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Why You Should Experience This Music Festival In A Serbian Fortress

What four sleepless nights at EXIT Festival taught us.

From what started in 2000 as a student protest for peace in Serbia and the Balkans, EXIT Festival has steadily evolved to become one of the most celebrated music festivals in the world. Held annually in early July, the four-day event takes place in the historic Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, and has magnetised over 2.5 million people to date.

This year, it was also proclaimed Best Major European Festival at the EU Festival Awards, as voted by over 600,000 people, and ahead of over 350 other high-quality offerings from 34 countries.

I myself made the pilgrimage in 2011, and couldn’t agree more with the 2014 title win. During my visit, acts featured included Jamiroquai, Pulp, Arcade Fire, Grinderman, Portishead, Magnetic Man, Underworld, Deadmau5, Beirut, Joris Voorn, Steve Aoki, Joachim Gerraud, Fedde Le Grand, Tiga, James Zabiela, Digitalism, Hadouken!, Carl Craig, DJ Sneak, House of Pain, and a whole lot more – a diverse musical smattering spread across the electronic, rock, dance, hip hop and rock genres, thereby attracting an equally diverse and eclectic crowd.

As EXIT gets set to celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2015, I took a look back at my own EXIT adventure, to hopefully can provide some insight for those of you thinking of taking the Eastern European plunge.


Getting there

After having spent a week in Budapest, my Exit-buddy and I thought it would be fun to take in the countryside and catch a casual bus down to Novi Sad.

….Around ten hours later, with the temperature inside the coach remaining consistent at a sweltering 40 degrees Celsius, I began to question the wisdom of this decision – only to have my doubts utterly confirmed by the border and luggage check, conducted by surly Serbian military personnel who were insistent on sifting through my undergarments whilst simultaneously clutching some sort of assault rifle.

Still, I’m told security was intimidating through all points of entry (which is understandable given the influx of young, rowdy travellers) so don’t let it put you off – and a bus down does give you a chance to visually indulge in a semi-lush countryside, complete with rows upon rows of gorgeous sunflower fields. Dreamy.


The venue

When the Bikram bus finally arrived, the sweaty journey would prove to be worth it (…just.) After a speedy turnaround and taxi into downtown Novi Sad, there was no question as to which direction we should head – hundreds upon hundreds were heading uphill to a central point, the looming Petrovaradin Fortress, which was lit from beneath to create and eerie-yet-enticing Mecca-like glow, with hoards teeming towards the increasingly loud pound of the speakers.

The ancient Roman-built fortress itself rests atop a hill overlooking the less-than-majestic Danube (which is less Blue, more brown here – sorry Strauss). Inside, it is a labyrinth of twists, turns, tunnels and dead-ends, which, turns out, is actually a joy to get lost in. While initially frustrating, it eventually proves exhilarating as you prepare yourself for yet another cul-de-sac and instead round a corner and find a main stage, incredible view, or (as in our case) the huge pulsating Dance Arena filled as far as the eye could see with more than 25,000 raucous partiers that will rage ’til dawn then be showered in confetti at sunrise to reward their all-night efforts.


The line-up

There is a reason that EXIT has reached the pinnacle of international festival opinion. Past line-ups in its 14 year history have featured Pet Shop Boys, Morrissey, Billy Idol, Guns N’ Roses, Franz Ferdinand, Stereo MC’s, Iggy Pop, Massive Attack, The Cult, White Stripes, Garbage, Goldfrapp, The Cardigans, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, The Prodigy, Sex Pistols, NERD, The Streets, The Hives, Kraftwerk, Lily Allen, Madness, Korn, Moby, Manic Street Preachers, Patti Smith, Arctic Monkeys, Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, Placebo, Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Pulp, Jamiroquai, Portishead, Grinderman, Bad Religion, Editors, M.I.A. and Slayer.

The Dance Arena alone (as EXIT’s second biggest stage) has played host to DJs and producers including Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Underworld, Sven Vath, Tiga, Axwell, Laurent Garnier, John Digweed, Darren Emerson, Danny Tenaglia, Frankie Knuckles, Eric Prydz, Eric Morillo, Green Velvet, Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, James Zabiela, Roger Sanchez, Timo Maas, LTJ Bukem, and Felix The Housecat.

If you can’t find something you like there, I can’t help you.


The basics

If you’re not sold by all of the above amazingness, be advised that Serbia is cheap – dirt cheap. I recall ordering a three-course meal with a friend complete with mains, sides, drinks and dessert – and having the entire bill come to a staggering $9AUD total. For even the cheapest among you, the city and festival represents incredible value for money, with special EXIT packages now available for under $150AUD plus booking fee.

Accommodation echoes the low price of the food, but special mention has to go to one of EXIT’s official lodgings, Milka Hostel. Whilst the air-conditioning may have left a lot to be desired, the 24-hour rooftop bar complete with DJs and blow up pools (and drool-worthy peach sunrise cocktails, made the perfect setting for those that weren’t ready for bed (ever), and was full of friendly strangers more than ready to become your new best mate.


The verdict

After spending almost four nights straight with no sleep in the endless sea of party that was the Dance Arena, and having experienced numerous other festivals across the globe since, I can safely say that EXIT Festival is an event like no other. Repeatedly watching the sunrise over the valley, drenched in confetti and surrounded by friends and like-minded good-vibers, is a unique memory in my international partying history that will stay with me for some time.

So, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience that can’t be replicated or surpassed, EXIT festival is probably just for you.

(Lead image: Irma Puškarević – Exit Festival/Flickr)

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