Staged in an imposing fortress high above the mighty river Danube, it quickly becomes clear why Exit festival is developing an equally formidable reputation.
Having emerged from a resistance movement during troubled times in the Balkans, the annual four-day event was once again crowned Best Major Festival at the European Festival Awards in 2017.
An eclectic mix of music, unique setting and almost-guaranteed sunshine during Serbia’s scorching summers create an extremely successful formula.
What’s it like?
Every July, almost 50 stages and performance areas are packed into the vast Petrovaradin Fortress on the eastern bank of the country’s second city Novi Sad.
As festival entrances go, a narrow wooden bridge spanning the lush green grass of a former moat is certainly different. Historical charm continues through an arched gateway where a series of illuminated tunnels and winding cobbled paths lead to competing sounds of punk rock, techno and reggae.
At the heart of the maze-like interior is the colossal main stage. Snoop Dog, Sex Pistols and Gloria Gaynor are among the diverse headliners of years gone by, with Jamaican pop star Grace Jones and multi-Grammy winner Ziggy Marley – son of reggae star Bob – set to join that list this July, while French DJ David Guetta will close the festival.
What’s the history of the festival?
The 18-year-old event originated from much more humble beginnings with a serious political objective.
“Exit was the first event after the civil wars that gathered massive amounts of young people from all of these republics,” explains joint-founder and current festival director, Dušan Kovačević.
“Nobody thought that would happen; that people from Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia would come to Serbia to party.”
Peace, freedom and democracy remain core values of the event and a celebratory atmosphere endures.
Who goes there?
Residents of the former Yugoslavia still account for the majority of visitors – around 70 per cent – with many teenagers from the surrounding areas viewing their first Exit as a coming-of-age experience.
Thousands of revellers continue to stream into the venue until the early hours, long after some main acts have completed their encores.
They are primarily here for the festival’s signature DJ sets, pumped out in the dusty, 25,000-capacity dance arena, which is widely regarded as the jewel in the festival’s crown. A sweaty night spent among the sea of bodies and strobe lights until the sun rises above the fortress walls leaves me in no doubt as to why.
Regardless of whether you enjoy electronic dance tunes, there is no denying that Serbia knows how to host a party. And given 2017’s record-breaking attendance of in excess of 215,000, they are likely to be doing so for the foreseeable future.
Tickets: £99, camping pass £30. Available at exitfest.org.
Held in a disused power station only a short walk from the centre of Helsinki, Flow Festival features a variety of artists playing indie rock, soul and jazz. The main stage can host up to 25,000 people. Balloon 360° Stage, one of the venue’s highlights, was born six years ago as a result of an architecture competition. Other venues include the Black Tent, the Red Garden and the Backyard. This year, Patty Smith and Arctic Monkeys will perform among other national and international artists.
Tickets: 1 day €99 (about £86), 2 days €159 (£131), 3 days €195 (£170). Visit flowfestival.com.
Born after the fall of the Soviet Union to provide arts programming for students, Sziget Festival has become one of the biggest music events in the world. More than 1,000 performances take place on the 266-acre Obuda Island for an entire week in August. With nine stages, parties, an amusement park and a beach, the festival is a well-rounded, fun experience for everyone. Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey and Kygo will be there this year.
Tickets: 1-day €75 (£65), 3 days €199 (£174), 7-day pass €310 (£271). Visit szigetfestival.com.
When: May 31-June 3
Spread across five different music stages, not only does this festival have everything from electro, to funk and reggae, it also takes place in one of the sunniest spots in Europe. Earth Garden is eco-friendly too; with the Reusable Cup System, they invite guests to produce as little waste as possible. This year’s festival is also part of the cultural programme of Malta’s European Capital of Culture 2018.
Tickets: 1 day €15 (£13), 4 days €25 (£22), camping €40 (£35). Visit earthgarden.com.mt
When: June 14-16
Right in the heart of Catalonia, Sónar Festival is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. A celebration of electronic music and arts, the event is a meeting point for creative and talented people, uniting established artists with emerging talents. Along with the music, enjoy a selection of food trucks featuring organic, handmade products. This year’s acts include Ibiza Pareo, Lorenzo Senni and Steve Lean.
Tickets: 1 day €58 (£50), 1 night €79 (£69), SonarPass €195 (£170), 2-night pass €135 (£118). Visit sonar.es
When: September 5-9
Croatia is known for its summer party spirit. Located in an abandoned fort on the Adriatic cost, Outlook brings together artists from all over the world. The opening concert takes place in Pula’s 2000-year-old amphitheatre. For the first time this year, new location Zerostrasse – an underground network of tunnels – opens up exclusively for festival ticket holders. Built during WW1 as a shelter from air raids, the tunnels connect the heart of the city to Pula’s fortresses and military grounds. Chimpo, Fatima and Jam Baxter are among the artists performing.
Tickets: Weekend £151, Weekend Festival & Camping Pass £216.50. Visit outlookfestival.com.
- Press Association