Exit isn’t a festival, it’s a movement. Held each year in a gargantuan fortress that sits atop Serbia’s second capital of Novi Sad, Exit is loved and touted as much by locals as it is by the jet-set festival crowd — a shining beacon of youth-fronted revolution in the Balkan region.
Born out of student uprisings against an oppressive regime at the close of the ’90s, Exit festival has grown exponentially since its maiden voyage (titled Zero Exit) in 2000, inviting the world to peak inside Serbia’s once-closed borders in the process. The success of the Exit brand has been so immense that last year its founders decided to expand to a brand new event in the Balkan region, transporting Exit’s mantra to Montenegro’s idyllic coastline with the aptly named Sea Dance festival.
This year saw Exit’s run mean more than ever before to its founders, as the party institution celebrated an impressive fifteen-year legacy inside Petrovaradin Fortress‘ rocky walls. More than just an excuse to get on the sauce, Exit has helped to patch the conflicts between ex-Yugoslavia’s super separatist nations, with big plans for what’s coming next for its so-called ‘Exit Generation’.
Such diverse program is possible due to Exit’s 20+ stages each year spread across colossal moats throughout the fortress, hosting thousands of diverse artists! Sea Dance is not far behind with 10+ stages located at one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
The record audience of 52,000 celebrated with Manu Chao, Motörhead, Eagles of Death Metal, Capital Cities and many more, not to mention the DJs, who delivered the sunrise to us every morning. If none of the main acts inspired, one could enjoy themselves at the Reggae stage, the Metal stage, listen to regional musicians at the Fusion stage, dance latino, sing karaoke, choose his own music at the Silent stage or just relax in the Chil-out zone area of the festival.
It’s not just that the festival started as an answer to a struggle in a community, the community rose with the festival itself – each year more people have been getting involved. For example, nurses who didn’t have a job could work on Exit, gain some experience and some money. With the help of Exit, the city of Novi Sad founded its own tourism board. Students were doing the organising, thinking about problems and being active in their solutions, trying not to fall through the spiral staircase of lost opportunities and melancholia.
Atmosphere from Exit and Sea Dance festivals is often referred to as magical, both in international and local media accordingly, which is why this year’s theme is – Exit Magic. It stands for a particular emotion that all those who take part in Exit Adventure share and feel. Emotion of love of music and freedom, emotion that can change the world for the bette
European Festival Awards is the leading honour among music festivals, decided each year by a combination of public vote and music industry jury members. Among the two nominations for the Best Major Festival (EXIT) and the Best Medium-Sized Festival (Sea Dance), we have also been shortlisted for the Artists’ Favourite Festival at the European Festival Awards 2015! EXIT won the Best Major Festival Award for 2013, whereas Sea Dance Festival won the Best Medium-Sized Festival Award for its 2014 edition.
Exit is held in Petrovaradin Fortress. While Petrovaradin Fortress is the biggest of its kind in Europe, Jaz is officially the best European beach according to leading tourist guide Lonely Planet! Both camps offer sandy beaches – Exit has its own on the Danube and Sea Dance camp is just like the festival itself, tied to the spectacular and very long turquoise beach!
With Exit’s origins rooted in the living memory of most of its staff, Dušan has big plans for the brand. It wasn’t until last year that he and his team decided it was time to expand into a new event, kick-starting Dušan’s new passion project, Sea Dance. Not one to do things by halves, Exit’s Sea Dance festival picked up a gong for best medium-sized festival at last year’s European Festival Awards, though its beachside location on the idyllic Montenegrin coast makes it feel vastly different to Exit.
The thing that ties the two events together is the brand’s new party tour, Exit Adventure, a package travel deal that includes entry to both festivals plus travel and accommodation options. Interestingly, it’s not just Western European jet setters that are signing up for Exit Adventure, but also club kids from around the Balkan region.
“The ‘90s were dark, very, very dark. Exit was the first festival that really crossed borders for ex-Yugoslav nations. You can hear accents from all different Balkan nations in our crowd at Exit and Sea Dance. [Exit] was the first event you could hear Croatian bands in Serbia, Bosnian bands playing with Serbians, Slovenians, Montenegrins.
At the time it was a shock, but it was very important to help get us out to the world,” says Sagor Meškovi proudly. “I think that attitude continues today, people come from all over the world for Exit, and hopefully, now for Sea Dance.”
With just two days in between the two festivals, Dušan describes the whole affair “as a very complex logistical operation” with most of the festival’s main elements imported from Serbia. So why bother? “Because this location is amazing, that’s why we chose Montenegro.
There’s not many places in Europe where you can have loud music, a beautiful beach, plus space for camping all in the same place. It’s special,” he muses, when we chat backstage on Sea Dance’s closing night. It’s no secret that Montenegro’s seafront is stunning, with this year’s Sea Dance welcoming ex-Moloko frontwoman Roisin Murphy, Rudimental and crowd favourites The Prodigy over its four-day run.
Visitors mainly come to have fun, and by this they support a city and its young population, which is fighting to have a good life. So while Exit is not directly changing the world, and while it may have its critics, the positives do percolate through to the people of Novi Sad.