2011:  Our United State of Exit
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    It’s not the performance that sticks out for me though, it’s one of the more contemplative moments when Jarvis for some reason discussing the concept of time, signs off with “...I mean, a plant doesn’t know it’s growing, it just grows”. I look around and see a few eyes widen and store the moment in a kind of philosophical wank bank. I’m done.
    When Pulp close their nine out of ten set, a stampede of bodies thrust their way in a direction I’ve yet to go down. I hear a thudding beat in the distance like some invading army thirsty for action. I realise where I’m going, I’ve seen the pictures... straight into the belly of the beats.
    We move forward as one, all ten, safe in numbers and stumbling in unison. Tripping up several steel steps, I can see people peering through rips in the hoardings to the crowds below. I move forward with a purpose and look down to behold the scenes. I can’t quite figure out what to think at this point but turn my head and comment “...intense, it looks properly intense down there." 
    I can only compare it to a purgatory for those who’ve chosen to fall but are being forced to wait. The red lighting and thunderous wall of noise soak the soul with an intimidating rush of now. 
    Ambling down the steep death trap of a metal staircase, I take a pit stop in what are clearly day one festival toilets and head to the bar. The characters on the periphery of the crowd look different to the previous bunch. They are as predicted, more intense, more skinheads and vests than the previous lot intermingled between your ‘slightly wired at 3am and just getting started type’. I start mixing wine and energy when the beer offers no buzz whatsoever.
    Refreshed, if you can call it that, we push our way through sweaty bodies hand in hand until we get in front of the main stage. I turn around and notice we’re heading up a narrow passage filled with maniacs standing in one spot doing a kind of running puppet dance. There’s no tension as we slither and push our way up to some kind of viewing platform for the damned. The erected stands that arch around this section blow my mind. I now know how Russell Crowe felt after gutting that loose tiger in the Coliseum.
    Deadmau5 and his 3D face is high priest to his energy, beer and drug fuelled followers at this point. I watch everyone sway and press hands to the sky as if beckoning down the fourth horsemen and his final apocalypse for relief. If the Mau5 starts making human sacrifices and introducing snakes to the stage, I would not flinch and nor would the others. I am not that familiar with his work but appreciate 'I Remember' and 'Brazil' as they draw screams of elation from the gods behind me and pit in front. By the time we see our second sunrise our group of ten is now four and we make a move.
    Few words are spoken in the car home. Vukasin asks if everybody is okay and we make small talk about the dance stage and the three acts we’d seen. Seven hours later I would be up right absorbing a conversation that includes: “I was 10 when the bombings happened. It was fun for us in a way. We got days out of school. I mean, when something like that is happening what can you do?”
    From here on in you have what I call the golden formula for mine and my friend’s united state of Exit (I hope). It really was a beautiful thing. I’m not done yet though.
    I steadily drink, shower, brush teeth, eat, swim and sunbathe for the rest of the morning. Drifting off around eleven, my twitching dreams and bitten feet are interrupted by some of the guys organising the ride into Novi Sad. I can feel the heat outside so I slump out to stretch and then complete wake up with a dive into the sky blue pool. 
    After food, three mojitos and a sharing session based around future entrepreneurial ventures, we jump in a taxi to the shores of the Danube.
There should be a sign at the entrance that reads 'welcome to skin city where the gene pool runs deep'. For a measly 50 dinars we’re on the strip and into the various waterside bars. The place is full of locals, always a good sign, in what could be their take on Baywatch by the river. At 42 degrees we find the nearest shade and coldest beer. The place is a hive of activity - young and old, fat and thin, fit and fitter - all either lying down or strolling around completely oblivious of worry or stress.
    A young crowd with brightly coloured towels gather by the water’s edge to greet the Danube on its 1800 mile epic journey from the Black forest in Germany to the Black Sea. I walk in like some dazed pilgrim looking out to the other side where the Petrovaradin fortress cuts a proud silhouette. Framed by trees that won’t look better all year, the beautiful view cannot distract me from how cold the water is. I stop to gaze at a woman in her fifties swimming back and forth before leaving.
    Friday night sees Editors smash their noise out of the park with their high tension riffs and haunting vocals. Exhilarating crescendos and flashing lights transform tunes like 'Munich' and 'Blood' into rabble rousers and make my next four beers the best I have all trip. Any remnants of sleep deprivation are knocked to hell. Even though singer Tom Smith appears, let’s say, worse for wear, he and his band manage to make indie music matter for the hour or so they navigate the stage.
    By 1.30am, where the guitar was once king, stands a slight Sri Lankan lady with a Shoreditch drawl. Looking up at the big screens I want this woman, M.I.A or Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam to her friends - a tiny fire ball of sexy energy working her way through beats, bangra and rhymes. When she’s halfway through her set I see her dragging about 50 girls on stage. One girl’s jumping bot in a pair of green and yellow hot pants then continues to appear several times on two mega screens for at least half the audience’s viewing pleasure.
    It really is some sordid stuff from the cameraman. I wonder whether he knows her, seen that ass before maybe, lost in thought wondering where. Most of the now hysterical girls on stage just dance away, but five or six decide to live the moment through the camera like so many opt for these days. Concerned about the photograph and not the moment nor the once in a life time view. The arm around the shoulder and camera light in M.I.A’s face eventually does her head in and she pushes them back. I notice that one guy made it     up there and think, "fuck you guy". 
    Paper Planes is massive but the gun shot chorus gives me the chills thinking back to Wednesday night’s villa drive.
    Life at the dance stage is busier tonight and I get the sense that this is the warm up for the main event tomorrow. By the time the five of us get there to join the others, Underworld drop 'Born Slippy' and the whole place goes off. Glow sticks circle my head, a man to the right of me is wearing a full Native Indian headdress and the buzz takes us through all the way from that moment ‘til daylight.
    Saturday morning provides me with the gift of two hours sleep. Four of us stay back at the villa; a place I grow more and more passionate about for no real reason other than it's polar opposite state to where we just were. It’s only us and the flies, and a dead mouse that turned up in the pool. The pool cleaning net is used to trebuchet the suicidal rodent into the surrounding field and I head back to the fridge for ice, vodka and Fanta. 
    The iPod dock allows The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie and their Genius-selected counterparts to become our mid-morning / afternoon resident DJs.

    40 to 60 cigarettes a day begin to feel like they’re competing with oxygen for the space in my lungs. When everyone is back, without announcement or pre-meditation we attack the late afternoon, drinking like an AA meeting gone bad. My mood about the night is borderline ecstatic but I get that feeling it could all go wrong in some spectacular ‘one night to end all nights’ fashion. Tonight we dress as ninjas.
    Once everyone has donned their ridiculous uniform, all black and red bandanas and accepted that it actually doesn’t look bad at all, Vukasin arrives. Walking down to greet us he stops dead in his tracks and says “Oh my god". He looks like he might turn away and leave, before announcing, “you look great!” Group photo idea stolen off The Beach done, we make sure there is no vodka left and Exit.
    We quickly discover that tonight is much busier; it’s clear the entire town has turned up and nobody here does fancy dress. When we’re out the convoy of cars, I notice some of us getting slightly awkward as the stares and shouts of “NINJA!” come hurtling across the street. 
    I start to think maybe we have had too much time in the hills, and then remind myself of my name, date of birth and that this is really happening. In a bar we summon some Dutch courage, bounce through the gates and security, and split up to reconvene on that special viewing gallery in four hours time.
    I watch Jamiroquai dance around, go through the motions and wear a hat. Bland, boring and probably the biggest crowd over the four days, I look around at my two mates and get the nod. It’s time to move. Ninja costumes are being dismantled in different stages on the way to the dance stage as moving is difficult. We’re packed in like sardines to the point where a line of three people is impossible to keep together. By the time we reach our spot, energy and wine in hand, we stand and look out at the chaos. It’s time to move strangely on the spot and smile. 
    Midway through Groove Armada, I get the feeling that I’m trapped between a rock and horrible place and it only gets worse. I must get to some other place quick. I must sit down somewhere, calm down and reboot the madness. Once I’ve stopped sweating and started breathing, I venture back to my ninjas and catch the final track 'Super Stylin’'. 
    At this point in positive recovery mode, it becomes a pure pinnacle of happiness and chain smoking. Next up is the big man from NYC, DJ Sneak, who I am sure plays the same song for two hours but still manages to keep 40,000 rapidly flagging revellers moving until the red sun rises behind the high fortress walls. Looking around we are all one in that moment. Everyone is here and everyone is happy. Nobody cares.
    By the time Sunday night comes around it’s really time to go. Nick Cave & Grinderman is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen live. I’m watching a cowboy in a suit and homeless man with a guitar howling 'No Pussy Blues' to the sky and then the panicked faces in the crowd he repeatedly thrusts into. 
    I attempt the silent disco later and after three failures, I fail again, waking at 2.30am outside the tent. We discuss going back to the place we held for four hours the night before but I don’t want to spoil it. That’s when I remember and begin my long journey home.

Our United State of Exit

Our United State of Exit, September 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 7, Music     The summer music festival: an idyllic state of carefree abandon where time holds no rule and rules no reason. 
    The f-word is an opportunity to throw away the uniform, drink in a field and do as you please to an exclusive live soundtrack. Watching musicians, artists and wired people twist and shout their way across a number of stages, genres and weird scenarios, you laugh and remember and think about remembering in years to come. That is/was a festival.
    Over the past five years I have witnessed the dilution of the BIG TIME festival, washed away by commercialism, sponsorship, price hikes and Topman androgyny. It’s not about the music anymore; it’s about having your photo taken for Facebook points. It’s about that t-shirt with these jeans and those loafers. It’s about haircuts, and £150 sunglasses, and morons that don’t know why they’re there, only that it’s the right thing to do to fit in to whatever genericism they’ve been sold that month. 
    I am not suggesting that my teen and early twenties was a rich vein of originality in an unimpressionable world. I was very aware of the cool thing to do back in the day, but at 16 to 18 (2002 – 2004) there was a different feel to the notion of the festival and why we wanted to go. For instance in 2003, my friends and I bought Leeds Weekend tickets five days before the event for £90. If I wanted a ticket now, stick £100 on top of that, as well as eight months forward-planning, saving and finger bashing to beat the online hoard.
    This considered rant is my flag in the sand after returning from Serbia’s Exit Festival. In the UK, the festival has been sold down the river to the hyper self-conscious 'what do I look like, what do I look like now, what about now' 18 – 30 Radio 1 listener. 
    Not an evil thing of course, but it’s not what you want in a field off your face trying to embrace another place, an altered state. Here you want to experience the plain camaraderie of the unconcerned. The all-night ‘look around I love this place, them over there and them over there, here together for one thing, to get loose and forget the world back home’.
    Perhaps this is merely the result of four days without sleep, but at least it’s raw like the crowds I turned my head to see at 5am on a Sunday morning in Novi Sad’s Petrovaridin Fortress. But before I get to that euphoric state there is a journey to go on.
    I begin in arrivals at Belgrade airport with a bag too full and a rattling head of anxiety. It is Wednesday, 5 July 2011. The time is 6pm.
Serbian men skulk through the over-encumbered swathes, catching travel weary eyes and slurring “taxi” under their breath to the weakest and most confused. The initial hint of heat is now slapping me across the face as I wait in a queue for currency. I repeat “no” several times to several lurching advances and shuffle towards the exit to breathe it all in. Outside there’s a sense of calm, patience and confusion. My arriving party and I are equally in the dark at this very bright point in the afternoon. 
    Devoid of all knowledge and experience about what awaits us on our adventure into the Serbian hills, we stand and we wait.

    When we are 10 strong we leave for the city of Novi Sad. The passport and wallet patting is now a fading distraction as the ex-KGB-looking hard man in the driver's seat is wielding two phones like a pair of hand grenades. The ring tone is the sound of automatic gunfire and goes off every 3-4 minutes. My thoughts are firmly on the grave mistake we’ve made, the hole in the hot earth and that scene from Casino. 
    It’s only when we veer off to overtake on a blind corner that I genuinely start to see the end and grip the seat. Turns out the road through the national park quite subtly splits into a dual carriageway. I look to my friends and share silent relief.
    My ignorance of Serbia and its people is incredibly high at this more lucid stage. I shoot the same look as the majority of people back home gave me when uttering the word. That kind of twisted look of confusion alongside a sharp shriek whilst repeating Serbia back to me. A curious human reaction when people are caught off guard with an unexpected response to their question.
    Once out of the national park we shortly arrive in Novi Sad. The landscape is lush and green, but the town strikes me as grey and dusty as we drive quickly past a dilapidated stadium that has the headline ‘HYSTERIA AND TRAGEDY’ written all over it. 
    Exiting the car and grabbing the bags, we’re soon stretched out in padded seats drinking ‘local beer’ Jelen in an evening heat you’d kill for back home. We relax and initiate various conversations about how this is much better than whatever it is we could be doing. A warm satisfaction takes hold and we all sink into the experience in a very rare, sober way.
    It is here we meet our Serbian friend Vukasin. Some of the guys have already taken to calling him our ‘Serbian fixer’. I like it but hope he never hears. He is 22, stocky and has short afro-style hair. He’s an all round cool guy. He and his friend Marko look like brothers but they’re not. Marko, it turns out, is the crazy one. His English teachers must have included such luminaries as John McLane and Snoop Dogg as his frequent use of “bitches” and “motherfucker” builds throughout the four days. 
    Vukasin is quieter, more reserved, but not without an edge. He is now busy and concerned as we learn he was not expecting us until tomorrow. It soon doesn’t matter - he fixes it. 
    It’s now dark, I’m now drunk, we’re all drunk and high on breaking the ‘first three hours’ mark. It’s that stage when you know everything’s sorted and the real fun is still to come. 
    In the convoy to the villa, we stop off at the supermarket for essentials. The locals look in dismay but not disgust as we invade and load up with booze, spirits, water pistols, bats, beach balls, crisps, cheese, ham and litres upon litres of water. I never got the 'not wanted here' feeling in Serbia even in a situation like this, causing mayhem in the late night shopping aisles. 5000 Dinars (1000 = £10) gets me more bags than six people can carry 10 yards. We did well. It would last only one day.
    As we veer off onto a dirt track with potholes that can only be the scars of land mines, thoughts of sun and beers poolside turn to massacre and an international incident. They’d never hear the screams.
    Vukasin laughs as our nervousness fills his Renault. In his thick accent he says: “Don’t worry guys we’re not going to kill you.” Our choked sniggers can’t hide the fact that we’re wondering at what moment the armed men will appear from behind the trees. Thirty minutes later the car’s headlights see us turn left and through some open gates. We finally make it. I can see a pool and so far nobody is here to kill us. We spill out of the car in celebration.
    The next hour is spent drinking heavily, smoking and diving head first into the pool. Some minor injuries later and minus luggage, we get changed and head back into Novi Sad. 
The nightlife is hot and busy. The place has a Mediterranean vibe as we hit a narrow street filled with bars and restaurants and pick our spot. Everyone is outside and the dance music is loud. There’s an obvious foreign festival goer presence, but I get the feeling it’s always this way. Vukasin and Marko saunter around greeting every other hot local girl and we start to like them more by the hour. Chatting shit, we do rounds of the Serbian Rakija until my mind melts in a good way.
    By 4am the unwanted flirting with the beautiful hostess has ended and so has our search for a club. We apologise to ‘the fixer’ for keeping him up and catch our lift back for a couple hours boozing and the wait for the sun.
    No sleep. Only when the days reach 44 degrees can you live like this. Like those dogs I saw in Naples last year - half dead in the shade, not sleeping, not eating, not doing much of anything. I am in total neutral mode during the hours of 7am and 7pm for the next four days. 
    I nap, I drink, we call for a lift into Novi Sad and we eat. I eat the same meal from the same place three days in a row. It’s chicken, it’s ham, it’s chips and this strangely brilliant vegetable mix-up on the side. I like the waitress most of all though; she’s feisty and always says, “This is your bill... without my tip.”
    I don’t know if it’s just the difference in temperature at this point but I notice the gene pool is pretty special. 
    My time spent by the villa is some of the best. The world is different, we’re completely isolated from the madness in the camp site and town. Here, time wears no wristwatch and the days can freely merge into one long, cool happening. Private pools and villas must be in life’s top ten things, nothing grand, just somewhere on its own with nearby cool bars, restaurants and people.
    Maybe if I try to record that wall of noise that crickets make in hotter climates and play it in the office I’d relax more? Who knows? Nature’s soundtrack to the summer holiday that your mind tunes out almost instantly until it breaks into the foreground when you look up and realise where you are.
    Thursday night is now upon us and so is the first night of the festival. Everyone is in that state of drunkenness that won’t pass if they choose for it not to. After more Rakija we stride up the hill, our group of seven guys and three girls; nine from London and one from somewhere up North.
    At the entrance to the ancient Petrovaradin fortress, a place where the Austrians ended the Turkish threat to central Europe in 1716, we exchange money for beer, energy, water and wine tokens. I imagine things were slightly different 300 years ago. We move into the festival like some strange collective of computer game characters having rolled our dice and selected our levels of energy and beer to take us through to sunrise.
    Out of breathe we reach the first stop - the reggae stage. The layout feels mazy straightaway, separated by pathways and tunnels rather than fields and tree lines. I’d liken my first traipse round to a stroll through a film set with more alcohol and drugs. I come across an outdoor cinema, numerous tucked away genre based music stages, one silent disco (I never make it here, the closest I come is napping outside on Sunday night), one salsa area, one really shit indie stage, a zip wire, suspect hot dog stands, and everything else as standard until we hit the dance stage.
    Arcade Fire is the first band I see. I only get into 'Wake Up' and 'Keep the Car Running'. My friend behind me is way past drunk and unimpressed, killing my buzz in the process. I think the midnight slot might not be the best for the band, but I am blown away quite literally when they fire up the bass so loud it shakes my face. I get the feeling people are yet to adjust to Dracula’s sleeping patterns, so by 2am and the beginning of Pulp, I know much more effort and trips to the bar are needed.
    When Jarvis Cocker takes to the stage, he quickly gyrates and thrusts his way into the hearts of the massed crowd. The guy just oozes charm. Stopping between each song to casually chat and awkwardly read Serbian phrases as if he were hosting his 6 Music Sunday slot. The performance confirms he is a rare breed of front man the likes Mick Jagger made infamous, in not only the way he moves and pulls his face, but the way he can entertain between songs. 
    Nothing is forced, it’s like watching a malnourished show pony in a suit and thick framed glasses mince up and down a stage trying to attract an equally outlandish female. 'Common People', 'Disco 2000' and 'Sorted for E’s and Wizz' ignite a sea of smiles and screaming to happily establish the reason why everyone bought the ticket and took the ride.
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Andrew Donaghy is the Editor of Under The Influence magazine and works as a freelance features writer between issues. He graduated from Newcastle University in 2008 with a Masters in Journalism and has since experienced the joys of working for ITV and BSkyB in London. Now back in his hometown of Durham, he is bearing the fruits of taking stock and working hard. Andrew was inspired to write after discovering the New and Gonzo Journalism of the 1960s when he was 16 way back when. http://www.undertheinfluencemagazine.com/shapeimage_22_link_0
Read this article in  Vhcle Magazine Issue 7