Exit Festival 2006

Petrovaradin Fortress, Serbia

by Jon Burns

So where to start? While the Loose Lips Ladies had the time of their lives over at Roskilde, the following weekend I packed my bags. And after a flight to Budapest, a nine hour train journey to Belgrade (with no seat), and a two hour train (smokey, with moss covered windows) to the capital of the Northern province of Serbia, Novi Sad, I found myself on top the medieval Petrovaradin Fortress. Probably the most beautiful and unique venue for a festival.

Exit started life in 2000 as a 100 day student protest against the oppressive regime of Slobodan Milosevic, and has grown into a four night festival overlooking the River Danube, highlighting the rights and futures of Serbia’s young people. The aim is a greater freedom for Serbia’s youth including allowing greater access to Europe (visa regulations for Serbian’s are extremely tough), challenging the legacy and views left by the previous regime, and tackling issues such as race and tolerance, whist uniting the former warring Yugoslav states through music.

And boy does this festival bring people together. Unusually, the music kicks off mid evening, and carries on well into the morning (it‘s way to hot in the day to dance without frying to death). Apart from the main stage, most of the stages are found in the moats of the fortress, with the biggest being the dance arena. If you can imagine it, I went over the top of a hill to find a giant scaffold staircase, and at the bottom, a sea of thirty-thousand party people dancing as if their lives depended on it, rather than the water that would have filled the place centuries ago!

The very top of the fortress is made up of beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets and terraces containing chilled out bars, and more small random stages with views over the city and the blue Danube beneath it. There is something around every corner, and a beer is around 80p!

The nice thing about Exit is that it is smaller, and not too much hassle to get about, whilst still keeping a similar hedonistic vibe to Glastonbury. The line up is eclectic, from Serbian hip-hop to American death-metal, Euro-dance to Balkan folk, and British drum’n’bass to Brazilian house music. Headliners like Billy Idol, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand and Dizzee Rascal ensure that the eclectic feel is carried on. You are left with the feeling from the performers that this isn’t just another festival (with tickets at £45 for the four days, they can’t be paid much), but that they are there for a reason… Unless you are Billy Idol of course – then you are plainly trying to relive your youth whilst so ravaged, your face could be crafted into a vintage leather handbag.

So the highlights for me go something a little like this….

These guys know how to party NYC stylee, and rock they do. Laying down Salt and Peppa, Nirvana, Josh Wink, and the biggest breaks mix of the Ghostbusters theme you‘ll ever hear, they hit the spot. At first, I don’t think that the Serbians knew what to make of them. The crowd was tiny. But half an hour into their set, they filled the space at the main stage, and won the audience over. Plus, Princess performed some of her own tunes. Fuck me on the Dancefloor, and Coochy Coo went down real well. The only bad bit was the quality of the sound, and the radio mic that didn’t always work, but other than that, they rocked the joint. Big up Princess for jumping about the stage and flashing her lingerie, and big up Mr Technique, for just being really cool! Check them out if you get the chance, wicked stuff.

MORRISEY (aka Miserrrrry)
Yeah right, been there, done that. No reasonable need to see the world’s biggest misery guts (props for the Smiths stuff tho!).

Was wondering how Dizzee would go down, and how the Serbians would understand / or know him? The set started off with the best known stuff from his Boy in Da Corner album, but then Launched into an impromptu rock karaoke session! “Who likes Rock and Roll?” he shouted before launching into a seven rock song set featuring The Stones, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses, Nirvana (again), singing along to bits of them, but mostly just jumping about an enjoying himself. The end result was that he got the whole crowd going, and everyone had a laugh. Genius! He ended with his biggest hit, Fix Up Look Sharp, and he made sure he did look sharp by sporting the coolest big white shades you’ve ever seen!

Mr Idol got the biggest crowd of the weekend (if you check out some Serbian radio, you’ll understand), but sucked for the following reasons:
Having to take a out-of-breath break after shouting “Serbia, how are you doing? Sticking his tongue out and wiggling it too many times (not necessary).
Having ravaged skin like a cross between vintage leather, and your Nan’s bingo-wings (hair like a piss-soaked toilet brush too).
Having a shite repertoire of shite songs.
Having shite lyrics.
But I give him points for the following:
Managing to survive his set.

The Godfathers of pop are back with a new album, Pop Art, and the tracks are really good! Their last single, I’m With Stupid is great, but the old ones are always the best when it comes to the Boys. Think Go West, West End Girls, Shopping, It’s a Sin, and my personal fave, You Were Always On My Mind… Ah the memories! Their stage set was really cool too. A massive white box changed shape into different forms every couple of songs, a bit like a giant rubix cube with images projected onto it. The only odd bit was some really sullen ode to Princess Diana (maybe they were mates), but with continuous footage of her funeral procession heading through London, a tad morbid for me. The Pet Shop Boys were brilliant, but I think they might have been a little tired from touring, as they weren’t as energetic as usual, and it was Neil’s Birthday too! Happy Birthday mate.

They closed the festival in style, the Queens of glam rock did good! With a new album coming out, this was a showcase of the new stuff with the old, and let me tell you, the new stuff is wicked. And as usual, the band was wicked too! I don’t know how this band are so electric, but they are, and they’re always on form. Jake Shears shimmied, jumped, danced and threw himself at the floor, but it was Ana Matronic who stole the show. Where as some bands always speak in their native tongue, Ana Matronic wooed the crowd in both English and Serbian, much to the delight of the Serbs, and in her introduction to Filthy/Gorgeous, gave a rousing speech on the merits off free love, and the how beautiful the Balkan men are (not wrong there, dribble). She was ultimately saying that the men should fuck the men, or girl on girl, girl on man etc, but that everyone should live once and have a bit of fun, and I for one, completely agreed! I just don’t think that Serbia is a place where too many men are allowed to be that free yet (I went home alone), but maybe next year? The finale was a Happy Birthday sing-a-long to Neil Pet Shop Boy, and five drag queens on stilts, swishing their skirts, and flashing their fannies… Fabulous!

So there we have it, Exit is one to pencil in for next year for the following reasons: It’s cheap, it’s beautiful, the people are beautiful, it’s on a fortress, the music is top-notch, you can swim in the river Danube (although I did get ’Danube bum’ which meant walking like John Wayne for a night), a beer is 80p, there is a beach with DJs next to the campsite, and the weather is beautiful. The best bit though, was the men… Never in my life have I seen so many fit (but not Mary‘s), beautiful, toned, bronzed, sexy men in my whole life! I don’t know what they put in the water over there, but it works wonders on their male offspring… So if you like fit, but don’t touch men, Exit 2007 is for you.

If I give you one tip for next year, it’s this: DO NOT CAMP if you like your sleep, rest, back and sanity! The festival finishes at 8am, the sun makes tents unbearable by 9am (that’s in the shade), and I’ve never slept on ground with so many lumps… Get a hotel, they are cheap and cool, and you can still chill on the beach and enjoy everything else the rest of the campsite does!

Exit 2007, see you there!

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