So Serbia probably not everyone's first choice of holiday destination but then again if you've heard anyone mention Exit Festival, which is held in the 300 year old Petrovaradin Fortress which overlooks the Danube River, in Novi Sad then it would maybe make you think again.
And after just returning from one of the best times I have had at a festival, I hope this small review of my time there makes you hungry to find out more for yourself.
Exit Festival started back in 2000, when a bunch of students put on a load of gigs lasting 100 days which was really an anti-Milosevic protest. Since that first year it has grown into one of the most respected European festivals out there and this was one reason I wanted to check it out for myself.
So we booked our tickets last December when the festival had a special Christmas deal on tickets 'Buy 2 Get 1 Free' and this got the ball rolling. Over the next month or so, we booked our flights, travel and accommodation. We decided against camping at the festival, though this was available at the nearby Exit Village campsite, next to the city Strand Beach. This was due to the temperature which can get up to mid-30's in July, not what I would call comfortable camping weather! Oh and if going for an apartment/hotel option, make sure they have air conditioning in the room, you won't regret it.
Another option would be to fly into Belgrade, Serbia which is a couple of hours away and can be done for around 40 euros by taxi to Novi Sad if you are south of England based as flights fly direct from London airports.
So we arrived in Novi Sad on the Wednesday afternoon, the day before the festival gates opened. And unknown to us beforehand, the whole city had put on a party for the many thousands of multicultural visitors that come for the festival. There was a large stage in the main Liberty Square which had a couple of acts playing and DJs, bars and food stalls were also available and this party went on till the small hours. This made the festival even better value, and felt we were getting more for our Dinar even though it was cheap anyway but more on that later.
We had collected our wristbands early on the Thursday morning, as expected long queues later on in the day and we then explored some of the city. As this is about the festival, I will keep it brief but the City of Novi Sad has some wonderful architecture and over the 5 days we were in the town, we were never short of things to do. The whole city had an incredible atmosphere and everyone we spoke to was so friendly and helpful and this of course also extended into the festival site itself.
One great thing about this festival was the fact you never had to queue for anything, from initially entering the gates, to the bars, stages and even toilets. I will go into more detail on these aspects of the festival, but firstly as I work in security at events, let me start with the security and police.
Entry to the festival was swift each day with no queues, a quick bag check by stewards and then your wristband was scanned. Then a line of police were doing random searches checking for drugs and weapons, but were not over strict on the searching and if you so inclined and wanted to chance it, you probably could sneak recreational additives in with you if that's your bag. Once scanned, this registered you as entering the event, and unfortunately there was no re-entry once admitted which is a shame but it's not something we would have planned to do anyway.
The festival site itself is held on and around the fortress grounds with it being pretty much divided into 2 halves as you come through the main entrance. One side to left has the Main Stage and Dance Arena with a couple of other smaller stages, bars, food outlets, chill-out zones etc.
The other side is the main part of the fortress walls with multiple stages spread across the walled areas. This side has more to explore and you find yourself crossing drawbridges, under bridges and even through tunnels. This side also has a large hotel and various bars, shops and restaurants which have stunning views over the Danube and I spent a lot of the time just relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere and almost felt you weren't at a festival at certain points. The best discovery we made was one of the bars called Viribus which had draught local cider for sale for 200 Dinars (£1.35 a pint).
Food options were mostly hot dogs and pizza stands dotted around the site, though there was a food village which had a burger/kebab stall, a vegetarian stall and even a KFC plus a couple of other types of stalls.
The toilet facilities were plentiful too, however there was a lack of urinals and would have liked to have seen more of these nearer the main stages at least. There were also plenty of medical points around the festival, and chill out zones to relax if needed.
The large Dance Arena also meant the largest steps to get access to this area, unless you had VIP. There was a large scaffolding staircase that was built for access to either side of the arena, and then once down in front of the main stage, the back sloped up towards another levelled off area and this also had scaffolding around it for dancing/chilling. This gave it a natural Amphitheatre feel and that along with the huge projection mappings on the stage and side structures created one of the best stages I've seen at a festival.
So what about the musical performances? Well we booked in advance of the line-up being released for the festival and once it was complete, I will be honest and say there wasn't a great deal that I had as a must see. Although this suited me fine, as gave more time to explore and find out other stuff.
In the Dance Arena, we saw some of Eats Everything, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs who both gave brilliant sets.
Friday was all about New Order, and this was the first time I had seen them without Hooky and with Gillian back in the band. They were the best I had seen them for years and seemed much tighter and more confident. They even got out Hercules And Love Affair who played before to sing and dance along to Blue Monday which was epic.
This was my late night, and managed to see the sunrise in the Dance Arena while enjoying Luciano, and Kenny Larkin who again were brilliant.
Also managed to see Miss Kitten in the Dance Arena, though wasn't that impressed so I called it an early night.
Finally on Sunday, I managed to watch a bit of Little Dragon on the Fusion Stage who seemed to go down well, but the main act I wanted to see was Knife Party in the Dance Arena.
One last surprise was walking down one of the fortress tunnels, we found a doorway which led down some steps to a hidden bar/rave. Now this place was only open at certain times, and was the most surreal place in the festival, they had some pink liquid in a bowl on the bar we managed to try and there was a DJ playing banging techno/dance tunes, and at one point they even set the bar on fire!
So that was Exit Festival. The highlights for me were the friendliness of the crowds/staff, cheap drinks, Knife Party and the atmosphere as a whole. It's definitely one I will return to and all going well that will be next year, hopefully with a lot more of my festival friends. I recommend it to you try at least once.
review by: Paul Melville
photos by: Paul Melville
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