Outlook Festival 2011

Hippies have Glastonbury. Rockers have Donnington. Now bass freaks have Outlook.
Outlook Festival 2011 by Marc Sethi
Bob Marley is dead. But as his song chirped across this Croatian site over the weekend: “... everything little thing, is gonna be all right” - and Outlook surpassed all right. It's the freshest, most musically progressive festival on the circuit. It's a party in a fort right on the sea, a place where hurling yourself into waves of dancehall anthems can be followed by waves of warm sea as you jump from its vibrating rocks.

It's also an event inspired by and fueled by humans deep love of bass, and whilst the music carried way more influence from the dub of Lee Perry, Berlin's Basic Channel and Croydon's dangerous young crew of bass juveniles rather than Bob Marley; we were all casting our thoughts over the Adriatic sea towards Jamaica's captivating originations.

Yet is a sign of how static Jamaica's music progression has become that practically all the acts were from the UK and pockets of Europe. In the run up to the event Earl Gateshead, David Rodigan and The Bug all lamented to Clash the lack of relevant Jamaican exports over the last few years; how the former empire of reggae and dub forms had stagnated to become caught in a pool of pop and R&B orientated inertia. However there were key appearances from JA's Dawn Penn, Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy and Ragga MC Daddy Freddy to offset the sad news that the veteran headline appearance of Barrington Levy was impossible due to visa issues. Daddy Freddy especially bringing the verve with his lovely lyric: "Kill 'em Again!" Nice chap.

Regardless of current form these handful of pioneers, who have spawned what can only now be called 'Bass Culture', could sit back and enjoy a programme of genealogical niche that traversed ska, reggae dub, dancehall, hardcore, jungle, garage, dubstep … and beyond.

Up front now we can revel our highlights (to tip an iceberg) were Mala, the back to back duo of Rustie and Hudson Mohawke, the effervescent MC Soom T, Ragga MC Daddy Freddy, The Bug, Trojan Sound System, the mighty and now ancient Jah Shaka, Pearson Sound and the dark, jacking and hypnotically spacious grooves of Shackleton. But there were 20 more than rocked us, anything on Glasgow's Mungo's HiFi rig sounded exquisite and skankin' on the beach is a past time that happens sadly little.

All the roster comprised a kaleidoscope in the history in dub forms. From the dancing lawns of Jamaica in the '60s watched over by the pioneer eyes of Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, to the UK sound-system culture over the last five decades and onto the advances in urban club rhythms and architecture of sub-bass across the 20 years of British rave mutations – all these fanatical and musical threads seemed to swirl to a coherent point of unity in a ruined Austrian fort in northern Croatia.

Never was this more evident than when our 60-something taxi driver was bringing Clash down the winding beach road to the wooded site whilst banging out brand new gleaming half step bass. He smiled knowingly at our own nods. This shifting music that has become called dubstep is now a global sound, its the latest success story in musical viral infection. And the shared dusty trip down a dark track to the shoreline was a poke in the eye for all the nae-sayers back in the UK that smirk with phrases on a loop like: “Dubstep is dead” …

Later on the Dock Stage beneath the towering sounds of DMZ it sounded more like dubstep was simply adjusting its stride as Mala ripped up roots styled minimal bass and his DJ partner Coki opted for more wobbly and fizzing forms of sound, choosing to bust (eight times) the recreational embargo that his MC had placed on rewinds. But then Outlook is a festival borne from the rewinding of a key vinyl platter. As the cry goes here: PULA!!!!!

But most thrilling across the weekend was the ability to detect and relish the minute details of the music evolving in our ears. There were several strong lines in the sand for observers of bass culture. Rustie and Hudmo's cosmic breaks, indebted to hip hop but staring at the rave in the sky was one such moment. You could feel that something yet currently undefinable had changed in their spangled sonics, possibly it was the demand that the drops carried the huge crowds rather than tiny Glaswegian basements.

Everywhere else the hyped, derivative and seemingly bankrupt 'UK Funky' sound was rarely heard whilst the daft commercial wheezing of the likes of Chase and Status were also absent from the programme (though amusingly the duo were permitted to play a secret, deliberately unannounced set) perfectly illustrating the promoters dedication to underground - rather than chart orientated, fast sold tickets to the wrong punters.

Benga, one of south London largest characters and most effective innovators also took his headline set on the main stage to drag another divide across the dust. He opted for a trance filled set that polarised the cheesy, populist sounds of synth builds ups reminiscent of his Magnetic Man project before cutting his breaks into (what could only be described as) 8-bit Industrial wobble. There was no middle ground here: accessibility vs raw power. A seconds pause divided the polarity before his insane, angry bass was unleashed. It was disorientating to hear a hero's new vision be so strongly looking for fame but also a sneak peak at his manifesto which might dictate he exports his Hi-NRG style across the Atlantic, but not to Jamaica, instead invade the US hip hop, thrash, rock and all the aggressive but washed out music forms that require a neat kick up the ass. We wish him luck.

Thus music rarely stays still. Over the 800 artists performing all were pushing in their own specific direction. We are old enough to know most festivals or showcases are the same regardless of genre, everything re-formats eventually yet Outlook felt like it was possessed with the strongest vibrations of change ever.

Clash cant wait to return in just 12 months, when the splinters, crackles, pops and rumbles will have evolved even more with deeper divisions and wider ideas. We might even meet some Americans in Benga's mosh pit, we might not - and here lies the thrill of Outlook's unity of threads and sonic narrative: its a festival for fans of low level hertz that delight in explosions of new direction and who demand fresh ground to break under their dancing feet.

Hippies have Glastonbury. Trippers have the Burning Man. Rockers have Donnington… Now fanatics of bass culture have Outlook.

Words by Matthew Bennett
Photo by Marc Sethi


View a photo gallery from the 2011 Outlook festival HERE.

For more views on Bass Culture from recent Clash interviews check these

The Bug calls for a revolution in dancehall HERE

The story of UK soundsystem culture that led to the birth of Jungle HERE

David Rodigan laments the static nature of reggae from Jamaica HERE

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