who felt let down by Outlook.
- 2019 was the year Bruza was booked to MC over Deep Dubstep!!! – (Sorry – I had to get that in somewhere!!!)
- 2019 honestly felt like it was being run by an organisation that had never run this festival before.
Their ill-thought-out recycling program confused customers and left frustrated bar staff having to explain to every customer why they were being taxed £1.20 on each item purchased at the bar – customer experience was not at the top of the priority list this year. The stage scheduling was also very out of touch with customer needs, which was demonstrated extremely well by putting the highly anticipated Deep Medi night on the garden stage tip toeing dangerously close to commercial suicide. A movement that is an integral part of this festival that attracts fans that demand extreme bassweight in their music exposed just how much Outlook had cut back on the sound this year. This was the first time I’d ever experienced not feeling the music at Outlook. Coupled with hour long queues to get into some arenas, illogical scheduling decisions and lackluster merchandise one would not have been forgiven for thinking that Outlook had all but given up and this was essentially their last hurrah. This years festival versus last year was like watching Mike Tyson in his prime vs the latter years when he had become a shadow of his former self.
In previous years we would visit Outlook and the music from the fort could be heard miles from the festival site – we could sit in our apartment on Puntizela and hear music blaring from the fort from 9:30pm. This year a short 5-10 minute walk down the hill away from the fort and you are back to the relative tranquility of Stinjan with very little noise. However, it would be totally unfair to bash this festival as regardless of all the mis-haps and organisational chaos, it’s a fantastic experience. It’s a place to rub shoulders with lifelong friends you haven’t even met yet. Magical experiences are almost guaranteed each and every year (including this one!!). The high standards that have been set by the festival attract a core following who demand the best. Everyone’s experience is unique and a festival is often what you make it so it’s totally understandable if the words I write bear no relation to your own experience. Up until this year Outlook was the festival that put the needs of its customers first – with music and sound being non-negotiable elements.
The Moat – Arguably one of the most unique and special music spaces in the world.
Let’s fast forward to the final night at the fort and of the festival. It was closed by SYSTEM who took over the moat. To any dubstepper this was an unmissable session and it over delivered in terms of quality, depth and vibe. Over the years I cannot remember ever having the chance to experience a whole system night at Outlook. If there was anywhere the true heads were going to be gathered, it was here; at the night of a label whose release sell out rate is measured in nanoseconds. So this leads to a strange question. Why on earth were the MC’s struggling to get a decent reaction from the crowd??? During the Bug’s set, Flowdan, arguably one of the best MC’s in the game, could hardly muster more than a couple of hands in the air and half hearted whoops. This was a moat FULL of Dub and Dubstep lovers, at the label stage of one of the MOST POPULAR and in demand dubstep labels at the LARGEST sound system festival in Europe and arguably the world. Why was there such low energy? As Flowdan bellowed “this is a bloody festival, where’s my energy crew” to very little response for the 10th time as he uncomfortably continued to spit bars with even more desperation I couldn’t help but feel that some of the heads were speaking volumes with their silence. Some were NOT HAPPY. Not happy at being basically mugged off in some way or another over the course of the week. Not happy at being sold margarine labelled as butter. Not happy at flying all the way to Croatia for a sub-standard poorly run festival, not happy that their trust had been broken. Outlook is an employer and puts a lot of food on the table for many people in the music industry so understandably anyone vaguely influential with a vested interested remained silent on the matter in outward communication with their fans (although I heard many a disgruntled voice behind the scenes!). Something Flowdan could have done to win the crowd that night was to stop the music and acknowledge that Outlook had not been completely up to scratch this year. I’m almost 100% sure he would have instantly got the respect of the crowd and the place would have erupted with energy again. It felt quite unfair to the artists too as the energy was absolutely no reflection on their performances on the night as in my opinion they all performed to the top of their ability. The one thing that the audience did respond to emphatically was when asked if they wanted it louder – the place erupted like a champions league final goal had been scored – this pretty much summarises everything!
I really didn’t mean for the piece to be so long so let me start wrapping it up. In conclusion Outlook has changed the lives of so many music lovers and I honestly cannot thank them enough for all they have put into this festival over the years but they really did themselves a disservice this year by essentially going out on a low compared to all previous years. I cannot take anything away from the artists who performed as there were world class sets as always. For both first time and repeat visitors, being blown away by the festival is still very possible as it is an incredible platform but for the fanatics (yes those with an arm full of unwashed entrance wristbands that they have been wearing for a decade or more!!) Outlook have unfortunately raised serious concerns about their integrity after this year’s display. I never thought I’d utter these words, but I will not be in attendance next year but I wish them the best of luck and hope they can once again recapture their former glory. I believe that trust is the absolute backbone of any healthy relationship. Without trust there is no relationship and once trust is broken the relationship will never be quite the same again because it is the most difficult thing to restore. Unfortunately, this year Outlook broke the trust of its loyal supporters. It compromised the foundational element that the whole festival is built upon. It sacrificed the full experience of sound. When the foundation of anything is removed or compromised the whole thing has the potential to come crashing down. Let’s hope Outlook can rebuild from this point going forward and avoid undoing the 12 years of hard work they have put in to get themselves to this point.
Words by: Chris James