Reviewed: EXIT Festival 2022
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” While I can’t say for certain, it wouldn’t shock me to learn that Simon Sinek formulated this theory during a trip to EXIT Festival. The 22nd edition of this world-famous festival served as a powerful reminder of its mission to spark positive social changes. It’s clear that the team behind the festival refuse to lose sight of why this festival was started, which inspires a loyalty and passion from both staff and fans that make this one of the best music festivals in the world.
EXIT festival truly offers something for everyone, with over 40 stages and zones each catering to a different section of the musical spectrum. Some festivals would look at the Petrovaradin Fortress site and decide that the existing walls and limits required a more scaled back approach, but for EXIT, offering that variety is crucial to their mission to champion unity and open-mindedness.
It’s staggering how creatively they use the unique space to fit in as much as possible, while also creating distinct visuals and backdrops for each stage. Even more impressive is how the towering fortress walls have been used to enhance the sound, with almost no bleeding of sound between stages. It really feels as though even the smallest stages have received the same level of attention and care as the Main Stage, reflecting the inclusive heart of the festival.
I have to admit that it took me a while to discover all these different stages, as the lure of the iconic MTS Dance Arena was hard to resist! With its raised areas that resemble an ancient Roman amphitheatre, this is one of the most striking stages you could find anywhere in the world. Thursday night kicked this stage off with a bang, offering a frantic and relentless charge through some of the biggest names in techno, such as Anfisa Letyago, Reinier Zonneveld, Adam Beyer and Enrico Sangiuliano.
From the moment I walked into the arena to hear Eli Brown playing his remix of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, the energy didn’t let up for the rest of the night. Brown’s b2b with Ilija Djokovic was the first of 3 b2b sets that night, and they were immediately followed by Sama’ Abdulhadi and ANNA who brought an infectious joy and energy to their set.
In an era of increasingly cynical capitalism and consumerism in dance music, it was a joy to witness these two women fully connecting the music they love and having the time of their lives doing it. I’m happy to report that this was a theme that continued throughout the weekend, and it served as another reminder of the powerful values that underpin the magic of EXIT.
Friday’s acts showed no hesitation in stepping up the bar established the night before, with the likes of Honey Dijon, Maceo Plex and Cristina Lazic again making it difficult to take your attention away from the Dance Arena for even a second! Brina Knauss was a real highlight, as the soaring melodies and groovy polyrhythms of her set took the crowd on an unforgettably emotional journey. Denis Sulta then stepped up to deliver one of the best sets of the entire festival, crafting an energetic and compelling tour through his eclectic influences that had the whole Arena rocking from start to finish.
All eyes were on the Main Stage for Saturday night, with Disciples kicking off the night with an energetic set that drew in a huge crowd despite the early timeslot. These boys know exactly how to entertain, and their interactions with the crowd set an uplifting tone for the busiest night of the festival.
From the moment the doors opened on Saturday, it was clear that the team would have to deal with a much larger crowd than on previous nights. It’s worth mentioning how efficiently the crowds were managed for the vast majority of the festival. Bars, food stands and toilets were so numerous that queues were kept to a minimum and even on this busiest of nights, I never had to wait for more than a few minutes for anything. Security were stationed all across the festival site, and they achieved that rare balance of having a strict focus on safety with a friendly desire to help everyone have a great time.
Having said that, the increased crowd did highlight a possible safety issue at the Main Stage. One of the main paths to the Dance Arena passed directly next to the Main Stage, and for the most part, this wasn’t an issue. There was usually plenty of space to pass alongside the crowd – but this wasn’t the case once the likes of Calvin Harris drew in super-sized crowds! Gridlock ensued, everything became very cramped, and it all began to feel a little dangerous. To be fair, EXIT had provided alternative routes to bypass the Main Stage, but perhaps having a team of people actively directing the crowds towards them could have eased the crush a little.
For those who braved the gridlock to see Harris’s set, it was very much worth it! He took the crowd on a whirlwind tour through his greatest hits, and the energy didn’t drop for the rest of the night. Adana Twins, Blond:ish, Mochakk and Mathame were the standout acts before Boris Brejcha took to the Dance Arena in the morning sun to close out the night.
Sunday continued the theme of having something for everyone, whether it was the more commercial anthems of Joel Corry and Zhu on the Main Stage, or the progressive and melodic vibe of artists like ARTBAT, Stephan Bodzin and Satori in the Dance Arena. But for me there was one artist in particular that captured the essence of EXIT Festival: Joc Havana.
Initially, I was drawn into Havana’s set by the siren call of a Toolroom Trax record – Crusy’s smash hit ‘Selecta’. As I clambered down the steps into the moat of the fortress (what a setting for a stage!) I realised that he was being supported by two live percussion performances, who were taking the groove to another level and whipping the crowd up into a frenzy.
The live percussion acted as an anchor for the set that held the groove steady, giving Havana the foundation to be more experimental with his selections on the decks. From reggaeton to tech house to progressive house, he stuck the landing every time and took us on an inspired sonic journey. At one point he even combined a tech house beat with Linkin Park vocals, which in theory should never have worked alongside the live bongos and percussion.
The passionate singalong it inspired from the crowd was compelling evidence to the contrary – it was a truly magical moment that really showcased both the musical diversity of EXIT, and the open-mindedness of those who attend it.
EXIT Festival is truly a festival for music lovers. Commercial or underground, dance or metal, global superstars or local heroes – it doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, EXIT is the answer.
Be among the first to register for Super-Early-Bird tickets and mark the dates 6th – 9th July 2023 in your diary!