The EXIT Festival, traditionally held at the Petrovaradin fortress, is a festival that puts Novi Sad for a few days in the very centre of the music map of Europe and even the world. This year, it will take place from 7 until 10 July, while some of the most significant music names such as Calvin Harris, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Iggy Azalea, James Arthur, Masked Wolf, ZHU and others are coming to Novi Sad.
On one side, the EXIT Festival needs no special introduction, and we believe many of our readers have grown up with it. On the other, as it is celebrating its twenty-first edition in the year of the European Capital of Culture title, it means that it is probably older than some of the visitors, for which we will nevertheless embark on a walk through the history of EXIT. Or have you decided to visit Novi Sad and EXIT for the first time? Get your tickets on time and – welcome!
A Festival that Lasted 100 Days
When EXIT was created, its organisers certainly did not have in mind that they were starting a future tradition. Namely, they had current problems – it was the year 2000 and the political situation in the country was bleak. That was the reason for the Student Union, the Faculty of Technical Sciences and the University of Novi Sad to organise a music festival and cultural event that lasted as long as 100 days. We remember the event today as ‘zero’ edition of EXIT, and it was held under the name Exit Noise Summer Fest. Free concerts, plays, panel discussions, film screenings, parties and performances took place on several stages between the Faculty of Philosophy building and the banks of the Danube. The ‘Zero’ edition of EXIT was motivated by the desire to get the youth interested in the political process and encouraged them to change things. It ended with a party with the message ‘It’s over’ – who remembers, a similar idea circulated around the country at the time and referred to the former president Slobodan Milošević. The party was held two days before the start of the presidential elections and was symbolically called ‘Polling place no. 1’.
How EXIT Grew, So Did Novi Sad
Having in mind the dozens of thousands of visitors and the great interest, it was quite logical to hold the festival next year as well. Indeed, as we witness year by year – EXIT grows, and Novi Sad grows together with it, and during those few July days (mostly four) it becomes even more visible and palpable that is part of the world. The following year, EXIT moved to the site where it has remained ever since, the Petrovaradin Fortress. This location is undoubtedly a significant part of EXIT’s success. Speaking of success, we can refer to several parameters and show how much it excels.
The following year, the festival stars were Bob Sinclair, Kosheen, Roni Size, and Yugoslavia stars Darko Rundek and KUD Idijoti. In the following years, Moloko, Massive Attack, Soulfly, Cypress Hill, The Garbage, White Stripes, Fatboy Slim, Slayer, Laibach, The Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand, Morrissey, HIM, Pet Shop Boys, Scissor Sisters, Snoop Dog, The Prodigy, Lauren Hill, Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Nightwish, Sex Pistols, Gogol Bordello, Manu Chao, Arctic Monkeys and many, many others rocked EXIT’s stages. Traditionally, the morning has been welcomed on the DJ stage with the most popular DJs today.
First Music Awards
In 2007, EXIT carried off an important award: it was declared the best European festival at the British European Awards, while it proudly adorned itself with the title of the best European festival at the European Festival Awards in the Netherlands in 2014 and 2018.
During the following twenty years, EXIT received compliments from the most diverse sides: CNN, BBC, Time, Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent, Euronews, Lonely Planet, etc. wrote about its excellent music programme, made for the most diverse audiences at the same time, and all this at an unusual and unique festival location and will thus bring some of the almost four million people from more than sixty countries of the world who have visited the festival so far.
That is why it is no wonder that EXIT grew, became independent, so to speak – had children. Namely, in 2014, the festival was upgraded with the sea festival edition. Of course, we talk about the Sea Dance Festival, which takes place in Montenegro at the end of August. Three years later, the Sea Star Festival in Umag in Croatia, and in 2018, the No Sleep Festival in Belgrade joined the EXIT festival team.
The Symbol of Novi Sad, the Symbol of Movement, Changes and Progress
Perhaps, from today’s perspective, it is unusual to stop and remember that EXIT grew out of the desire for progress and the youth’s desire for freedom that was limited to them at the time. The EXIT team sends the word that they are not just a music festival, but ‘a movement, a symbol of progress and an engine of change in society, but also a leading platform for creative industries’. Besides, socially responsible campaigns and support for humanitarian, ecological and cultural movements and organisations are woven into the identity of this festival. That is perhaps an important reminder for all of us about the importance of the avalanche effect and, as they would wittily say on social media, ‘the futility of conflict’. Although it arose from the political environment and the desire for political changes and is occasionally accompanied by political scandals, the festival is a time to enjoy music and accept diversity. It is a story about how the desire to change something in an immediate environment where nothing seems to make sense brings considerable cultural and pop-cultural changes.
Author: Tihana Smiljanić
Photo: EXIT Archives