Eastern Europe joins the summer festival madness, playing host to a bunch of excitable Brits and a rather soggy Jack'n'Meg
It’s almost painfully ironic – the day after London gets hit by a terrorist attack, NME jumps on a plane to previously war-torn Serbia, almost 10 years to the day after the Srebrenica massacre left almost 8,000 dead in neighbouring Bosnia. You’d think factors like this wouldn’t really be conducive to rowdy revelry, but the Exit Festival, now in its fifth year, is a celebration of Serbian resilience, of political demonstration and most of all, the power of a good party. Commandeering a breathtaking fortress high up on a hill overlooking the River Danube for four hot sticky days, with beer going for 65p a pint, a leisure centre outside Reading this ain’t.
Serbian favourites Crazed Farmers, Alice in WonderBand and the Mighty Dogs reign supreme, but, nice as they are, Exit has invited some of us Brits to come over and perform a few tunes as well. Friday night finds Ian Brown playing a set so heavy with Stone Roses songs that no-one minds that his backing band are lacklustre beyond belief. ‘Waterfall’, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and ‘Made of Stone’ turn the whole site into a Madchester karaoke booth for an hour, while Garbage jiggle about with classics like ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Push It’, and new song ‘Right Between The Eyes’, which nicks so much from ‘Teenage Kicks’ people almost alert security.
The next night, Ladytron’s saucy take on emotionless Teutonic electro – like four evil black-clad sex robots from the planet Kick Arse – manages to stare out Novi Sad for a brief while, but soon they get the crowd back on side for unlikely fortress-bangers ‘He Took Her To A Movie’ and ‘Playgirl’.
Their stylised rigidity is just about as far away as you can get from the highly excitable Londoners The Rakes: “This is for all the beautiful women I’ve seen today,” says wide-eyed singer Alan Donohoe, scanning the gorgeous crowd after an impromptu Serbian jig, while ‘Strasbourg’, with its European mutterings, seems more than appropriate.
Sunday night is when the big boys step up to the stage. Maybe God’s got something against The White Stripes after they sided with the devil for the benefit of their current album, but as soon as the Stripes strut onstage, the heavens open, thunder crashes and everyone gets very, very wet. Nothing can put off the towering hunk of burning, raw power that is Jack White, though. His current Latino lothario persona takes no shit, and expects the audience to do the same. Seeing as he’s bashing out some of the greatest rock songs of this century, it’s not that hard a proposition. People splash about to ‘My Doorbell’ and get nicely soaked to a rather squishy ‘Hotel Yorba’.
Compared to their high-camp Glastonbury performance, this show is low-key. It’s a trip back to the original muscle of the Jack’n’Meg show, trading solely on the power of rock’n’roll rather than their recent dalliances with flamboyance. New marimba belter ‘The Nurse’ – despite sounding like the theme tune to Rugrats – shows off the band’s Attention Deficit Disorder approach to playing live, constantly breaking into other songs and jamming here and there. Hours after the Stripes depart, the crowds continue to dance on through the wee small hours until the sun rises over the balustrades and the people of Serbia stagger off back out into their evolving country with smiles on their faces as priceless as the beer.