We at Clash have long been fans of Serbia’s EXIT Festival – and for good reason. Located in the country’s second largest city of Novi Sad, and tucked within the impressive Petrovaradin Fortress, the five-day bash offers an atmosphere quite unlike any other. Originating as a student protest against the Milosevic regime in 2000, EXIT 17 years on stands as an absolute mecca for weekend warriors and has steadily grown from being the biggest festival in South-Eastern Europe to one of the top players on the whole continent.
While the UK may attract a constant treasure trove of A-Grade talent, what we don’t do is rent out our national heritage sites, fill them with stages named ‘Explosive’, ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Urban Bug’, and see what happens. When EXIT parties, Novi Sad parties, bars, cafes, tobacconists and even the main beach all blasting techno for young and old to enjoy - and young and old do. It’s always nice to see a whole town get behind the joy, madness, and 8am disco casualties that a festival brings.
This year’s theme is Summer Of Love, marking the 50th anniversary of the titular movement. There’s some peace signs slapped about, impassioned speeches (on Standing Rock), questionable motivational declarations and a completely unaffiliated parade of Hare Krishna’ through the town on the Wednesday. What seems to really matter to those present however is the music, and there’s plenty on offer.
Four nights of shenanigans seemingly not enough, Wednesday’s Day 0 boasted 14 acts to warm up the punters, The Killers headline slot seeing the group returning to the country for the first time in fourteen years. Their fan base has certainly grown in that space; a hugely appreciative crowd lapping up Brandon Flowers’ easy charm as he managed a careful balancing act between Freddie Mercury and Bowie on newer material.
For those wanting something a bit more full on, a trip to the renowned Dance Arena is recommended. A truly awe inspiring sight, EXIT’s crown jewel is the closest you’ll get to recreating that Zion rave scene from The Matrix Reloaded. 25,000 sweaty, pulsing, bodies getting down to Paula Temple b2b Rebekah, and later, techno pioneer Jeff Mills. Unbeatable.
Day One proper sees all 20 stages open, The Jesus and Mary Chain grabbing the first large crowd of the evening. As ever the Reid brothers let the music do the talking, plenty of classics from ‘Psychocandy’ and ‘Darklands’ appearing next to a good dash from latest effort ‘Damage And Joy’. They’re still more than capable of leaving your ears ringing for hours afterwards.
With his album yet to drop Liam Gallagher’s set wisely kicks off with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and the ageless ‘(What's The Story) Morning Glory’. It lacks some of the punch of Oasis, but with only two solo tracks currently released, it’s former triumphs that’ll have to unite the crowd for a big sing-along. More eclectic fair was offered on the Fusion stage with Princess Nokia tearing it up before Croatia’s Elemental brought their own hip-hop flavoured groove. For those not fussed with larger names, there’s always the ever-reliable Jaffa Reggae Stage for a good skank till dawn every night.
Day Two boasted some of the biggest draws for younger festival goers, Jake Bugg came out on top despite an early (in Serbian terms) start time. Years and Years continued their rise to world domination, a screaming mass loving every moment of Olly Alexander doing what he does best. Over on the Dance Arena Black Coffee brought his brand of Afro-House for an hour and half of good vibes while local trumpet legend Dejan Petrovic impressed elsewhere with innovative takes on everything from MJ to Rage Against The Machine.
Barring a glitzy performance from Jason Derulo Day 3 let the Euro-centric talent do most the heavy lifting, everything from Alternative, Latino, and face-melting Metal on offer. For those wanting a break from the usual fare Trainspotting 2 got an airing at the outdoor Cineplex, the Disko Zone was taken over by a Marilyn Monroe experience and there was always the chance to witness an Amy Winehouse tribute for variety.
Still, the Main Stage had plenty of goods, Dutch trio Noisia and their mad headgear creating one of EXIT’s most memorable visuals before Foreign Buggers injected some serious London attitude. An extra treat was two appearances by Rag’n’Bone Man who came to spit some impressive bars. This proved a far cry from his current bluesy incarnation that took the stage the following day to one of the largest audiences of this year's event.
Organisers, punters, and even newbies alike know that EXIT’s final night/dawn raves are the key talking point after the dust has settled. This year the honour of closing shop went to Russian superstar Nina Kraviz, a perfect match for that last push on through to the other side. Before all that however Róisín Murphy appeared and produced arguably the best set of the Main Stage. Her humour, groove and sultry tones going down well with everyone despite only one nod to past Moloko material. Easily one of the most underrated singers of her era, it’d be foolish to forget what a fun performer Murphy is too. In less than an hour the loveable nutter dressed as the moon, a business-woman, a sorta ballerina, and actually wore a cock and balls mask. An actual dickhead.
With four plus full nights programmed it could be said EXIT is not for the faint of heart, but it’s damn sure full of kind-hearted people. The relatively recent troubles of the past are fading thanks in part to the healing power of music and the organisers aim to use the event as a unifying force. Novi Sad has a great spirit, and the colossal fort truly elevates the festival into something unforgettable and incomparable. After all, it’s not every day you can literally zip line over four stages well simultaneously hearing Thrash, Reggaeton and Trance.
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Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Photo Credit: Gordon Stabbins