Before going to Exit Festival 2010, someone told me that it is the most beautiful festival on the planet and it is not difficult to see why she thought so. Exit Festival is held each July in the Petrovaradin Fortress which sits on a hill overlooking the river Danube and the historical city of Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city. Thirteen stages plus food and other entertainment arenas are spread out across the sprawling expanse of the fortress and a great variety of musical tastes are represented including punk, hardcore, dance, reggae, indie and salsa. Exit Festival 2010 took place from July 8 to 11 and close to one hundred acts performed each day. The festival is unusual in that the acts begin after sundown and run right through the night until dawn the following morning so don’t go to Exit Festival expecting much sleep! I felt sorry for the campers trying to sleep during the day with day time temperatures hovering in the mid-30°c range and was truly happy to be staying at a friend’s apartment in the city.
It would take a very long review indeed to mention all of the bands that we saw but these are the highlights and disappointments of Exit Festival 2010.
Fusion Stage, Friday July 9: Kawasaki 3P
The problem with seeing such a brilliant act so early in a festival is that it is inevitable that you’ll land up comparing everyone else you see to that act. This is what happened with Kawasaki 3P. We were trying to make our way to the Main Stage to catch Atari Teenage Riot when we walked past the Fusion Stage and saw the Croatian punk/ska band Kawasaki 3P explode on to the stage. There was no way we could tear ourselves away as the energy and fever of this band was infectious and we landed up watching the whole show. I had not even heard of them before the show but their manic trumpets, electric guitars and drums kept us dancing and it was a great performance. My highlights of the show were “Puta Madre” and “Ni Da Ni Ne” and I think I may have developed a lasting crush on vocalist and trumpet player Demirel Pašalić. Kawasaki 3P are one of the few bands that have impressed me so much live that I have rushed home and bought their music.
Main Stage, Friday July 9: Placebo
I am a Placebo fan, there is no denying that. I have loved them from the moment I first heard “Pure Morning” back in 1998 and I have since bought all of their albums. I had really highly expectations for this concert and Placebo were one of the main bands that drew me out to Novi Sad in the first place but their gig was disappointing. Their songs sounded drowned out to the extent that I could only recognise “Every You Every Me” not from the distinctive introductory riff but from the lyrics. After the show I asked my Serbian friend what she had thought as she was not too familiar with their music and she confirmed what I was thinking, that every song had sounded the same. Perhaps they had thought there would be a language barrier but the band also didn’t do too much to engage the crowd and in the end it was an unremarkable gig (which is not something I ever thought I would say about Placebo). Despite a generally disappointing gig, there were highlights in “Battle For The Sun” and a cover of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” which ran into a fantastic performance of “Bitter End”.
Fusion Stage, Friday July 9: Does It Offend You, Yeah?
None of the locals that I spoke to on that first evening had even heard of Does It Offend You, Yeah? although I have been a fan of theirs since 2007 when I saw them at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park. After their gig, however, everyone I spoke to had heard of them (even if they weren’t at the gig) and this gig will go down as one of the stand out moments of the whole festival. They came on stage at 2am and absolutely rocked the small Fusion stage. Their sound is best described as new rave or indie electronic and the show was raucous with front man James Rushent working the audience like a charm. If I had to pick, I’d say my highlights were “Weird Science” and “Attack Of The 60 Ft Lesbian Octopus” with special mention going to “Battle Royale” for the guitar solo half way through which will forever remind me of Exit Festival 2010. Their new material sounds incredible too and I am looking forward to the release of their new album Don't Say We Didn't Warn You in October 2010.
Fusion Stage, Friday July 9: Obojeni Program
It was nearing 4am in the morning and the sky was beginning to lighten by the time Novi Sad locals Obojeni Program came on to stage. As tired as we were, we had to stay to watch this most loved band of the local scene. This post-punk outfit have been around since 1980 and they are one of the only bands that have performed at every Exit Festival since inception. The lead singer Branislav Kebra has the most incredible voice and the highlights of their performance were “Pop” and “H1”. I may not have heard of the band previous to seeing their performance but it left a great impression on me and is another band that I will be seeking to purchase in the near future.
Main Stage, Saturday July 10: Klaxons
I had mixed feelings about the Klaxons gig. They are officially my favourite band and I’ve waited a long time to see them in concert again after they spent the last couple of years touring the world and recording their new album. Klaxons were known in the past for their raucous live gigs complete with crazy costumes but they often hyped up the noise factor at the expense of their vocal and instrumental performances. It was some surprise then that they appeared on stage looking almost boyish in normal jeans and t-shirts and singing their songs in a very pleasant manner. Their older material from the Myths of the Near Future album sounded close to the original recordings (although unmistakeably live) but it was their new material that got me wondering whether the mighty Klaxons have been tamed.
We first began to hear new material such as “Valley Of the Calm Trees” two years ago. It was wonderfully off-beat and psychedelic, as was the Klaxons trademark. It is no secret though that their record company sent them back to the recording studio after their first recording sessions and demanded that they record an album that they could sell. A lack of costumes, good behaviour and some relatively low-key new material has me fearing the worst though but I’ll just have to wait for the new album to find out. The highlights of the show for me were “Magick”, “Not Over Yet” and “Atlantis to Interzone”. The gig was great but I really do hope the Klaxons don’t lose what made them unique in the first place.
Fusion Stage, Saturday July 10: Beast
I had not heard of Canadian band Beast before but they were another band that stopped me in my tracks as I tried to walk past the Fusion Stage. I am a long time fan of Skunk Anansie so I don’t say this lightly but Beast are like Skunk Anansie, only better. The band have a powerful rock sound and vocalist Betty Bonifassi was larger than life as she commanded the stage and the attention of the audience. She is a great performer and she also tackled some pretty serious issues such as equality without coming across as preachy. I’ll certainly be looking out for them in future.
Main Stage, Saturday July 10: Lollobrigida
Croatian dance punk band Lollobrigida were another act I had not heard of before but my Serbian friends insisted that we could not miss them. The deserve mention simply because of their outlandish and provocative show. These uber-feminist icons are massively entertaining on stage and you just needed to look at the lead singer Ida Prester’s praying mantis broach to know that these girls are man-eaters. They encouraged a stage invasion and soon there were several very excited female fans on stage with them strutting their stuff in similarly minimal outfits. Lollobrigida had perfect command of the main stage and worked the crowd up to a fever pitch and it is obvious why they earned their prime spot after years of playing the smaller stages.
Explosive Stage, Saturday 10 July: The Exploited
We went along to see veteran punk rockers The Exploited more out of curiosity than anything else. Sex Pistols had performed in 2008 and had given a really disappointing performance and we wanted to know if The Exploited would be any better. I can tell you that the Explosive Stage was absolutely jam packed and the band gave a powerful and, well, explosive performance. They were loud, energetic and the crowd went crazy. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan their particular brand of hardcore punk music. I thought the music was without rhythm or any merit whatsoever and I was considering going to the first aid tent to get treatment for my bleeding ears. Personal preferences aside though, I could recognise that it was in fact an excellent performance and I know that the crowd was not disappointed.
Fusion Stage, Saturday 10 July: Kulture Shock
Just after midnight on the Saturday night we found ourselves back at the Fusion Stage and I was soon coming to realise that this was my favourite stage of the entire festival. Many of the bands I had seen here were completely unknown to me at first and yet I had not been disappointed by any of them. Hailing from Seattle in the USA, Kulture Shock is a gypsy punk band with a Bosnian lead singer Srđan Jevđević. The band were really quite good and they gave a fabulous performance. Their combination of mayhem rock and violins give it a definite gypsy or ethnic folk sound. I wasn’t familiar with their music before the show but their powerful and emotional song “Sarajevo” certainly stood out for me.
Main Stage, Sunday 11 July: Pendulum Live
Pendulum are fast becoming one of the most played bands in my music collection. Their new album Immersion is getting loads of radio play on both dance and alternative stations in the UK and they are famous for their riotous live gigs. I expected pandemonium from the band that makes The Prodigy seem tame and I was certainly not disappointed. My highlights were the lightning fast performances of “Salt in the Wounds”, “Immunize” and the massive hit “Watercolour”. I also enjoyed the cover of The Prodigy’s “Voodoo People” and my old favourite “Slam”. It was a great performance and Pendulum certainly whipped the crowd up into quite a frenzy.
Main Stage, Sunday 11 July: Faith No More
Faith No More were the primary reason for me travelling to Serbia to go to the Exit Festival. I have been a fan of theirs for over twenty years and never in a million years expected to see them in concert. The band were famous for absolutely hating each other and were renowned for their infighting and physical confrontations. If one band was not going to do a Pixies, I thought, it was Faith No More. I was greatly surprised and excited when they began a reunion tour last year. Having missed out on their dates in England last year, I bought my ticket to Exit Festival the minute I realised that Faith No More and Klaxons were on the same bill.
With that qualification, I can honestly say that it was the worst concert performance I have ever attended. Things began to go wrong when the band arrived on stage 35 minutes late. Exit Festival had been impeccably managed up to that point and schedules had mostly run on time. No explanation was given but it seemed that the crew were being overly pedantic regarding the set up of the equipment and repeated sound checks were taken. At one stage there were isolated jeers and hisses from the crowd and I was worried for a moment that this would prevent the band from coming on stage. They eventually did arrive with no explanation and little apology but they made it pretty clear that they were pleased with the football result.
So tens of thousands of fans had missed the World Cup final between Spain and Holland in order to get a good place for Faith No More and not only are they late but they rub their faces in it too? Not cool. Nevertheless, it would have been forgivable if the gig was any good but it wasn’t. As much as it pains me to admit it, this was perhaps the most disappointing live performance I have ever attended. There were songs like “From Out of Nowhere” and “Midlife Crisis” which I recognised not from the distinctive introductory guitars and baselines but from the lyrics themselves. These are songs that I have loved for over twenty years and which I know by heart. Mike Patton alternatively growled, shouted and screamed his vocals and any hopes I had of hearing his distinctive, beautiful voice live were pretty much dashed.
My Serbian friends agreed at a point that the concert was pretty rubbish but then the band turned it all around by singing a Serbian folk song which won the crowd over. Their rendition of “Ajde Jano” went down like a dream with the crowd and they repeated it during their encore. Most of the people I spoke to loved that and they loved Patton’s drunken antics as he sat on top of the stage cameraman and climbed up the extended camera boom in a mad stunt. One friend argued that it showed respect to sing a local song like that but arriving late, insulting the audience, downing rakia on stage and obstructing the camera view for the fans in the back do not spell respect to me. Respect would have been to perform the music and the songs in a vaguely recognisable manner too but I believe this crazy pattern has been repeated in other performances around the globe.
There were a lot of mixed experiences at Exit Festival but there were also some great surprises and discoveries. The performance by Kawasaki 3P was the best experience of the weekend for me but Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Obojeni Program and Pendulum deserve special mention too. In terms of facilities, refreshments and organisation, Exit Festival seemed to be a huge improvement on the festivals I have attended in England but I believe that the numbers were down this year and it can get a lot busier. There is something about this festival and the town of Novi Sad that captured a part of my heart though. I would certainly recommend the festival and hope that in time it puts the town of Novi Sad on the international tourist map.
Article first published as Festival Review: Exit Festival 2010, Novi Sad, Serbia on Blogcritics.