After drastically reducing capacity restrictions, and despite pleas from Serbia’s president that the show must go on despite the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers of EXIT festival have raised the white flag and canceled their 20th anniversary event next month.
The four-day festival, which was scheduled for August 13-16 at the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, could not ultimately withstand a new flare-up of coronavirus infections. The festival will be rescheduled for 2021, the festival’s founder and director, Dusan Kovacevic, tells Billboard.
“There was no indication that this [virus] will disappear soon enough in order to continue to the festival,” Kovacevic says. “We just felt it wasn’t safe enough and also not appropriate to continue even with the smaller [audience] numbers.”
In the spring, as COVID-19 was spreading throughout Europe, Serbia’s president pushed organizers to postpone the festival from July to August, rather than cancel it, highlighting the event’s historic importance to the Balkans region and impact on the country’s tourism.
Then last week, amid a spike in infections in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, which is about an hour away, the organizers decided to drastically reduce the festival capacity from 55,000 a day to under 10,000 — and they were prepared to limit attendees to a few hundred if virus conditions worsened. Kovacevic says that hospitals in Belgrade, including temporary hospitals, are almost 100% full. “We would have had a lot of people from Belgrade [attending Exit],” he says. “The fact that Novi Sad is in a better situation doesn’t mean much at the moment.”
A number of artists were booked to perform at this summer’s smaller event, including Solomun, Maceo Plex, Robin Schulz, Amelie Lens, Paul Kalkbrenner, Boris Brejcha, Artbat, Nina Kraviz, Tale of Us, Black Coffee, Ofenbach, Burak Yeter and DJ Regard.
Even without a music festival, EXIT is considering options to mark the 20th anniversary with a “symbolic event” in September which would focus on a livestream emphasizing the LIFE Stream and Green R:Evolution platform, the festival’s environmental project.
EXIT was founded in 2000 as a student movement fighting for democracy and freedom in Serbia and the Balkans, which suffered through a series of bloody wars between 1991 and 2001, which led to the breakup of the Yugoslav state. After the Yugoslavian general election in 2000, EXIT moved in 2001 to the 240-year-old Petrovaradin Fortress, which lies on the Danube River.
In recent years the festival had grown into a massive event, with more than 1,000 artists performing at over 40 stages and festival zones each year. Although EXIT has always had a strong focus on electronic music, it also regularly has rock, indie and hip-hop acts perform. In 2019 the Cure and Carl Cox headlined; in 2018 it was Grace Jones and David Guetta.
Pet Shop Boys, The Killers, Guns N’ Roses, Motörhead, Iggy Pop, Massive Attack, Liam Gallagher, Faithless, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan have also all played EXIT in previous years.