EXIT Universe in 10 Acts: Be Authentic, Free, and Brave!

Once again, EXIT has shown that it represents a place of unity not only for those who are different but often for opposites, a unity seldom found at other festivals.

14. July 2023. — Author: EXIT

Sometimes it feels like we’re experiencing the “United States of EXIT” (almost 20 years after the “State of EXIT”), where the incompatible can be reconciled and turned into a delightful “smorgasbord,” where everyone will head for the part of the “musical buffet” that suits them most. This year, we’re reviewing the “classic” pop-rock slice of EXIT for those who come from “Middle Earth,” to paraphrase Tolkien.


The most profound impression, which recurs every year but only as an “upward spiral,” a.k.a. with increasing intensity, is the extreme diversity of the audience. But also the fact that everyone can find their niche. Hip-hop, in its 50 years, has become mainstream. Wordless electronica has been mainstream for a while now. Rock, pop, and metal still retain their fans, who have firmly rooted themselves at their stages. Although the program has changed over the years, it has always been possible to find “your niche.” Each day offered five to eight great performances without brushing against anything unpalatable. Fans of good pop, or any indie, crowded at their native Fusion stage, officially, the Visa Fusion stage, while lovers of heavier sound went to the Explosive stage, masterfully led, once again, by Milan Rakić, who continues to amplify the value of crisp guitars. If you decide to be yourself, you could be neo-punk (Viagra Boys), symphonic metal (Epica), colorful pop (Sofi Tukker), darkwave (Ploho), indie-rock (Dry Cleaning, Spasibo)… whatever you want. Just be authentic, and you’ll be loved! 


Next, we have two amazing competitions – HEMI Music Awards, bringing together musicians from various European countries, and Play at EXIT, where local bands compete for a place in the lineup. Thanks to HEMI, we get to see new, up-and-coming names from “exotic” countries such as Romania (last year we had Zimbru, this year it was K not K), Estonia (Manna), Czech Republic (Badfocus), North Macedonia (Dina Jashari i Drugari), and others every year. K not K were particularly witty, explaining that their name means “Karpov, not Kasparov” and that they hail from “Bucharest, not Budapest.” Manna showed that Northern Europe produces incredible music in which darkness and experimental pop always live in harmony. Short Reports from Novi Sad, the “Serbian White Lies,” behaved on stage as if they’ve been around for ages. Discover bands before everyone else does. Šajzerbiterlemon are here for the second time in three years and show they’re advancing to the premier league – they opened Gorki List Main Stage on Thursday. Let’s not forget Jolly Little Bunch, with their doomer elements, either.


The first day was dedicated to rock and electro-punk, so after the aforementioned Šajzerbiterlemon, the Swedish neo-punk band Viagra Boys took the stage with a name just funny enough that you can’t help but take them both seriously while having a chuckle. The Swedes blitzed through their set with nonchalant precision, Sebastian Murphy taking us back to a time of rock stars who couldn’t care less – in a time where everyone strives to be perfect and polished, with photo filters and flashy effects at performances, these Scandinavians give us hope for a better tomorrow. Dry Cleaning, the new innovative British sensation, showed that the guitar sound is not wavering in the UK, and we can’t wait to hear them again.


Gorki List Main Stage is their temple, and The Prodigy are the priests of this wild, dance religion. Liam and Max triumphantly take the stage and shake the Fortress: Breathe the pressure“! Oh, you had to start with this absolute banger, didn’t you? They know about the connection that this song has with this audience and country. A euphoria of joy and energy caused an eruption of movement – Gorki List Main Stage went wild. But how does one cram a career of over 30 years into a 100-minute set? It’s like being asked to recount your entire life in 60 seconds. But Liam handles this masterfully: he plays one song after another without them losing a shred of their power, and no one feels short-changed: all the greatest hits are there: Voodoo People, “No Good, Omen, Smack My Bitch Up,and a bunch of new stuff. Max, we wanted to ask you how you can be so energetic, tough, youthful, and buoyant at 56. Keith, we see you too; you’re here with us, a hologram wearing your signature “Twisted Firestarter” hairstyle, jumping and making your inimitable moves. Even though you weren’t physically on stage, we tried to “dance out” the legacy you left us over 30 years ago. This was a wild vigil for you. 


The film “Casablanca” has the famous Rick’s Café, where incompatible things intersect, and soldiers, spies, refugees, adventurers, and “ordinary” citizens meet. Gorki List Main Stage, over the past few years, has become this “international zone” where the incongruous merge, and each day it becomes a place of pilgrimage for a specific group of people. Thursday’s theme was indie-rock and electro-punk, Friday had various shades of metal accompanied by Skrillex’s dubstep and other works, Saturday showcased female authors, and Sunday celebrated the 50th birthday of hip-hop. Everything was possible, and everything happened. 


Something incredibly bright and full of colorful energy shone on Saturday on Gorki List Main Stage, attracting young and old, men and women, electronic music enthusiasts, and melodic pop lovers. This “something” was the performance of the American duo Sofi Tukker. The main festival stage turned into a lively and playful scene where apparent dissenters of all generations met. Nothing is more beautiful than the genuine culture of “musical dialogue” offered by this charming, always-smiling duo. Given how they enjoyed their time and their impressions of EXIT, Petrovaradin, and Novi Sad, there’s no doubt we’ll see them again. 


This year’s Eurovision Song Contest selection brought young Dzipsii to Visa Fusion stage, along with the band PetarZ, Sicksoul, who are forging their own path on the tracks of Sunshine, with their rap-rock, Bojana Vunturišević as an established name, Nikola Vranjković and Croatian Porto Morto with an outfit that begs for answers. There is no party without strong and high-quality local pop to surprise us. Zoe Kida truly blew us away with perhaps the best performance at this stage this year. Atheist Rap performed as a staple of Novi Sad, masterfully handling the difficult task of continuing a good ska party after The Toasters.


This year’s EXIT Festival saw the arrival of a handful of Russian bands that, until recently, were only the subject of our wildest fantasies due to distance and the lack of Serbian fans motivating them to come. We had the chance to see three huge acts – a darkwave band Ploho, an indie-pop group Spasibo, and a hip-hop-pop ensemble Aigel. They breathed much-needed freshness into the daily line-up, unburdened by the legacy of ex-Yugoslavia or even Western influences. Quite simply, a fresh wind blew through the Fortress.


Explosive Stage, seemingly the most insular, turned out to be the most jovial. Despite their attire, which some might find dark, intimidating, or strange, research shows that fans of this type of music are some of the friendliest, most tender souls across all musical genres. So, perhaps it is no surprise that an audience regularly gathered at the Explosive Stage as early as 7:30 p.m. Once again, the best parties and meeting spots were found at Explosive, a joyful continuing paradox. They even sent their representatives to Gorki List Main Stage, where the three ladies from the Belgrade band, Jenner, gave us a tangible demonstration of female empowerment on Friday.


Did you notice that EXIT has never been cleaner? The campaign encouraging people to exchange seven cans for a Heineken Silver turned out to be a complete success. The recycling points and this incentivizing policy proved highly effective, with EXIT and Heineken fully aware they’re on the right track. Appeals to environmental awareness aren’t bad; fines can also work, but rewards yield the best results. With rewards, everything becomes more cheerful, more relaxed, and – cleaner! See you next July!

Written by: Žikica Milošević