Europe's biggest bass and soundsystem culture event...

It's Tuesday evening and we've just arrived at Outlook, Europe's biggest bass and soundsystem culture festival - but it's not off to the best start. The forecast for the next few days is a string of rainclouds and thunderbolts, an (unofficial) soundsystem down the beach is playing psytrance, and the cling-ons from Dimensions bemoan the influx of a younger, louder crowd - white tee and cross body bag seemingly the uniform. "I feel like it's completely Skepta's fault", complains one guy.

Still, we're sipping on some Croatian specialties (coke & red wine in a can and 35p Karlbeer) by the beach where we pitch up. Its sister festival might boast the more intimate vibe, but people come to Outlook to party rather than chill. Where else can you go from a Loefah jungle set in a 19th century moat at 6am, catch a couple hours sleep, then get straight on a boat with The Artful Dodger?

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That's exactly what happens on Saturday morning, surprisingly, when we board the Wavey Garms boat (we'd like to think we're better than saying something about about getting wavey, but we're just not). On the top deck, a limping Hatcha snatches the mic away from the health and safety announcer to shout "no-one cares", before rolling through a euphoric history of UK garage set to girls in full look Burberry and boys in Moschino. The waters turn incredibly choppy, making those feeling fragile from the night before turn green, but The Artful Dodger are on top form, with MC Alistair asking the crowd if they've got any drugs ("seriously... we need fucking loads"), rinsing a random man in the crowd ("cut your hair you're a c*nt") and bringing up a guy to dance with him because he looks like Lewis Hamilton.

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If you're lucky enough to be in this part of Istria in early September, a boat party should be your priority. The previous evening it was all about sailing with Bandulu, where Kahn & Neek, Stormzy, Hi5 Ghost and Flowdan fire an assortment of sub-quaking weapons from Kromestar and a selection of sought-after dubplates (not to mention Commodo's 'All Of The Lights' flip) through the Electrikal stacks on board, with Flowdan urging us to shout "fuck all them other boats".

Our initial concerns of a straight-out-of-school crowd who've just discovered 'That's Not Me' quickly disappear - it's a mix of all ages and characters. Special mentions go to the group of guys dragging a dusty sleeping bag around the campsite, calling for £2 donations for their dog Terry to get some new legs (Terry soon acquired a polystyrene human head), and the circle of lads solemnly singing Atomic Kitten's 'Whole Again' at 11am.

That said, Outlook is the sort of place you go for a hit of nostalgia. Well-loved classics like 'Sleng Teng' and 'On A Ragga Tip' are the order of the day, but we also make some new discoveries. After the Astral Black beach party, with DJ Milktray, Jon Phonics and Bushido, we get fully seduced by BMB Spacekid, who's come all the way from St. Petersburg to play a live set of skewed hip-hop and Rihanna edits, leaving us itching to go get his 'From Russia With LOVE' album.

By and large a counter culture festival, it isn't one to book pop acts, but the closest we get to a Top 40 experience is with Beenie Man, whose live band provide unforgettable renditions of 'Dude' and 'Hmm Hmm' on Friday, letting us re-crown him the King of Dancehall. While hip-hop gets some heavy bill space too, having first been introduced by the festival in '13, and we catch Flatbush Zombies defying gravity with their onstage leaps to 'Thug Waffle', along with festival favourites and all-round lovely guys Run The Jewels.

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This quota is also buoyed up by Kate Tempest, who delivers a remarkable and powerful performance of her own 'Circles', concluding her set with a hard-hitting spoken word commentary on the nature of self-perception.

Keeping on a Ninja Tune flex, we watch The Bug #shutdown the Harbour stage the night before (we get a bit overexcited at 'Skeng'), but it's his 'Acid Ragga' live set with fierce vocal mistress Miss Red that ensures total dancehall armageddon. Backed by a cloud of red smoke, Kevin Martin keeps it evil, bringing a mixture of old and new tracks that come drenched in reverb. We pay a second visit to Loefah, too, who's firing DJ Funk tunes down the length of the 100-metre moat at 5am, joined onstage by MCs Jonny Banger and Chunky, who makes all the obligatory "keep waiting for your T-shirt" jokes, bizarrely ending the set by saying "This one goes out to all of you getting some tonight: 1 in 10 of yous has got an STD... something to think about."

With its illuminated 1800s fort, circular high-walled ballroom and sea views, the festival site is as much a feast for the eyes as the ears, but the most visually spectacular moment by far comes at the opening concert. Staged in Pula's mega amphitheatre, it provides once-in-a-lifetime performances from Jurassic 5, SBTRKT and pioneering drum 'n' bass band Roni Size Reprazent. On Friday we're one of few festival goers allowed into the fort before sundown, as a secret 'sunset' party puts on appearances from Stand High Patrol (featuring live trumpet), Truth and Hatcha for some digi dancehall and dub classics. The heavens are supposed to open at 5pm, but luckily they stay firmly shut - and remain that way until the very end of the festival (bar a couple of refreshing drops).

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The Void stage is where we have the most fun, with Tim & Barry broadcasting The Heatwave for Just Jam who, throwing out whistles and horns, serve up a multi-coloured blend of Machel Montano, Konshens and London's hottest property, J Hus. Then it's Elijah & Skilliam straight up next, with D Double E also at the controls - cementing how massive grime's been in Pula this year. You could barely go two steps without hearing "Where do you know me from" or "Man's never been in Croatia when its shutdown eh?"

While Ishan Sound, deep in the moat, take us out of our Croatian party bubble momentarily by saying "No-one is illegal. Everyone is welcome" to rapt applause. Which is just one example of the inclusive feeling that the festival emits. At the DMZ showcase at Mungo's arena (kitted out with their system driven all the way from Glasgow), Mala walks past and wishes us a happy weekend. Big Narstie has his signature huge grin on his face while posing for countless photos at the Dub Smugglers beach stage while Kurupt FM happily throw their K's up for every excited fan that stumbles across them enjoying the festival.

Having just taken its eighth bow, it's a no-brainer as to why Outlook (and Dimensions with it) continue to flourish. It's the perfect intersection between expertly curated, forward-thinking music and picture postcard views. Most people we meet talk about it being their second, third, fourth year, and when we leave, coated in dust and sporting aching quads from all the dub, it's impossible to not want to return the following September. Judging from all the Twitter posts and cry face emoji detailing the post-Outlook blues we're not alone, either.

Registration for the 9th edition of Outlook and the 5th anniversary of Dimensions next year is now open: http://www.dimensionsfestival.com/ / http://www.outlookfestival.com/

Words: Felicity Martin

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