EXIT – Unstoppable Celebration of Life

EXIT festival doesn’t need a special introduction. Its iconic status is well-deserved, and has been a long time in the making. What started off as a political protest of the disenchanted youth against the political regime in Serbia in 2000, grew into one of the best festivals in Europe, successfully fusing subculture with mainstream.

EXIT has outgrown its original purpose manyfold, and is now widely recognized for its strong identity while skilfully balancing between “cool” and “popular”, “conventional” and “unorthodox”. Our interlocutor Sagor Mešković, EXIT’s Communications Director, gives us an insight into the upcoming EXIT 2017, and reveals some interesting information that, for now, only EXIT’s organizers are privy to.

This year’s EXIT (6th to 9th July) is dedicated to the Summer of Love, one of the key events from the 1960s when the hippy revolution reached its peak. During the Summer of Love, around 100,000 young people gathered in San Francisco in 1967 to become a part of the cultural and political rebellion. Why did you choose this particular event as the inspiration for EXIT 2017?

Apart from its colossal social dimension, the Summer of Love took place in 1967, which was the year when the first real music festivals started emerging. First it was Monterey, and two years later, riding on the same wave, came the legendary Woodstock. Both festivals were so unique because they were an amalgamation of social activism, the insurgency against conservative establishment, and anti-war protests that were based on music and art. Since both of these festivals no longer exist, we could say that, today, EXIT is the only leading global festival that was created from the same fabric as these two iconic festivals. We felt an urge to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the summer that changed the entire world, and send out a message that our global society needs now more than ever. Back then there was Vietnam and the Cold War; today we have Syria and the Cold War, again. Basic human rights are still jeopardized, while 2016 brought us a lot of intolerance, terrorism and hatred. The world needs a new summer of love.

The tickets for EXIT 2017 officially went on sale on 7th December, 2016. What surprises and novelties have you prepared for us this year, without revealing too much?

We are currently working on the ideas for a short festival opening ceremony in the spirit of the Summer of Love, but with a very strong, contemporary dimension to it. Also, we have started revamping certain stages while the programme has been booked for the most part. We have decided to wait a little bit longer to announce dozens of this year’s performers at one fell swoop. We are going to reveal the line-up shortly after the holidays.

We often hear stories about music stars being quite unreasonable regarding their performance demands and the infamous rider lists. Have you personally had to deal with this kind of behaviour, and if you have, how do you handle their unusual requests?

Every single case is a story unto itself, and frequently their requests are wrongly interpreted in the Serbian media. The biggest stars often have entourages comprising of several dozen people who are working with us on the production side of their performance, and of course, they have to eat and sleep somewhere. So, if you hear that a music star wants 100 eggs or 20 litres of milk for breakfast, this food is for their production people, not for one person only. Musicians often ask us to give them postcards and souvenirs, some collect flags, while some just need a new pair of socks or a T-shirt because their very busy schedules don’t leave them with enough time to get to dry-cleaner’s in every single country they perform in. Sometimes, music stars have food allergies, and this is something that we take seriously. All in all, the rule of thumb is – bigger the star, more down to earth they are.

Skrillex_i_SagorSuccess is often frowned upon in Serbia. What would you say to the people who still criticize EXIT, which is now in its 17th year, demanding for the festival to be relocated from Petrovaradin Fortress, and claiming that the costs of organizing EXIT outweigh its benefits for Novi Sad and the region?

There is not much one can say because the financial mathematics of the festival is very compelling. The financial support that we get from the city, provincial and state government automatically translates into more revenue for their budgets which EXIT generates from its annual operations. Considering that tourists from over 60 countries spend money here, during the festival, the financial support that we get is paid back at least twentyfold. Let me remind you that, in 2016, EXIT generated 14 million Euros for the Serbian economy, based on the money that foreign visitors of EXIT spent on the tickets, shopping, food, drink and accommodation. I won’t even go into the festival’s immeasurable benefits when, for instance, a reporter from the renowned Economist magazine writes – “if Serbia could invest its entire budget into advertising, it would still come short to what Novak Djokovic and EXIT festival, the two of the biggest Serbian brands, did for the country’s popularity”.

Relocating the festival from the fortress would be a very wrong move because it was the festival that brought world recognition to the fortress. We have also fenced off and installed lighting in the unsafe areas following the studies we had conducted. Also, we spent a significant portion of the provincial and state funds granted to us on improving the infrastructure of Petrovaradin Fortress. For instance, several years ago, we spent 20 million Dinars on constructing the main electrical substation in Hornverk (the old water trench on the fortress), as well as on installing low voltage power lines around the fortress which have substantially improved the power supply for the Academy of Arts, the Leopold Hotel, many art studios, and restaurants there. The new power lines have also improved the electricity supply for the Tamburica Festival and other concerts which take place on the fortress. Furthermore, these power installations have been used to install CCTV on the fortress which improves the overall safety all year around. We have also initiated many other maintenance projects on the fortress. Just think back to the sad state of the fortress up until 2001.

What are you most proud of when it comes to EXIT? What is your vision for the festival?

I am probably most proud of the fact that now we have visitors who are as old as the festival itself, or at least have known about the festival all their lives. Every single time I try to wrap my mind around that, I feel very proud, and I believe the same goes for my colleagues. EXIT still connects Serbia to the region and the rest of the world. In the future, I can see the children, who had been born to the people working in our organization in the last few years, all grown up, and attending EXIT in many decades to come.

Could you share with us an anecdote from the festival that you will remember for the rest of your life?

Oh, there are many but the first one that comes to mind is opening of EXIT 2006. It was Thursday, a hot day in July, and our plan was to have The Cardigans start performing at 9pm. Back then, The Cardigans were one of the most popular bands in the world. The idea was for the festival to start on a very strong note, and The Cardigans had generated a lot of interest for their performance. A couple of hours before they were due on stage, I was at a press conference along with all band members, with their charismatic singer Nina Persson stealing the spotlight.Foto exit Once the press conference was over, their guitar player called me, and asked if we had a professional masseur available. His right hand became very stiff to the point he couldn’t move it all, and the band was scheduled to perform in 45 minutes. At that moment, we had no licensed masseur, and it was virtually impossible to bring one from Novi Sad on such short notice. The entire concert was in danger of falling through. My colleagues and I talked to every single paramedic we could find on the fortress, and subsequently came across a girl who was a physiotherapist. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending because she managed to help the guitarist, and the concert started in the nick of time.

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