As the sun goes down over the Danube on day two of EXIT 2022, the festival once again springs into life. For such a nocturnal event, the key to maximising your hours is pacing, and this is something that the festival organisers also seem to grasp. The line-up is packed with the crème de la crème of house, techno and EDM artists, but there is an understanding that perhaps something gentler is required to ease the thousands in attendance into their night.
Opening the Main Stage on Friday, therefore, are Molchat Doma.The Minsk trio are breakout stars across Europe, with their first three albums now having earned a release on the influential US independent label Sacred Bones [Blanck Mass, Zola Jesus]. Their prowling, goth-inspired music is the perfect aperitif, with Pavel Kozlov’s low-slung bass rumbling the soil beneath our feet, while Roman Komogortsev’s guitar lines jangle without showing off, as if he is trying to keep the catchiness of his melodies a secret. Egor Shkutko’s deep vocals complete the picture of a band supremely confident in their chosen style. Their viral 2018 single ‘Vessel’ in particular has the crowd swinging their limbs, and when Kozlov’s keyboard synths are thrown into proceedings, suddenly there is a bright synthpop energy to Molchat Doma that is impossible to resist.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds seem at first glance to be the outliers on this festival bill, but as an enormous crowd builds at the Main Stage in anticipation of their arrival, it is clear that the booking was brilliant choice. It is hard to think of another artist in their mid-60s that continues to enhance and heighten their reputation to the extent that Cave still does, with every new release opening up some new emotional or philosophical dimension to his body of work.
Cave has spent so many years choosing substance over style. He arrives at this point in his life with an artistic grounding so deep that he is able to reach further into his audience than the overwhelming majority of his peers. It is no coincidence, then, that the set opens with ‘Get Ready for Love’ and ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’, both from 2004’s ‘Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus’; these are two tracks with a gospel backbone, and this set is a spiritual experience. For over two hours, Cave moves across the stage as if he is the Messiah, and it doesn’t jar even slightly. When he reaches into the crowd, people reach back as if receiving a gift.
When the mood turns on ‘I Need You’, from 2016’s ‘Skeleton Tree’ – the album released in the aftermath of the tragic, accidental death of Cave’s 15-year-old son – suddenly we are collectively ruminating on life’s darkest recesses. Even then, the sense is that we are part of a healing process, not just for Cave but for anyone present who might need it, and the closing refrain of “Nothing really matters/Just breathe, just breathe” brings a wave of love over the EXIT crowd. Huge performances of ‘Tupelo’, ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Into My Arms’ round out the performance.
There is an incredible momentum that builds at EXIT as the hours pass, and over on the MTS Dance Arena, Honey Dijon’s 2:30am set is timed absolutely perfectly to catch the peak of the intensity. The DJ has been a huge presence for decades, bringing forward the traditions of Chicago house music to a new generation. Tonight, moments of giddy euphoria are sprinkled throughout the set, as Dijon swings from classic disco stylings to hyperpop with ease. The EXIT crowd rises to her challenge and maintains its energy level for the duration, as much in excitement to discover which direction she is heading in next as anything else. Dijon more than cuts the mustard for the punters here: she plays until the first sign of sunrise and beyond.