A celebratory rave experience…Celebrating its 20th edition this year, Exit Festival – located in Novi Sad, Serbia – was the first large-scale electronic music event to happen on Earth in 2021. After sixteen months of pandemic, social distancing, lonely lockdowns and a global shutdown of cultural spaces, the infamous event – which was elected “Best European Summer Music Festival” in 2016 – hosted more than 180,000 people on dancefloors powered by some of the finest electronic music of our times. A whirlwind of freedom, recklessness and precious human connexion.
COVID festival lifestyle is a whole story by itself. Before flying, don’t forget to pack a dozen masks – avoid the reusable ones which will be full of dirt in a minute – some sanitary lotion and most importantly your sanitary pass. Tested or vaccinated, you’ll need this very official piece of paper to go through airport checks and pass the event’s doors. Only then, you’ll be able to meet safely with 180,000 strangers throughout four days of parties, drink sharing and late-night kisses. Speaking about the Exit Festival, the logistics were so smoothly organized that you barely had to worry about anything. Therefore, mostly nobody wore a mask on site, and with all due respects to health authorities – god, that felt good!
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You get it: Exit 2021’s first headliner was undoubtedly its unmasked crowd. More than 40.000 people each day, walking around the event’s thirty-three stages – bright smiles shamelessly exposed – as if these last months had never even happened. One could point to the imprudence of such a huge gathering – at the right moment where other countries are bringing back restrictions in response to the rise of COVID’s variants. But that precise feeling – long-gone memory of a world where free hugs were still a thing – was precisely what ravers came craving for. As that blonde French guy I met on the fourth day just said: “It was absolutely worth it”.
“It was few months ago when I learned that Novi Sad’s mayor gave green light to the Exit, says Constant. Acknowledging that, I got my friends hyped very quickly as we all knew it would probably be the only techno event of that size in Europe this summer”. Vaccinated, the Parisian-based attendee didn’t had much to worry about, but still he states: “Even if I wasn’t vaxxed, I wouldn’t have missed it for any reason”.
“It’s been more than a year now that we’ve learned to live with the virus; and there comes a time where you have to get back to life,” he says. From the many aspects that constant had been missing about that kind of big festivals, he mentions first “social boundary”: “Partying with a bunch of friends in your flat is clearly not the same as being surrounded with thousands of people from all around the world. What we had here was a party at large-scale, 40 meters high stages with real soundsystems. After almost two years of isolation, I know I will recall this memory forever”.
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A feeling shared by the organizers, as Sanjin Djukic – Head of EXIT’s PR – states as well: “We are going to remember this edition for the rest of our lives”.
Indeed, putting the event on heels was quite a ride. “As we faced cancellation in 2020, we knew that we had to come up with a protocol to assure safety of our audience, artists and staff. We were determined to show that an event of that size could happen safely, so we teamed-up with other Serbian events, and presented a sanitary protocol to the Serbian government, local health committees and the city of Novi Sad, inspired by the many studies conducted in Europe in the past few months. Seeing that the epidemiologic situation was getting better in Serbia, and that we were determined to make every needed adjustments, we eventually ended up getting the green light”.
The biggest adjustment was definitely a check of negative tests and vaccination certificates before getting the festival bracelet. “This was the sine-qua-non condition to offer an undiminished edition of the festival with no masks and social distancing, pursues Sanjin. To make things easier, we organized free antigen tests over the city and tested more than 80.000 people of which only 10 were tested positive and denied entrance to the event”. A protocol proved efficient, as the study conducted over EXIT’s audience showed it this week. Over the 400+ people monitored after the festival, not a single one got tested positive, proving that no infection occurred on the dancefloor.
Despite a lot of preparation, COVID-19 still gave its share of headaches to the event’s organizers. As Sanjin states himself: “We hope we will never have to work in these circumstances again”. Besides the sanitary protocol, the virus made everything way more complicated: “Until the very last minutes, we were not sure of how things would happen. Many of the people and companies we are used to working with went bankrupt last year because of the situation. It was hard getting them back on their feet, and hire them again after a year of basically nothing. We faced a feww last-minute cancellations from artists that we hopefully managed to replace easily”.
A lot of efforts which actually paid off. “Looking at the people’s faces on site, but also the artist’s feedbacks on social medias, we feel that the experience was truly extraordinary,” concludes Sanjin.
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Words: Themis Belkhadra
Photography: Marko Edge
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