Exit Festival, Novi Sad, Serbia

From political awareness gathering, to the biggest musical event in South-east Europe - Exit has come a long way
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The Independent Culture

It was the summer of 2000 in Novi Sad and 20-year-old Bojan Boskovic was launching a student protest. His plan was a free cultural event, which would generate social awareness and encourage young Serbs to unite against the government of Slobodan Milosevic. Now with 27 stages attracting 20,000 visitors, Exit has become the biggest music and cultural event in South-east Europe.

The opening night's warm-up acts on the main stage prepared for the arrival of the headlining act, NERD. Pharrell Williams's performance was highly anticipated; in part with glee, while some hardened festival-goers questioned his credentials. They might have been briefly won over by his apparent display of abandonment as he soon dashed his microphone across the stage before head-butting a camera – until they realised this was a tantrum induced by a fault with his headpiece.

The Streets was on soon after, and Mike Skinner's razor-sharp performance showcased his Derren Brown-like talent for mind control. Skinner had strangers hugging each other, everyone sitting on the floor before jumping up again in unison. Even the moshpit seeping through the front row complied.

Johnny Rotten gave a bizarre performance, much to the dismay of a thirsty crowd. An incoherent attempt at political rallying saw him shout: "Do you agree with the Iraq war?" to sparse bleats of support, before inexplicably dropping to his knees and wailing "Allah!" into the microphone. The reaction was understandably bleak, with boos and expressions of bemusement in equal measure. Sadly, his underwhelming set with The Sex Pistols could not win them back.

Gogol Bordello, meanwhile, were surely the weekend's victors, yet not so popular with the technician who trailed after singer Eugene Hutz as he careered across the stage in various degrees of nudity, necking a bottle of red wine and leaving a trail of debris in his wake.

Primal Scream, The Gossip and Paul Weller also lit up the main stage, while the dance tent saw welcome sets from Tiga, Sven Vaeth, and Booka Shade. Jamaican Jukebox set an intimate scene at the reggae arena.

"The Balkans have screwed up a lot of things," Boskovic said, "but we want to shake off the negative image of our past. There are lots of things we are good at, and one of them is having fun." Hear, hear!