Exit Festival - Rocking all night long

Words by: Cila Warncke
Posted: 21/7/08 13:11

Heading to a place you've never been before, with people you've never met before, is daunting at the best of times. And when the destination is a full-on four day rave up in a castle… well, let's just say the stakes were high.

Arriving in Serbia couldn't have been easier though. Met by a guide and whisked into a battered car I was soon bouncing along a strip of tarmac, beneath sunflowers looking up to the blazing sun, on the way to Novi Sad. Serbia's second-largest city, Novi Sad is a university town with the easy-going buzz that entails. Sure, there are lumpen Soviet concrete blocks, but there are also juice bars and funky basement cafes with free wi-fi. So far, so civilised.

Exit is about music though - and not just dance or rock but the whole smorgasbord of sounds. My first lap through the cobbled byways of Petrovardin Fortress took me past the packed Positive Vibration reggae stage where the Jamaican Jukebox crew were holding fort, and past the Citroen Latino stage where laughing punters were trying gamely to learn hip-swivelling dance moves. While the main stage is a huge vortex, pulling in the crowds, there are also corners dedicated to electro-rock, punk, world music and even a hopping DJ booth along the main pathway playing classic anthems like Insomnia.

Night one is all about techno, with Audio, Heidi and Sven Vath the main attractions in the vast pit that is the main dance arena. Sunk between the castle walls it feels totally separate from the rest of the scene, with its own bars and two smaller stages (Happy Novi Sad and Urban Bug) playing everything from heavy techno to atmospheric drum n' bass. The music and sound system are stunning, considering the huge space, but it is the light show that blows everyone's mind with synchronised performances and awesome laser displays.

Exit is traditionally quite hip-hop heavy (my local guide, Vlada, said that local hip-hop bands are just as popular as big stars like Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang, who have appeared previously). Unfortunately, N*E*R*D's mainstage set is pretty disappointing… meaning the dance arena is jumping all night.

The biggest contrast between Exit and other festivals I've been to is the complete lack of daytime action. Admittedly, with the official dance arena running till eight or nine in the morning it's not like anyone's stuck for entertainment. But it gets blazing hot and the done thing is to retreat to the Strand, a few hundred metres of sandy beach along the banks of the Danube, throw down your towel, buy a kebab (grilled meat is something of a local fetish) and drink a few beers and watch the world go by. People watching is particularly rewarding here - I've never seen so many stunning women, with perfect figures, in such a concentrated space. Plus Serbians are friendly and generally speak excellent English, so it's easy to strike up a conversation.

After a hard day's work sunbathing it's off to grab a pizza and back to the fortress for more music. With four days of packed stages it's hard to see even a fraction of what you want to. I miss catching highly recommended local rappers Block Out but at least manage to catch famed Serbian punks Pekinska Patka (it means 'Peking Duck') who play before the Sex Pistols on the main stage Sunday. For my money, they are much more interesting than the jaded looking British icons. Among the best of the other bands are world-music fusionist Manu Chao, The Gossip whose live energy shreds the main stage and acid house pioneers turned rock'n'roll stars Primal Scream who close with an awesome version of Come Together.

But for dance lovers it is all back to the dance arena where Friday sees a stonking electro invasion in the form of Tiga, Soulwax and Laurent Garnier. For me, Saturday night is a little too downtempo - Miguel Migs and Kruder & Dorfmeister play till the wee hours, leaving Axwell and Tom Novy to pick up the pace for those still raving in the daylight hours. I wind up over at the Happy Novi Sad stage where Dubway, Mote and Paradox are playing punchy, bass heavy instrumentals. Sunday, though, sees the mainstage back to its jumping best with Claude Von Stroke warming up (his remix of Poxy Music's War Paint is a massive hit) for Buzzin' Fly boss Ben Watt, followed by the amazing triple threat of Booka Shade live, Sharam and then Dubfire. Marko Nastic has the honour of closing the party with a set beginning at 6.30AM.

Unfortunately, by that time I'm already queuing in the airport waiting for my flight home. A shame, since my flight was delayed seven hours in the end and I would much rather have spent that time dancing but oh well…. Exit is an incredible festival which definitely deserves the praise heaped on it. Cheap drinks, lovely people and music all night long - it's simple but it works!

Exit Festival 2008 Photographs © Matt McNeill - More Photos@ the gallery


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