Exit Festival 2014 Review – Saturday

Saturday morning saw the rains clear and a welcome dry and searing heat descend upon Novi Sad, much appreciated by the campers after the moist evening beforehand. The poolside was full with the bold and the beautiful of the continent with “DJ Dale” from local station AS Radio playing housey summer hits as people swam, basked, and slept in the shade on loungers.

I asked a couple of people what they thought of the festival so far:

Roya and Derik from Holland had decided to attend EXIT with a group of ten after previous summers at Sziget and Rockwerchter to try something new. EXIT was the next logical step in the european festival hierarchy and they had heard lots of good things about it from friends. They were a fan of the camp location for the ease of the supermarket, cafes and restaurants.

For Anja from Serbia Stromae and Rudimental was the standout performances of the weekend so far, but she was of the opinion that both the organisation and the weather had been better the year before. This seemed to be the general consensus amongst a lot of the returning natives and staff.

Now that it was officially the weekend the whole town of Novi Sad seemed to be immersed in Festival Fever. The half hour walk from the campsite to the grounds was crammed full of partygoers and everybody, visitors and locals alike, seemed to be soaking up the atmosphere. The banks of the Danube beneath the imposing fortress were lined with lively dudes and dudettes merry making as groups of scantily clad Serbian ladies maneuvered through the crowd selling shots of Rakjia, the Serbian “national” spirit.

Slowly people made their way across the bridge through the mass of humanity who easily took over the entire street. Buses crammed like tins of sardines had a tough time getting past the impromptu parade. Street vendors lined both sides making a killing off the convenience of cheap sunglasses and rave lights.

The sun had obviously worked its magic and there was a real sense of expectation in the air as the pilgrimage moved itself forward.

As usual the first players on the on the Main Stage were of Serbian origin, a nice touch for the festival as it gave home grown bands some exposure and pleased the large contingent of locals. Both Stray Dog featuring Tamara Milanovic and Negative played to a rapidly expanding audience which reached a healthy swell by the time sexy string duo 2 Cellos, began their crowd pleasing repertoire of well known tunes executed with gusto on electronic cellos accompanied by smouldering good looks and expressive facial expression to rival the “bass face” of Haim.

Midnight saw Saturday’s first headliner Damon Albarn take the stage for a set full of swagger and melancholy. Despite the large crowd that he drew the mood seemed slightly subdued, as his solo work lacked the bounce of his well known tracks with Blur or Gorialiaz and he seemed slightly jaded with the whole thing, even throwing beer over the photographers in the photo pit at one point in some sort of anti-press sentiment. Despite this he found himself playing to a captive audience who although not moving much listened intently while his musicians went from one grinding guitar solo to the next, and he finished to raucous applause.

The night was only really starting to kick off, and the good weather had people all hyped up for a long haul of partying.

At every stage in the fortress, big and small, there was dancing to be found. Smooth tuneage at the Positive Vibrations Reggae Stage kept people pretty much skanking all night and a rip-roaring set by Drum and Bass stalwarts NZ Shapeshifter went down a treat at Huawei Fusion Stage.

A huge and expectant crowd throbbed in the Main Stage under a heavy full moon in expectation for Skrillex, who kept his fans waiting for almost half an hour before appearing in a blast of light and noise. He clambered and jumped around on the decks like a man possessed, dropping big bassy hook after big bassy hook accompanied by a blinding laser show that had the entire fortress happily blasted with beats and luminance.

Bass remained the name of the game at the Main Stage with Gorgon City and Shadow Child keeping things bouncing well past dawn.

The good times were continued over at the MTS Dance Arena which was a was an undulating sea of topless and bikini clad humanity under the blood red sunrise as big hitters Afrojack, Tiga, Heidi Vs Kim and Foxman rolled out feel good minimal and techno summer beats well past 6 am.

The night never really ended, and as the sun climbed rapidly into the sky the hardcore found themselves making their way back to base camp under a clear blue sky with ears still ringing and hearts still pumping after a long night of thoroughly modern rhythms.

EXIT was now past the halfway mark, but you got the feeling that the party had only just begun.

Exit Festival 2014 Friday Review

The morning was filled with the soft sound of rain on tent covers. The almost open air tin showers, which the day before had been filled with sweaty travellers washing lay empty and the open air pool seemed slightly desolate under the grey sky.

People sat and chatted and drank beer under the two large gazebo areas, now and again a cheer would rise up but nothing too raucous. The site was muddy and the rain incessant. But the mood was relaxed and comradely.  At 8 o’clock as Horchester took to the main stage they were greeted by sporadically spaced plastic poncho covered people.

However in true EXIT style as the moon began to rise and Serbian soft rock  outfit Van Gogh began their performance slowly and surely the fortress became swollen with people. Van Gogh are known as one of the biggest bands in Serbia, having started their career in the 80’s when the country was still known as Yugoslavia. There were a lot of people singing along and by the end of the set the front section of the crowd were raising their hands and pumping them in time to the beat.

As they finished up and the crowd moved away in different directions to ready themselves for Gloria Gaynor “A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong came on while the roadies set up. It was a lovely little soft moment in the rain, people were singing along or dancing slowly with each other cheek to cheek.

Gloria Gaynor kept the good mood going despite the moistness with a casually nuanced performance only an old hand at the game could give. She paced the stage hitting every note easily with a voice still soft like honey, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. People boogied along to the disco beat and sang up the words they knew back at her.

Friday night was arguably the biggest of the weekend, and it seemed as if the entire festival was decanted into the Main Stage area as the lights went up for Rudimental. Their live show didn’t disappoint, even if the squish factor went from medium to high, (both around and on the ground) the mood was electric and every song was a belter. Vocalists Anne Marie Nicholson and Bridgette Amofah brought the noise working their way between them through the whole Rudimenatal’s debut EP with style and panache, while DJ Locksmith kept the crowd upbeat and on their feet throughout the entire set.  The musical collective were as tight as a tiger and it was a pleasure to watch such talented performers have a party on stage to which everyone was invited..

At roughly the same time across at Huawei Fusion Stage, Asian Dub Foundation were also bringing down a banging set, with enthusiastically dancing crow. Ghetto Priest was a beast, and obviously enjoyed getting to use his commanding presence on stage.

 There was a point when the speakers blew, which is fair enough considering the amount of noise that was being pumped through them. Someone threw a beer and Chandrasonic gave them an intelligent dressing down, in a softly softly quick fire rap tinged with melancholy about how shit we are to each other. The feel good factor could not be dampened, and when the sound came back on the party started back up in earnest.

Even at 3am with the festival site now a sticky sloppy mess every stage was packed with muddy shoed happy smiling people, the festivities went on till the wee hours with the MTS Dance Arena packed out until 6 am when the sun finally decided to break through the clouds and the die harders making their way back, with raised voices, to the campsite.

EXIT Festival had pulled of another banging evening in the rain.

Exit Festival Day One 10th July Review

Any Brits who were hoping the fact they had come to a European festival meant they would escape the incessant rain that sometimes besets those based in the UK had their dreams dramatically shattered as lighting began to strike above the Petrovaradin fortress a few hours before EXIT’s main gates opened. Festival go-oers went wet t-shirted to and fro between the ticket office outside the entrance and the EXIT VILLAGE campsite in a small park nestled between a busy main road and towering suburban apartment blocks. Residents looked out over their balconies possibly bemused as tents sprung up forming a carpet of synthetic canvass.

The reason for the move away from the traditional campsite on the banks of the Danube are unsure, possibly due to excess mess or lack of space in previous years, or perhaps the risk of flooding from the river (the organisers may have somehow predicted the weather). To me it seemed strange to encourage an overflow of tourists closer to the city center, especially as EXIT’s programme goes on late into the evening (the last DJ set starts at 6.30am), meaning there is a steady stream of people making there way back through the city (possibly merry) well into the morning. But then again this may be to bring more money into the city itself and provide campers with more facilities closer to hand, as the campsite is situated next to a mall with caf├ęs, shops, restaurants, a swimming pool and a supermarket, as well as having a small street of food vendors inside the EXIT VILLAGE itself.

The walk takes about 40 mins but only a 10 to 15 minute bus ride, and for those on a western European budget there were representatives selling fairly cheap weekly bus passes for around 6 Euros at the train station and the campsite. Although the buses tail off around 1am there is a steady flow of taxis after this surrounding the venue which cost around 500 dinar (about 4 euros) for a ride back to the camp.

Fortunately the deluge was short lived and clouds cleared as people began to stream through the gates past the rather heavily armed Serbian security to the sight of a glorious sunset over the city of Novi Sad.

The show was kicked off on the main stage with some smooth reggae from Hornsman Coyote which the gathering crowd seemed to enjoy, followed by the Energy Opening by Balkanopolis. Their set consisted of an engaging performance from Renaiszance who played their single “ I Will Rise” accompanied rather effectively with visuals taken from the graphic novel The Inventor: The Story of Tesla based on the life of famous Serbian inventor NikolaTesla, as well as an uplifting act of semi traditional Serbian music using a variety instruments including a form of local bagpipes made out of the body of the goat. The crowd began to dance around the rather deep puddle that had formed treacherously close to the main stage as the finale including aerial silks came to a close.

When it was finally dark it was the turn of Belgian music maestro Stromae to take to the stage in an arresting and pitch perfect performance that had the Serbian and European crowd singing along in French with gusto.

Stromae used all of his charisma as well as beautifully paletted video backdrops to get the audience below him to raise their hands in the air and bounce around without ever having to request it. He was a fascinating performer to watch live with his cartoon like facial expressions and physical flourishes while managing somehow to make a school boy style of long shorts, socks and cardigans look cool.

This was arguably the busiest point of the evening and as The Pet Shop Boys prepared to take to the stage the crowd thinned out to a more chilled out volume while they strutted and sang through modern classics as well as new mixes. Neil Tenant sported a fascinating variety of head wear including the infamous Disco ball and a post modern metal mask in the shape of the cow’s head, which was complimented by the cow skulls and wigs that both the  live and pre recorded backing dancers sported to creepy effect. As the night progressed and came to a close people spread out to the various other smaller stages dotted around the venue to sip beer and smoke cigarettes while lying in hammocks. The genre of music was varied so that there was something to be found for everyone, and despite being the first night of a major festival the atmosphere was relaxed and happy, the most common sight to be seen was people dancing and smiling with their eyes close, whether that be Dub by Dimension, Heavy metal, or Flamenco dancers at the Latino Stage. EXIT festival had officially begun.