Raving in a Medieval Fortress [EXIT Festival]

written by Olivia Poglianich

photos taken from Exit Festival’s Facebook and Flickr

Tucked away in a medieval fortress, just one hour north of Serbia’s capital city lies one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  For 5 days every year, the quiet town of Novi Sad comes alive for their annual celebration of dance and culture. They call it Exit Festival. Exit is unique in that while it draws crowds of a global caliber, it hasn’t lost its hometown roots. Thousands of Serbians and other Yugoslav descendants all gather together to drink and dance well into the morning, forgetting politics, history and other bureaucratic bullshit, united by a common love for music.

Music Genre: This year’s headliners included Solomun for the house heads, Jason Derulo for your top 40 fix and The Killers kicked it all off with their lovable mellow rock melodies.

Exit Festival is about more than the lineup, though. Here, while 3 stages reign supreme, the massive fortress actually has over 20 stages that are rife with music discovery. A quick stroll along the cobblestoned pathways will lead you to the reggae stage, a metal music arena, and a cocktail bar where the most expensive drink on the menu converts to a whopping $5. There’s also a hidden stage behind the fortress where an Amy Winehouse tribute band lit up the room.

Fans of any kind of music can really find a home at Exit – which is not something that can be said of many festivals today.

Camping: The festival includes a campsite down by the beach, but the city of Novi Sad is also equipped with hostels and hotels that are all walking distance from the fortress.

Capacity: Exit has drawn record breaking crowds to Serbia for 17 years straight. It’s earned the title of best European festival and has played host to some of the most famous artists in the world. This year, the festival surpassed 300,000 attendees and is only expected to host more next year.

Crowd Type:  Novi Sad sits at the corner of European charm and remnants of war torn communism. Here you won’t find many restaurants with a menu in English, and most locals over 40 don’t speak the language either. But for Exit festival, the city comes alive as one giant, never ending party – no matter what language you speak or where in the world you come from. Here, it’s perfectly legal to drink on the streets. In fact, it’s encouraged, since a common beverage of choice is a 5 liter bottle of beer (that’s over a gallon, folks).

You’ll be amongst lots of Serbians celebrating the biggest party of the year, but also plenty of adventurous foreigners. While the party lasts all night, come as you are. Comfortable clothes are best here. No need for fuzzy boots or crazy costumes. It’s just not that kind of scene.

Water stations: There aren’t any water stations at this festival. But you can drink in the streets. Europeans have their priorities!

For The First Timers – When the festival is over and everyone goes home to rest (or continue raging) – I’d say for the night, but really, the sun is already high in the sky and it’s usually about 7 or 8 am, many newbies realize that the Serbian midsummer heat becomes too hot to bear. Some may rest, but many take to the beach.  Down by the river (also home to the campgrounds), there’s a strip of beach and a few day parties that bump techno beats all day long. If you close your eyes you may confuse it for a Berlin warehouse. Here the people come alive. Families bring their children; no need to shelter their babies’ ears from the bass – they all enjoy some sand, sunshine and techno.

Standout Food – Serbians enjoy a corn on the cob as a drunken snack. I’d say it’s a late night fix, but seeing how the party doesn’t end until 8 am, I guess it’s more like breakfast.

Musical Highlights – Australian artist RÜFÜS played to a large audience for one of the first performances of the night on Saturday’s circuit. On stage, their front man mentioned their tour manager is Serbian and that it was their first time playing in the country. Hardwell nodded to the locals as well, waving a massive Serbian flag on stage. Duke Dumont’s flag was virtual, though also gigantic, as it took over the entire dance arena’s LED screens and encompassed the British DJ and his turntables. He played crowd favorites like I Got U and Need U (100%), while many head bobbed along. Exit is not the kind of place to find fans belting out the lyrics to their favorite melodies at the top of their lungs. But Duke’s my favorite so I did it anyway.

Exit is well known for its giant Dance Arena, arguably more famous than its Main Stage. The arena sits in one of the fortress’ old moats and can hold a crowd of over 25,000 people. It’s a world renowned venue on the bucket list of many DJs and fans alike. If EDM isn’t your thing, one of the smaller moats is home to a Latin stage that pumps out reggaeton hits well past sunrise, a great place to get your twerk on. Another stage included Serbian rockers, where the crowd sang and shouted along in their local tongue. The Main Stage bumped drum and bass hits until 8 am every morning – and that’s just because the festival ends at 8.

But the best stage I unearthed was a true underground venue. Quite literally, we found it underground as we were in transit from one big stage to another. We heard the deep house sounds vibrating off the tunnel walls and we followed the music as it snaked away into a tiny offshoot, a smaller brick laid tunnel with a path lit up by only UV lights and one of the darkest dance floors in Novi Sad. At the entrance there was plenty of neon paint to encourage any and all tribal body art, wherever you wanted it.

Things To Do – Dance. Eat. Drink. Dance. Oh, and Dance.

VIP or Nah – I entered into VIP via one of the underground tunnels and it included a UV lit bar (doubtful that drinks were included), plus an elevated spot to view the dance arena from above. Could be worth it if you’d rather watch from afar than dance.

Story Corner – While yes, Exit is about the music, it is also so much about the people. On line to get in, we met these kind Bosnians who bought us shots of rakija, a local spin on vodka fermented with fruit (but it’s actually brandy – and yes it’s uber popular all across Eastern Europe).  Their generosity, in seconds of meeting, was all because we told them it was our first time in their country. The Serbian men running our hostel bought us one of those massive 5 liters of beer and taught us a few important words to know. Of course, the most important word we learned was cheers. Živeli

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