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New look of Serbia; Magical music event helps dispel the memories: of war as country's youth celebrates: TheGreat Escape.

Byline: Chris Henwood

AGROUP of bright young Serbians beam with delight as I rush through the crowd to get a picture of them proudly holding up their national flag.

Around them hundreds dance quietly, apart from the odd whistle or scream, as music blasts through headphones at the silent disco.

It was the picture I wanted. It was the picture that Serbians deserve - one of fun, of Exit: their great little music festival.

It was also the picture that will rightly replace the imagery in my head of this Eastern European country tainted for too long by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Nato's crucifying bombardment ten years ago.

When thousands of Serbian students gathered back then to party in the hope of ending their leader's intimidating regime, they could have had no idea they were giving birth to a festival that has since been credited as Europe's best.

Those brave youngsters danced and debated against Milosevic's despotism for 100 days in the university city of Novi Sad. And the festival's slogan - Exit out of ten years of madness - proved prophetic, as just days after it ended there was a presidential election, and with it the first step in Milosevic's downfall.

The following year, and with Milosevic under arrest facing war crimes charges, Exit took up residence at a beautiful 17th Century fortress high up on the banks of the Danube - and its journey to the title of Europe's best festival really began.

Every year Exit has taken on a more international flavour in terms of acts and every year the names seem to grow, from domestically-known performers in 2000 and then Finlay Quaye 12 months later, to Moloko, Massive Attack, Franz Ferdinand and Morrissey.

Goldfrapp, The White Stripes and Ian Brown have also performed, as have Gossip, Groove Armada and Snoop Dogg among many others.

And this year was no exception to the increasingly high-profile line-up as Lily Allen, the Manic Street Preachers, the Arctic Monkeys, the Prodigy and Madness took to the stage for the now four-day event.

Kraftwerk were also there, along with Moby and Patti Smith making up the majority of acts performing on the main stage, which is just one of 20 dotted around the magnificent Petrovaradin Fortress site.

Most of the acts on the other stages would probably be unknown to the estimated five per cent British and Irish contingent of the nearly 200,000 festival-goers. Although that was no reason for me to ignore the likes of Croatia's Hladno Pivo on the Fusion Stage at 2.15 on the Saturday morning, or Nad Mika who came from Germany to perform on the Elektrana Stage at midnight on the last night.

It's all very European what with the late starts, where no acts kick-off before 7pm - so there's no band-hunting at breakfast, like UK festivals.

Yes, there are portable toilets, and yes, as you'd expect, they do get a bit manky, so take your own toilet roll. And again yes, there are queues for drinks, which are paid for with tokens. Although the food is cheaper and, to my uneducated palette, was better than I've experienced at UK festivals - apart from the hot dogs.

No, this is no ordinary festival and to think of it as one where you're trudging around in the search for bands is to miss out on so much more.

Among the cobbled walkways and tunnels linking the fortress buildings are little shops and cafes that would be great for sitting and chatting with mates as you wait for the next act, or strike up conversation with locals.

Exit also boasts an impressive record of pulling in big-name DJs and, again, this year was no exception as Lee Burridge, Steve Lawler, Sasha and John Digweed were among those on the decks on the first night. Other nights saw Etienne de Crecy, Eric Prydz, Sander Kleinenberg and Darren Emerson DJ, with the legendary Carl Cox rounding off the festival from 5.30 on Monday morning.

Although the drinks are cheap at around pounds 1.50-a-pint, making the thought of staying up to the early hours of the following day a very difficult one, it's so easy to get carried away with the bouncing Dance Arena that before you know it you'll be watching in awe as the sun rises over the fortress ramparts.

And the sight of 25,000 people "avin' it" and rushing to pop on their sunglasses as the darkness is beaten back for another day is certainly an abiding image of this truly brilliant festival. But for those worried about safety, having heard of the tragic death at this year's festival of 22-year-old Londoner Antony Fisk, who fell from a fortress wall, his was only the second death linked to the event in its ten years.

And both of these happened outside the festival grounds. Ultimately, and in light of this tragedy, would I be happy to go again and to recommend it to family and friends? Yes, in a second

GettingThere

Serbia's Exit Festival 2009 took place over four consecutive days from Thursday, July 9. It is situated in Serbia's second largest city, Novi Sad, which is in the north of the country on the river Danube.The festival website - www.exitfest.org has a well-written English version that answers most, if not all, queries. Here, you can buy your ticket and access extensive travel and accommodation information as well as plenty of other festival details. A four-day ticket cost 9,990 Serbian Dinar (or RSD). Individual tickets for Thursday and Friday cost 4,490 RSD, Saturday tickets cost 4,990RSD and Sunday tickets cost 5,990 RSD. The exchange rate is roughly 100 RSD equals 92p. Dinar is a difficult currency to obtain in the UK, but is easy enough to get hold of in Serbia at the many cash points, some of which are sited in the festival. The official camp site, situated right next to the festival, opened this year on July 6 and closed on July 15. Wrist bands for the camp cost 2,400 RSD and granted access for the full 10-day period. There are also many hotels nearby that should cost no more than 500 RSD (just under pounds 5) in a taxi - just be sure to agree the fare beforehand.

CAPTION(S):

On song: Singer Lily Allen performs at this month's Exit music festival in Novi Sad. Musical youth: A group of Serbians proudly show off their national flag at the silent disco in the country's tenth annual Exit Festival.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 22, 2009
Words:1090
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