Morrissey, Dizzee Rascal, The Scissor Sisters, Pet Shop Boys, Jeff Mills

Liam McGrady 06/07/2006

EXIT Festival

Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia - 6-9th July 2006

Glastonbury wasn't on this year; what did you do instead? V Festival might have Radiohead, but you still don't want to line Richard Branson's pockets any more right? Reading & Leeds always has a good line up; but then who wants crap lager and 100,000 Goth kids away from home for the first time high on poppers and crap lager? There are, of course, all sorts of little hidden gems dotted around the UK in the shape of Truck, Green Man et al, but for a proper big festival without the blanket corporate advertising (making you sick to the stomach every time a drop of that gassy amber liquid hits the back of your throat), or crowd more interested in blowing up gas canisters than music, a look to the East was your best bet.

EXIT Festival is more than just a festival. Conceived in 2000 as the culmination of a countdown to the end of Slobodan Milosevic's regime, EXIT is a celebration of the Serbian people slowly but surely shaking off the shackles of the old “dark days” and looking toward a brighter future. Although still strictly limited in terms of being able to travel out of their own country, the festival is the perfect opportunity for Serbians to buck the rest of Europe's pre-conceptions of their country as being war torn and still under the shadow of the iron curtain. Each year sees the festival growing in visitor numbers and gaining bigger and bigger acts - Iggy Pop, Massive Attack, Roni Size, The White Stripes, Stereo MC's, Chumbawamba and Cypress Hill have all appeared since 2000 - and 2006 was no different with Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand and The Scissor Sisters heading the main stage over the weekend; I even managed to see a couple of them.


Yep, that's right, along with a few friends I made the journey to a place called Novi Sad in Northern Serbia to experience a festival set inside a sprawling fortress on the banks of the river Danube, where getting from stage to stage involves negotiating spiral staircases and stomping down underground passages; well I wouldn't be writing all this if I hadn't would I? The setting of EXIT festival, as you can imagine is fairly surreal. Picture yourself walking across an arched bridge straddling the Danube, a fortress, imposing and illuminated becoming clearer in view every step, it's still 30 odd degrees at 7:00pm. Alone, that's enough to make your head spin, but when you add 150,000 people, beer prices at around 1 per pint and the fact that you're as likely to emerge through a woodland clearing to find some bowel loosening Drum & Bass as you are to stroll across a drawbridge straight into a hardcore Metal set, you can begin comprehend just how damn weird the four days of EXIT were.

I actually only managed to see two acts on the first night of the festival; both memorable in different ways. The dance arena is set in the moat of the fortress. Yes you read that right. If this wasn't enough, with still just about enough life and energy in my body after a tortuous 7 hour night train from Budapest to Serbia, we caught Simian Mobile Disco. The name says it all. SMD are as much fun as trapping a monkey in a large jukebox and transporting it from pub to pub round the British Isles, having punters up and down the land chuckle as the small ape struts it's stuff to hilariously woeful songs chosen by drunken bald headed men, such as 'Sugar Sugar' by The Archies - I imagine. Popular indie hits like Franz Ferdinand's 'Do You Want To' are mashed up, turned inside out; cut and spliced, into filthy electro tunes that make everyone in the moat (sorry, but I still can't get over the fact I was dancing around like a twat in a moat of a fortress in Serbia not too long ago!) throw some dangerously stylish shapes. Aside from their own thumping tunes, SMD slip in some Hot Chip ('Over And Over' is an absolute highlight; maybe of my whole week) and the 100% pure fun of The Go! Team. At that point in time I couldn't imagine funky electro being any better.

After I'd calmed down a bit, we trekked across the fortress, high up to the MTV2 stage, which overlooks the river from a kind of courtyard. Although I'm absolutely on my last legs by this time a DJ set from Peter Hook perks me up. Not that the man himself looks to perky. I know he's getting on and all that but you really shouldn't try to do star-jumps while DJ-ing if you're wheezing all over the place. The set itself is exactly as you imagine; the soundtrack to '24hr Party People', with not one, not two, but three different 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' remixes. Hooky is legend, undeniably, and watching him slam 'Anarchy In The UK', 'Crystal', and 'Transmission' onto the decks like a man possessed is almost a dream, but it's also like watching your dad on speed making a twat of himself by blasting out the music of his youth. Hooky just about gets away with it though; unlike most DJ's, or dads, he actually made some of this music.


Tonight it's all about the main stage over at the fortress. Sadly Kelis pulled out (and I'm not being sarcastic in any way here; I was literally gagging to hear 'Trick Me'), but Dizzee Rascal stepped in at last minute. We arrived just as the jumping strings heralded signature tune 'Just A Rascal', where after a seemingly bemused Dizzee played a beguiling set to a confused crowd. I suppose being asked at last minute to play second fiddle to Morrissey at a politically charged festival in Serbia would have most Grime/Hip Hop/Rap type acts scratching their heads as to how to win over the crowd. Dizzee obviously decided that throwing his inimitable quick fire, yelpy rapping over the top of Guns 'n' Roses samples would be the best bet - turned out to be right; I thought it was fucking hilarious and loved every minute.

So yeah, Morrissey headlined. I've seen Steven Patrick in better voice, in front of a livelier more enthusiastic crowd, livelier and more enthusiastic himself; but never before have I seen him in something akin to a fucking castle in Eastern Europe! That alone was enough for me; until he opened with the heartbreaking 'How Soon Is Now'- almost a cabaret version of the haunting original, but still as atmospheric as a bluesy harmonica wail in a dank basement bar - followed by the Glam Pop of 'First Of The Gang To Die'. Playing for nigh on two hours, the set lagged a little in parts due to, understandably, not many of the crowd being familiar with material from latest album, 'Ringleader Of The Tormentors'. But consummate pro that he is (three clothes changes I'll have you know), Morrissey pulled it out of the bag late on with a couple of Smiths favourites in the shape of 'Girlfriend In A Coma' and 'Panic'. I was just left with the slight feeling at the end that maybe what I'd just witnessed was a bit half hearted, just another thing on the Morrissey to do list: Denounce those who pass meat between their lips as murderers: check. Declare self as asexual: check. Forgive Jesus: check. Play a festival in Serbia: check.


Headlining tonight, the one, the only… Billy Idol. Apparently some kind of superstar/legend in Serbia, the diminutive blond bombshell, purveyor of such hits as 'White Wedding' and as he so modestly announced, “Serbian National anthem”, 'Rebel Yell', drew the biggest crowd of the weekend to the main stage. Apologies to any Generation X fans out there, but we kept well away from the hordes of leather jackets and bandana's and so, alas, there's no review of the little man. What I did see on Saturday was probably just as peculiar as Billy Idol being watched by around 100,000 people all singing along to every word. Angsty, punky, politico-funk, Serbian style; I saw it. Dodgy, Rap infused, Thrash Metal going by the name Deafness By Noise; I saw it. Three men playing some kind of Folk/Classical music at frightening speed; I saw it. Later on, after 100,000 people seemed to literally disappear as little Billy took off with a “See ya later Serbiiiiiaaaaa!!!!” we even had a bit of a jungle to the Drum & Bass sounds of Andy C & MC GQ. According to Mr GQ, their presence showed how far Drum & Bass has come in the last few years; he also said “it's so beautiful out there” several hundred times too, so maybe his opinion on the progression of this particular strain of dance music isn't so credible. Still, jungling like a bastard is pretty damn fun.


Anyone who played before 11:00pm tonight was just downright unlucky; might well not have bothered - although the Reggae guys who managed to change tempo to match the speed of the game made the best of an odd situation. And you all know what happened, Italy won on penalties, Zidane headbutted one of them in the solar plexus (a trick no doubt picked up from his “hard days” on the streets of Marseille); end of. As for the music on the last night, well from my point of view it was a decidedly mixed bag. The Scissor Sisters' Disco-y, Glam Pop really does nothing for me on record; sickly sweet, preening and posturing, and completely OTT. However even a man as cynical (and often sour) as me can't help get caught up in the carnival atmosphere the band create. Despite there being the threat of a storm in the air, and the temperature dropping considerably lower than over the past few days, none of the packed main staged crowd cared, too into prancing gaily to 'Take Your Mama Out', big hairy blokes linking arms and sashay-ing about to 'Laura' were they. The revitalising effect Ana Matronic and Jake Shears have on a weary, overindulged festival throng is the musical equivalent to a Mardi Gras hitting Wigan on a wet Wednesday in November. In fact I can just see this imagined scenario mirroring my Scissor Sisters experience: “eeh lad, I'm not too sure 'bout all these feather t'boa's” “What's tha? Dancing girls wi next to nowt on? Ooh, go on then, chuck us one of them poncey shirts and swap that pint of Best for a Mojito”. In short I got into it and did a bit of prancing myself; but what happened in Serbia stays in Serbia right!

I never thought watching a glorified camp karaoke show would be the highlight of one of my festival nights; but on this occasion it certainly was. The Pet Shop Boys were, well, The Pet Shop Boys, a drab sheen of synths and lifeless vocals. And later at the Dance Arena, Jeff Mills, supposedly one of the most exciting Techno DJ's alive, bored me so much I went wandering off, got lost somewhere in the fortress and by my recollection, only just made it back to the campsite alive. Sorry Jeff, you might well be able to play 50 odd records in half an hour or something stupid, but when they're all as derivative as the next it's not so clever - and you nearly caused me to die; in a castle; on the banks of the river Danube.

EXIT Festival 2006: The End.