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EXIT Festival 2011: In Review

This year’s EXIT Festival was built on a line-up that the organisers had somehow procured from my brain and transplanted on to the internet for all to see. It literally screamed out at me to make a return pilgrimage (for my third consecutive year) and so, I had no choice but to book my trip and head back to Novi Sad – a town that has managed to steal my heart and make me feel like one of its own every year I’ve been there.

I had a slightly different, but no less pleasant, experience of the festival this year having been on organised press trips in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 I made my own way to EXIT, booked my own flights and stayed in my own, ultra-cheap hostel. Although this piece focuses on the music and performances at EXIT, I think it’s important to give a bit of background to my experience as a whole – it helps paint a bigger picture.

So, with my good friend Ben to worry about, EXIT Festival 2011 became my playground for 4 long nights.

Here’s a breakdown of the acts I saw at the biggest festival in south-east Europe.

NIGHT 1:

As you may expect from an opening night EXIT pulled out the big guns to really set the whole long weekend off with a bang… literally. Just before Jarvis Cocker ambled on to the stage in his faux-awkward-yet-somehow-uninhibited manner a surprise fireworks display happened right over the main stage. To the usual chorus of ‘oooos’ and ‘aaaahs’ a kaleidoscope of colourful explosions filled the sky. “Welcome to EXIT” I thought….

House Of Pain: It’s safe to say that a large percentage of people at the festival only knew House Of Pain for one song, the ridiculously infectious Jump Around. The same applies to myself, so when we got to the Fusion Stage and heard some kind of folk rock blaring out (yet a huge crowd) there was an air of confusion as to whether it really was the Irish-American group or whether the band before had overrun. The last song put our minds at ease and our legs into pogo-mode… it was House Of Pain and Jump Around was what Ben, myself and the rest of gathered crowd had been waiting for. ODD.

Pulp: While they’re not exactly my cup of tea, when Pulp were at the height of their fame, they were pretty inescapable and, as a result, I know a few of their songs. They created anthems that became part of popular culture, anthems with credibility. So this was a great trip down memory lane for me. Jarvis Cocker was born to entertain, with a bunch of cheesy jokes up his sleeve… (Midway through he stops and asks the audience how they manage to find the way when there are signs saying ‘EXIT’ everywhere)… and those oh-so-seductive dance moves.

Magnetic Man: Now, as a music journalist, Magnetic Man became one of my key acts to follow and write about last year mainly because I was a dubstep fan way before it hit the mainstream. So, I’ve seen them a fair few times already and knew what to expect. What really embellished this viewing is the fact that most of the thousands of fans gathered at the Main Stage had never seen them live, so it was almost like seeing them for the first time all over again. Skream was absent from proceedings as his girlfriend was on the verge of giving birth (which she has now, to little Jessie Jones) – but Artwork and Benga still entertained EXIT with a ferocious, and occasionally gentle, performance with MC Pokes keeping everyone bouncing, plus a special appearance from one of grime’s brightest prospects P Money. Special mention has to go out to Benga for singing through a vocoder, brilliant.

Deadmau5: The man who many of the locals refer to as Deadmau-Five was already deep into his set by the time we arrived in the eternally awe-inspiring Dance Arena. Captivating the huge crowd, 90% of whom, it seemed, had red mouse masks on, with some deep atmospheric techno. As the sun began to creep up slowly over the Dance Arena, he changed the pace, stepping up the momentum with some angry dubstep – the US kind of dubstep, lots of twisted screeching noises and wobbly, hard hitting basslines.

James Zabiela: Having seen James Zabiela play out in Miami earlier this year, I knew what to expect – yet he still managed to surprise me and fill me full of energy for the duration of his hour and a half set which felt like an intensive work out at the gym. Zabiela is the DJ world’s equivalent of Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout, bouncing around constantly behind the decks and appearing to genuinely enjoy what he’s doing. A personal highlight for me was an edit of Goldie’s Inner City Life that sent shivers down my spine. Absolutely amazing, particularly with the sun rise almost reaching its peak.

Joris Voorn: As explained in my introduction, EXIT’s line up this year was absolutely spot on – there aren’t many places in the world, outside of Ibiza, where you can see three world-class DJs like Deadmau5, Zabiela and Joris Voorn one after the other in the same night. Although Joris is relatively new to me, his standing within the global dance music scene is undisputed – the man is a DJ powerhouse and he proved that with an energetic, yet varied set that oozed class throughout. A funky mix of Prince’s When Doves Cry somehow sat perfectly in between all the house and techno beats. Refreshing.

NIGHT 2:

Maya Jane Coles: Opening her set to a relatively empty Dance Arena (Editors had the lion’s share of the EXIT crowd on the Main Stage), Maya eased everyone in with some sublime rolling house beats, it was akin to a warm welcoming hug. This was her debut at the festival and she handled it like a pro, as you’d expect from someone who has been honing their craft for eight years already. Her technical precision behind the decks was a marvel to behold and the slightly subdued Dance Arena soon began to fill out with faithful electronic music lovers and possibly a fair few stragglers too. Two-thirds of the way in, Maya picked up the pace and from then on pushed the tempo up further keeping the crowd on their toes in anticipation of Underworld.

Underworld: This was Underworld’s second appearance at EXIT and, after their recent hiatus, they were back with a storming performance as we’d anticipated. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have three decades worth of experience in making and presenting their music to the masses and much of their music has been produced with the intention of getting a large number of people to dance in unison. With mic man Darren Price providing the link between Underworld’s almost faceless set up and the Dance Arena, what we witnessed was arena dance music at its peak. Thumping beats, spectacular visuals and Darren’s ever-present voice combined to create one of the festival’s best moments. Closing with Born Slippy was a foregone conclusion but when it came in, it was met with the united roar of 10,000 or more joyous revellers.

Alexander Robotnick: Way up high within the Petrovoradin Fortress lies the Elektrana Stage where, as the name suggests, you can find an assorted array of music with a distinctly electro foundation. Alexander Robotnick, a man who appears to be in his early 50s at the very least, commanded the Elektrana Stage with panache. Working his way through a collection of techno-influenced, electro house he closed with You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive, an absolute classic eighties anthem. One which had everyone up and dancing, a testament to Alexander’s performance was the dispersal of the crowd the minute his set finished. You had to feel sorry for the poor guy who had to play after him.

S.P.Y and MC Stamina: Drum n Bass was one of my first real loves as far as music is concerned. I spent the best part of my teenage years addicted to the music, as I’ve matured my musical preferences have changed but DnB will always have a special place in my heart. So I dedicated some time to this set which took place on the main stage – fortunately for me S.P.Y opted to play a lot of the tunes that were out when I was still into the music, a highly enjoyable performance and Stamina on the microphone was a perfect compere.

tINI: In the Dance Arena Marco Carola was just finishing up as his Desolat label mate tINI jumped on to the decks. After staying until the festival closed on the first night, I told myself I would’t do it again, “I need to be up early and on the beach tomorrow” I said. But this promise was soon forgotten as tINI launched into her special blend of techno and house. The magic of the Dance Arena is hypnotic, particularly when the sun rises. As the beats grew more intense, my inability to leave the Dance Arena increased – finally she closed her set and the loyal 300 or 400 ravers who were still left refused to leave, demanding one more song. tINI obviously wanted to oblige but time restrictions meant she couldn’t, despite a protest from the festival goers that lasted at least ten minutes.

NIGHT 3:

Jamiroquai: Jay Kay and his group are definitely the musical equivalent of Marmite – they really are loved and hated in equal amounts. In Serbia they are loved, which was clearly evident by the wall of people we encountered as we tried to make our way to the front of the Main Stage. The festival’s largest crowd by far had amassed for Jay Kay’s brand of funky pop music. And he put in a sterling display, modestly thanking the crowd after every song. There were no surprises, but their back catalogue is so strong there was no need to pull anything special out of the bag.

Fedde Le Grand: One of the only dance DJs we saw who had an MC/hype man with him and it worked. Reminiscent of the old school days of call-and-response, Fedde Le Grand’s set was interspersed with calls of “Put your hands up…. Put your hands up..” in reference to his dance smash Put Your Hands Up For Detroit. Sadly for some that track was never played, however he more than made up for it with a set that was both hard and full of funk. This was not a warm up for Groove Armada, Fedde was a law unto his own and made sure he destroyed the Dance Arena during his performance.

Groove Armada: Taking their new Redlight project on the road, Groove Armada are hitting festivals around the world with a DJ set rather than a straight up live performance. With as many years on the scene as these guys have it goes without saying that their choice of music was perfect, taking Fedde Le Grand’s lead and following up with a set that matched his tune for tune.

Mishu Mitsubishi: Back to the Elektrana Stage after the impressive performance by Alexander Robotnick the previous night. This time Mishu Mitsubishi was behind the decks, playing the stage’s closing set – and, again, electro-based music was on the menu. A superlative set kept a small gathering of people glued to the Elektrana Stage as the sun rose over the fortress. Most of the crowd looked like they’d just stepped off a direct flight from Shoreditch, but there was none of the snobbery or pretentiousness you might expect in London. Instead everyone was united in glee as Mishu finished up with Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode. Cliched to say it, but it was a spine-tingling moment.

Better Lost Than Stupid: Individually Davide Squillace, Martin Buttrich and Matthias Tanzmann are well-respected DJs within their own right. Only recently they decided to combine their talents for the Better Lost Than Stupid project. Simply put, they are a force to be reckoned with once the trio is assembled behind the wheels of steel. This was widely acknowledged as one of the best sets of the festivals by all who witnessed it – slick, professional and consistently in tune with the feeling of the crowd and surrounding environment throughout.

FINAL NIGHT:

Portishead: This west country group amassed what appeared to be the second biggest crowd at EXIT, after Jamiroquai. Now, although I’m a big fan of their music, I would much rather have seen them in a smaller more intimate setting – but that’s just my personal preference. However, there’s no denying that the emotion conveyed in their music goes down well whether they’re playing to 10 people or 10,000 people, as I witnessed on day 4 of the festival.

Steve Aoki: Having heard glowing reports about this LA-based DJ I was intrigued to see how his set would play out, and knowing the people who’d reported back to me I had a feeling I might not like him. However, Aoki proved that a set consisting of loud abrasive dance music played by a DJ who showboats more than Keith Flynt from The Prodigy can be very entertaining. One thing’s for sure, he kept me dancing and dancing until the legend that is David Rodigan blessed the Main Stage…

David Rodigan: A master of his craft in every sense of the word, David Rodigan may look old and past it to some but he has the heart of a lion and the energy of someone four times his junior. Combine these attributes with a record box full of precious reggae gems and an ability to educate without being patronising and you’ve got yourself a one-of-a-kind DJ who rocks crowds from Jamaica to Scotland and all around Europe. Rodigan is a must see for anyone who’s heard of him at any event he plays at. To call him a living legend is an understatement.

Rebel Rave: As a huge fan of Seth Troxler and his contemporaries, this was probably the most highly anticipated performance of the festival for me. So, as Rodigan finished, I made a beeline for the Dance Arena and arrived five minutes into the Rebel Rave set. Jamie Jones and Damien Lazarus completed the threesome on the huge Dance Arena stage and blessed the sunkissed ravers with some sublime tech house with a thick thread of acid woven all the way through. Maceo Plex’s Can’t Leave You was a high point during a set that provided a neat, chilled out climax to the festival.

With the end of that set, we headed off to embark on a 16-hour journey back to the UK…. Until next year…

For more information on next year’s EXIT Festival go to www.exitfest.org or add their Facebook page here for exclusive news and content.

 

Words and pictures – Marcus Barnes & Ben Rossington

Follow Marcus on Twitter – @mgoldenbarnes



One Comment on “EXIT Festival 2011: In Review”

  • Mara J August 4th, 2011 4:44 am

    Jay Kay is to Serbia as David Hasselhoff is to Germany or Jerry Lewis is to France. Jamiroquai were the most anticipated act. The promo and flyers for the festival gave JK’s face and his headdress the biggest space, making Portishead, Pulp, MIA, Deadmau5 and Arcade Fire look like sub acts. Genuinely happy for Jamiroquai.
    And Pulp, I only know one song, you know, THAT song, but they were brilliant. It was risky to bill them after Arcade Fire but Pulp proved to be real troupers. They even got Sarah of Arcade Fire to play the violin. You don’t have to know the words to their songs, just marvel at Jarvis Cocker’s antics.
    The real highlight of the fest were the people. The Serbs are the warmest, politest people ever.


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