EXIT Festival 2019 - Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia, July 4, 2019 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Cure

EXIT Festival

EXIT Festival 2019 - Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia, July 4th, 2019

Aug 02, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Perched high on the right bank of the Danube, overlooking the Serbian city of Novi Sad, the Petrovaradin fortress is the setting for a festival quite unlike any other Europe has to offer. Founded in 2000 as a student movement fighting for democracy and freedom-the name "EXIT" refers to the end of the Balkan war and the transition to real democracy in a region torn apart by a decade of turmoil-its goal is to leverage music's unique power to "connect and bring people together"; social responsibility is a key aspect of EXIT's activities. Yet alongside such lofty, noble ideals, it's also a hedonist's playground-techno music keeps on pounding past 8 a.m., booze remains plentiful and, for those with the stamina, there's a healthy after-party scene catering to all manner of revellers and ravers.

Festival Opening


It's also one of the most eclectic, diverse festivals anywhere, with a vast range of genres represented across EXIT's 21 stages. There's a magical quality to the site's cobbled courtyards, hidden alleys, and lamp-lit grottos, and simply wandering around can pay rich dividends; there's a stage dedicated to Serbian trap and trance, the X Bass pit for those in thrall to low end, and the Pachamama World Chill-Inn for when it all gets a little overbearing. Reggae is well represented too, as is hardcore, death metal, and industrial techno-seemingly every nook and cranny of the fortress is taken over by a stage and a dedicated group of dancers, lost in the music and having the best time.

How, then, to navigate all this? One could pick out a few interestingly named bands and go full lucky dip-who wouldn't be intrigued to watch Serbian Meat Grinder or Lower Parts of Human Sludge? Or one can focus on a few stages, catching the big names strut their stuff into the wee small hours. So it is that we watch Charlotte de Witte's minimalist techno, Peggy Gou's breezy house grooves, and Carl Cox's euphoric acid house and dance at the mts Dance Arena, Whitechapel's brutal deathcore and Peter and the Test Tube Babies' crass punk at the Explosion stage, and Black Lotus' trippy, artful techno and the industrial acid of 999999999 at the No Sleep Novi Sad stage.

Peggy Gou


EXIT is not a festival that relies heavily on headliners to shift tickets; indeed, many revellers seem to spend all their time shuffling between the hidden delights and smaller areas, not really venturing towards the mainstage. And in a way, that's understandable-the names at the top of this year's bill are the sort of chart-friendly, populist fare that are big on bangers but a little lacking in innovation. Tom Walker, a bearded, flannel-clad singer-songwriter who sounds like an EDM Rag'n'Bone Man, fares surprisingly well, his earnest tunes given a little more heft by a crack backing band. "Leave a Light On" is an obvious highlight, if somewhat maudlin, while "Cry Out" and "Dominoes" have a euphoric, hands-in-the-air quality, songs specifically written for arena sing-alongs and playlist domination.

Tom Walker


His set is an enjoyably fun romp though, and it's easy to see why he's been anointed as one of the UK's brightest new stars and streamed millions of times. Less successful are The Chainsmokers, whose pyrotechnics and frequent bass drops can't disguise the blandness that powers their EDM pop. There are blasts of the Rocky theme, The White Stripes, and Papa Roach's "Last Resort," all combined with deep whoomps and rattling rave beats. This is shock and awe music, more of a spectacle than a concert, but while the gurning kids down the front are happily losing their shit, it lacks any soul or grit. It's not even particularly clever or interesting-putting snippets of everyone's favorite guilty pleasures over the top of tectonic beats is an age-old trick, the ultimate in style over substance DJing.

The Chainsmokers


Which brings us to Greta Van Fleet's Spinal Tap-does-Led Zeppelin tribute act. "This is far out man," declares singer Josh Kiszka, a man seemingly on a mission to embody as many rock clichés as possible. He sings like Bon Scott and dances like Roger Daltrey, and of course he's wearing spray-on white trousers and feather earrings. There's an early drum solo, and when guitarist Jake Kiszka isn't openly aping Jimmy Page there's plenty of Sabbath, AC/DC, and "House of the Rising Sun" arpeggios to the point where, several times, we wonder if they're actually just doing covers.

It is genuinely the worst kind of derivative rock, a beige mush of tired riffs and faux mysticism that's as tiresome as it is plodding; one doom-heavy blues-rock passage goes on seemingly forever. And yet here they are, strutting across the main stage like kings, basking in adulation that's completely undeserved. The contrast to Philip H. Anselmo's power and poise the previous night is a lesson in how shatteringly good rock and metal can be; running through Pantera songs with his new band The Illegals, it's a visceral, pummelling 90 minutes of brilliance that's everything Van Fleet are not. 

Serendipity can be a beautiful thing and The Cure, making their first ever appearance in the country, seem to have a direct line to God. Dark clouds gather above the fortress as they stroll on stage to a rapturous reception and launch into a billowing "Plainsong," but the heavens hold back the deluge until "Pictures of You," as Robert Smith sings "And we kissed as the sky fell in." Those two tracks are merely the opening to a set that's utterly magnificent, taking in pools of murky bleakness ("Burn," "Primary," "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea"), delicious alt-pop rushes ("Just Like Heaven," "In Between Days"), and pure gold ("Lullaby," "Close to Me," "Friday I'm in Love").

The Cure


56,000 fans-a record for EXIT-squeeze in to witness history, and are rewarded with a typically epic performance. It's clear that The Cure now truly belong in the top bracket of festival headliners and thoroughly deserve the "legends" status they've been bestowed with. Yet that such a band can sit comfortably alongside the catacomb clubs, breakfast rave ups, and thrash metal is testament to how special EXIT really is, and how well it's fulfilling those lofty, noble ideals.


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