It’s 7am in a 17th century Serbian fortress and Darth Vader’s behind the decks, flanked by a couple of Stormtroopers punching the air to banging techno. It’s not your average Saturday morning, but Exit’s not your average music festival — the force is strong with this one. The Sith gatecrashers at local hero Marko Nastik’s set in Exit’s Dance Arena is just another WTF moment in a weekend that’s full of them.
Exit in the city of Novi Sad was hatched in 2000 as a covert revolt against the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic, and the festival was instrumental in ‘crushing the five-pointed star and bestirring an avalanche of liberated minds,’ according to one tourist guide we picked up. The first festival lasted 100 days and involved much political debate, theatre and a slogan that didn’t need much translation: ‘EXIT out of ten years of madness.’
After a decade, Exit may have sidestepped its political message as the festival grows into one of Europe’s biggest, but there’s not much need to protest in Novi Sad during the summer. Thousands swarm to the northern city from all over Europe for the warm Serbian welcome, the warm Serbian sun and the most spectacular setting for a music festival State has ever seen — Petrovaradin Fortress that towers above a cliff overlooking the Danube river. During the first week in July, Petrovaradin is declared an autonomous “State of Exit” with its own coins forged in the national Serbian mint, and the vibe from the fortress swallows up the surrounding cobbled old quarter during the four days. Around 165,000 visitors went through the gates at Petrovaradin this year, to check out over 20 stages and some 600 artists.
The first thing that’s obvious walking through the arched gates towards the Main Stage is the booming crystal clear sound. Apparently Exit doesn’t have to deal with noise level restrictions, but it’s hard to see who’d complain anyway. The locals seem to be in on the whole caper, from the guys selling roasted corn on the cob at the gates, to the girls in tight tops dealing out rocket fuel Rakiya brandy in test tubes, to the wizened old doll selling light-up devil horns at the side of the road daily, dancing with every single person that walks past.
LCD Soundsystem is the first act to test the Main Stage’s mega soundsystem, and after a slightly subdued start they nail it with a manic ‘Yeah’ and a razor-sharp ‘Tribulations’, with James Murphy dressed all in white like an extra from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After their recent no-show in Dublin it’s good to see Murphy and co. on their last tour going out on a high, and plenty of headbanging during ‘Movement’. And a shout-out to everyone who joined in the State 3-2-1 countdown to roar: “GIL SCOTT HERON” during ‘Losing My Edge’, and the DJ who played Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue’ as soon as LCD walk off.
Taking a breather with a 1 euro pint of Tuborg, we almost get trapped in Mika hell but escape with a quick juke through the crowd with fingers in our ears, a mission repeated 24 hours later when Placebo whine on to the Main Stage. We find the Explosive Stage to see Californians Suicidal Tendencies punk it up hardcore like it’s 1983. Founding member Mike Muir is 50 going on 15, bandana still in place, banging out knucklehead classics like ‘Institutionalized’ and ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’, while using skateboarding as a metaphor for life: “You fuckin’ fall down you get right up again”. He also reckons his little brother was, “like, man, the first fucking skater ever”. Whatever about his pioneering sibling, the preposterous show is a class buzz at the same time, a gig that manages to make Biohazard look highbrow. The dunce cap is well and truly screwed on when 100 fans storm the stage and a girl takes her top off for the last song. Suicidal Tendencies: We salute you.
A scuttle up a few windy paths leads State to the grand cobbled courtyard of the Fusion Stage and a big arms aloft moment as Swedes Miike Snow polish off their glossy pop anthem ‘Silvia’ then ‘Animal’, turning State into one of those giddy fair-weather fans that wait for the big hits at the end of the show. And then everyone’s favourite viral video from ‘da interwebs’ comes to life when Fusion gets invaded by Die Antwoord, the hooded Cape Town white-trash rap crew. The unhinged novelty smash ‘Enter the Ninja’ is their calling card (5.5 million YouTube hits and counting), but they dish it out first, Ninja spitting out his scattershot Afrikaans-patois hybrid while Yo-Landi Vi$$er lays on the skanger sex kitten chic for the boys. This frees up the show for darker tunes like the raved-up ‘Wat Kyk Jy’ and ‘Beat Boy’, as the duo gradually get rid of most of their clothes. Never mind if they’re “for real” or not, Ninja and Yo-Landi don’t miss a rhyme and DJ Hi-Tek’s hardcore beats are ‘Fokken Zef Style’. Die Antwoord are perfect performance art – like The KLF but even further into the gutter.