Exit Music Festival Serbia 2011 (review)

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The Exit Music Festival recently concluded in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia. The festival’s name (also called State of Exit) is a reference to its early origins in 2000, when Serbia was still best known for its warmongering president, Slobodan Milošević. The festival has since evolved from a political movement against a now-ousted regime to an event that attracts both fans and artists on a worldwide level. We were lucky enough to be there this year, so hit the jump if you want to read about this interesting festival outside our usual coverage zone.

It was crowded as we made our way up from the camping village to the city. People everywhere were streaming around us, trying to make it up the hill as early as possible. It was only 9AM but already everyone was dressed up and excited. From punks to hippies to ravers to hipsters to costumed superheroes, more and more people poured out of the small, sleepy encampment on the side of the Danube and made their way down the beaches towards the fortress. Girls in MTV bikinis handed out condoms. Small stands along the streets sold Rakija, a type of brandy local to Serbia. Sidewalk vendors approached us selling shiny sunglasses and $1 tattoos. We made our way down the small street flanked by grocery shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, surrounded by a flood of people, slipping between the roving girls dressed up as fairies handing out shots. Finally, we made it over the bridge and through a tunnel and there it was: Petrovaradin Fortress. We had arrived at EXIT.

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Though we weren’t able to make it out for all four days of the amazing festival, we did catch the last day, which featured performances by Steve Aoki and Digitalism. Anyone there for the full ride would’ve experienced Deadmau5, Groove Armada, Fedde Le Grand, Jooris Voorn, Magnetic Man, Underworld, and Joachim Garraud over the course of the festival – a rage-heavy EDM lineup. The festival features 20 different stages playing every genre of music from Latino to reggae to fusion (whatever that means.)

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Exit is held in an old fortress right above the town of Novi Sad, which gives it a secluded and almost otherworldly feeling. You can easily get lost making your way through the walls and over the parapets of the fortress, but that’s not a problem. From Foodland, which cheaply and quickly replenishes your thirst and appetite to allow for maximum raging, to winding pathways and small forests, the fort is yours to explore. If you go straight up from the entrance and pass the main stage, you’ll find yourself climbing up a steep hill with lights and music flashing up from the other side. And once you crest that hill, you know you’ve finally arrived at none other than the Dance Stage.

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There are perhaps few sights at festivals as impressive as the view over the Dance Arena at Exit. To get down to the crowd, you first have to summit a hill that looks out over the whole fortress (and is the first place the sun hits when it rises in the morning.) Looking down from over the stage at the crowd, all you can see is a mass of thousands of people lighting up in flashes and moving rhythmically to the music. Once you’ve soaked in the sight, there’s other choice than to descend into the madness.

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And speaking of madness, it is easy to see from his set that Steve Aoki is unquestionably insane. The night started off at 12:30 with a performance by Digitalism, which included a drop of their epic key track “Blitz,” a progressive electro banger that worked the crowd up beyond ecstasy as the arena slowly filled up with bodies.

Digitalism – Blitz (Original Mix)

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The unquestionable hightlight of the night, however, was Steve Aoki’s performance after Digitalism. There are few DJs in the business with the carefully crafted showmanship of Steve Aoki. The energy level in the crowd all the way through the end of his performance at the early hour of 3AM was unmatched by anything I had ever experienced. From jumping around onstage to shouting into the microphone to build up the intensity in that fortress, there was no part of the act that wasn’t over the top. In a classic Aoki move, he would routinely take bottles of champagne from behind the DJ booth and spray them over the audience, soaking the crowd — and us —  to the beat of the current track. It’s hard to tell whether the crowd went craziest at his drop of the Lion King intro (King of Africa) or for his performance of “Turbulence,” for which he grabbed a giant inflatable floatie and jumped out into the crowd, surfing his way back to the stage.

Steve Aoki – Turbulence (ft. Laidback Luke & Lil Jon)

Aoki drops King of Africa at Avalon music festival

Though Aoki was the uncontested highlight of the night, the party continued on into the morning with sets from Paul Kalkbrenner, Rebel Rave, and the trio of Marko Milosavljevic, Marko Nastic, & Dejan Milicevic until 8AM. Their sets and the accompanying light show at the dance arena stage were so intense, that from the front of the crowd, it was impossible to tell that if was light out unless you turned around and looked at the sun rising over the fortress. As the sun peaked and the music played on, the audience slowly began to shuffle out of the enchanted fort, back to their tents and the camping village, already making plans for the next year, when State of Exit would start up once again.

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