Belfast Telegraph

Outlook co-founder Johnny Scratchley discusses festival’s 10th anniversary celebration

He was just 21 when the event launched.

Johnny Scratchley was a 21-year-old student in Leeds when he and fellow club promoter Noah Ball were approached to set up a festival in Croatia in May 2008.

After just four months of promotion, they managed to get 1,500 people to a small village near Zadar, on the Balkan country’s Dalmatian coast.

Nine years on and creative director Scratchley is gearing up to organise the 10th Outlook Festival in the seafront city of Pula – which has been home to the event since 2010.

A celebration of sound system culture, the finest artists from the world of dub, reggae, hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, garage, grime, dubstep, house, techno and electronica come together for five days in early September to mark the festival’s 10th birthday.

Dizzee Rascal, Loyle Carner, Princess Nokia, Wiley, Roots Manuva and dozens of other artists will perform for 15,000 revellers – the majority of whom will be British – with some acts given the chance to grace the stage of a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre that sits inside the city.

With just a month to go before the gates open at Outlook 2017, Scratchley tells us everything we need to know about the festival’s 10th celebration.

You’re celebrating 10 years of Outlook, how did you launch it and how has it changed?

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Little Simz playing Outlook 2016 (Dan-Medhurst)

“We had a crack at it in 2008. I had absolutely no idea what I was going into and I actually have no real recollection as to what happened that weekend. I was there pulling pints, stage managing, DJing, playing with the band, putting wristbands on people, it was mad. And then we slowly started to realise the impact you can make on people if you put together a large-scale event which people invest their time into.

“It was off the back of that 2008 event where everything really got started and then we slowly developed things from there.”

How’s preparation going for this year?

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Outlook 2016 (Dan Medhurst)

It’s like the TV show Gladiators at the moment. It’s like running the gauntlet and you’ve got to run for an indefinite amount of time and you’re going to get battered down every single turn and you’ve got to work out whether it’s terminal or not. We are spinning plates.

Is it hard to retain that wholesome, grassroots feel?

I couldn’t bring myself to be in charge with something I didn’t agree with or didn’t enjoy. We’ve developed within our own ecosystem, really, with Outlook. We were able to do our own thing and we didn’t have to watch the pitfalls of the new events that were coming up in the UK and around Europe.

You started from almost nothing with Outlook, what did you make of the high-profile disaster that was Fyre Festival earlier this summer?

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Outlook 2016 (Dan Medhurst)

I thought it was quite an interesting business model they were working towards. They just bit off far more than they could chew, let alone swallow. It is very easy to sell tickets and then try to work out how you’re going to fulfil the project – especially if you don’t know how you’re going to deliver it, then you can come up with all manner of fantastical options. But it comes down to reality. If we’d started in 2008 with 1,000 tickets and huge aspirations with artists and experience, then we’d have messed it up. We’d have fallen at the first hurdle as well.

This amphitheatre sounds incredible, tell us about it

This summer we are launching #Outlook10Years with something very special - an Opening Concert in Pula's 2000-year-old amphitheatre with performances with some of the biggest names in sound system culture! @dizzeerascal will be performing music from his latest album, and @djshadow will be joining us from the US. We've also got over 10 musicians and vocalists forming the Outlook Orchestra who'll provide orchestral versions of some of the biggest tracks from the last decade and beyond! . If you haven't bought your ticket to #Outlook10years yet - now is the time! We're getting close to capacity so secure yours to make sure you are with us this year! Head to the link in our bio now. . #OpeningConcert #Outlook2017 #OutlookFestival

A post shared by OUTLOOK FESTIVAL (@outlookfestival) on

“It’s a 2,000-year-old amphitheatre, which for the first few hundred years was used for men to fight other men to the death. When that went out of vogue, it became men trying to kill animals or vice versa, and that lasted a little longer but again became slightly unpopular.

“Every time we walked past, it was difficult not to think about putting something on there. Then in 2014, due to our positive relationship with the local authorities, they said if you want to use the space, you can put on an event there for the festival. So we put it on the Wednesday so it’s a slightly more smart-casual version of what happens at the weekend.”

What’s it like to perform in?

“If you perform as a musician every week, then you can get fairly blase about the venues and the events and the people because it’s just constant.

“But from Lauryn Hill to Damian Marley to Bonobo to Neil Spragg, I’ve spoken to them all and it’s been either their favourite venue or one of their favourite performances.

“When you’re in that space, every five minutes or so, your hairs just stand up and you look up and see a blanket of stars and the moon beating down and then this fully circular ring of this ancient structure around you, and you cannot help but be excited about that.”

Tell us what punters can expect from this year’s festival?

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Outlook 2016 (Dan Medhurst)

“It’s our biggest line-up to date. we’ve got DJ Shadow playing and of course the Outlook Orchestra. That’s part of our 10-year celebration, we wanted to try to make a stamp and create an interesting and engaging project which could really celebrate us. So we put together a 21-piece classical orchestra and got in vocalists to play some of the biggest tunes which have ever been performed at Outlook.”

Over the past 10 years, what is your one real highlight?

This summer we are launching #Outlook10Years with something very special - an Opening Concert in Pula's 2000-year-old amphitheatre with performances with some of the biggest names in sound system culture! @dizzeerascal will be performing music from his latest album, and @djshadow will be joining us from the US. We've also got over 10 musicians and vocalists forming the Outlook Orchestra who'll provide orchestral versions of some of the biggest tracks from the last decade and beyond! . If you haven't bought your ticket to #Outlook10years yet - now is the time! We're getting close to capacity so secure yours to make sure you are with us this year! Head to the link in our bio now. . #OpeningConcert #Outlook2017 #OutlookFestival

A post shared by OUTLOOK FESTIVAL (@outlookfestival) on

“There have been some moments which have completely blown me away. One year it was my role to play the bad guy and tell everyone to stop at 6am. Congo Natty was playing and he had these two vocalists with him, Nanci & Phoebe. And I went to the side and said, ‘Rebel, we’ve got to stop now’. We’re running over’. He said, ‘OK, cool, do you mind if we do an a capella tune?’

“So the girls stepped up and Rebel grabbed a mic and they did an a capella version of Notorious by Turbulence. Man, there were, perhaps, 1,200 people left and the sun had risen and every single person was just singing along to this close harmony version.

“I’m a hippy at heart and I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was such an emotional moment, it really was beautiful.”

And finally, where do you see Outlook in another 10 years?

“I’ll probably have a full head of grey hair by then. But wherever the festivals are in 10 years, they will remain true to the core. We’re all in our thirties and early forties now, but those underground subcultures, they don’t actually have to change as fast as pop music does because they are grassroots. The art gets handed from father to son, mother to daughter, rather than it being controlled by any commercial centre.

“We’re very, very confident that dub will still fit in the heart of what we do and there will be a version of rap and electronic music. But I have no idea what it will look like in 10 years, I couldn’t tell you what it will look like in three years.”

Outlook Festival runs in Fort Punta Christo near Pula, Croatia, from September 6 to September 10. Tickets are on sale now.

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