Exit Festival reviewed

How many Australians can you fit into a medieval Serbian fortress? This is not a redundant question. Despite being held in one of the world’s most inaccessible venues in a part of Europe where they’re still cleaning up their war criminals, EXIT is literally crawling with antipodeans, who, together with the British, easily account for a third of the attendees at what has now become Eastern Europe’s premier music festival. It’s mind-boggling.

The primary reason for this invasion is that Aussies love to have a good time; something EXIT is particularly adept at giving them. Beer costs less than a dollar. There is no curfew. But most importantly, EXIT is a suspension of reality. Punters literally party all night and sleep during the day, lose track of time and hang out together in specially set-up hostels that begin to feel like summer camp for uni leavers.

There’s nothing remotely like it in our country; the kind of restrictions we have, not to mention limited set times. When Groove Armada goes an hour overtime nobody bats an eyelid. The next DJ can play later. In fact, that’s easily what sets this apart from any Aussie festival; there’s absolutely no such thing as stress.

Musically, EXIT is an absolute treasure trove for fans of any genre, patently because it dips into all of them. Out of left field, Femi Kuti brings the Afrobeat, House Of Pain bring the rhythm, rap and blues, and walking back to the bar, there’s an ungodly roar coming from where the moat used to be. That’s right, Parkway Drive are here. On the same bill as Tiga and Underworld. The Serbs, it seems, want music in all shapes and sizes and they don’t care how incongruous the line-ups appear to us. This achieves the highly sought-after festival goal of ensuring that everyone will go away having seen someone new, rather than Busy P for the fifteenth time in a row.

While the matinee names may be rock or pop artists – Arcade Fire, Grinderman and the now-trainwreck M.I.A among them – the real winners are electronica, house and tech lovers. The Dance Arena, situated at the bottom of the fortress and flanked by ancient ramparts on each side, not only has the consistently best atmosphere, but also embarrassingly professional sound that makes our flagship festivals look like amateur hour (and that’s before we start on the visuals). Even as someone who isn’t heavily into the scene, it’s impossible not to be converted by the setting and the energy. As Fedde Le Grand’s MC shouts before he drops another euphoric bassline just shy of 3am: “Do you hear that, Serbia? That’s the sound of 40,000 hands clapping!”

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