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Exit Festival boss reflects on landmark year

CEO Dušan Kovačević reveals what's next for Serbia's best-known festival after it welcomed its first homegrown headliner

By James Hanley on 04 Aug 2022

Dušan Kovačević, founder and CEO, Exit Festival

Dušan Kovačević


Exit festival founder and CEO Dušan Kovačević has looked back on another landmark year for the event and opened up on his plans for the future in a new interview with IQ.

Last year’s 20th anniversary Exit was billed as the first major festival in Europe to take place since the pandemic. And for its 2022 edition, held from 7-11 July, the Serbian institution again made history by welcoming its first homegrown headliner – Belgrade-born singer-songwriter Konstrakta.

“This was a significant moment,” Kovačević tells IQ. “Konstrakta is an absolute phenomenon, using an artistic approach to connect with new generations on various trending lists, overtaking trappers and artists in other popular genres. This makes her highly unique, and we wanted to honour that.

“We are proud not only because she is a local performer but also because she is a female artist. She caused complete enthusiasm and hysteria in the region, Europe, and beyond.”

“Last year was incredibly significant for the festival’s history because we showed that we would not live in a world without public gatherings”

Fans from more than 100 countries attended the 17th century Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad to witness headliners including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Calvin Harris, alongside acts such as Iggy Azalea, Afrojack, Sepultura, Jax Jones, Disciples and Joel Corry.

“The event went great; as expected, the fortress was packed every night with around 50,000 people daily,” says Kovačević.

“Last year was incredibly significant for the festival’s history because we showed that we would not live in a world without public gatherings. We organised a safe event and became the first major festival to take place since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I thought that it would take a long time to surpass that incredible catharsis and explosion of positive energy when tens of thousands of us finally got together again after two years. However, this year something magical happened, and the festival’s energy surpassed even that of the previous year.”

“This year has brought a series of economic challenges, which is another blow we’ve had to suffer after everything we’ve been through in recent years”

Kovačević singles out the closing night’s festivities in the Dance Arena, which was extended for an hour beyond its allotted time, as “pure magic”.

“People didn’t want to leave when the [last act] left the stage, as the energy was still at a maximum,” he says. “I asked Human Rias, who was with us on stage and also opened the Dance Arena [on the first night], to keep the party going. So the closing of the Dance Arena lasted an hour longer this year.”

While highlighting the biggest hurdles as “increasing costs and all the uncertainties that accompany the current global crisis”, Kovačević sounds an upbeat note on the recovery of the European festival market in general.

“Due to the current crisis in Ukraine and general inflation, this year has brought a series of economic challenges, which is another blow we’ve had to suffer after everything we’ve been through in recent years,” he reflects. “But the pandemic also had its positive side, showing that going to festivals is not only a form of entertainment but also a way of life without which new generations cannot imagine growing up.

“Young people build their identities through festivals and gatherings. Considering the influence of social media, which should be connecting us, but is doing the opposite, festivals truly connect us and have become one of the most important forms of live experiences and socialisation.”

“We will continue to pay special attention to mental health projects”

He continues: “I found inspiration in this year’s mental health messages displayed all over the Petrovaradin fortress and on the screens at the biggest stages. I want our organisation to give this topic even more room next year. We have proven once again that when we are together and united, we can do anything, and nothing can stop our positive intentions.”

Indeed, Kovačević’s thoughts have already raced ahead to 2023, when Exit is slated to return from 6-9 July.

“As every year, we are planning numerous improvements for next year, so we can definitely expect more novelties in areas such as the production level of the Exit Festival, which has been raised to a new level this year with the highest-quality sound systems and over 40 stages and zones,” he says.

“The mental health initiative has been a big part of the festival for years and I can say that we will continue to pay special attention to mental health projects. The promotion of World and Consciousness Music through all musical genres will be a big part of our future and many other things which I am not able to speak of yet.”

Founded as a student movement in the fight for democracy and freedom in Serbia and the region, Exit was first held in 2000 on several stages set up in the University Park in Novi Sad. Moving to the Petrovaradin Fortress the following year, it has gone on to host the likes of Massive Attack, Cypress Hill, The White Stripes, Carl Cox, Wu-Tang Clan, Sex Pistols, Arctic Monkeys, Placebo, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, Arcade Fire, M. I. A, Jamiroquai, Guns N’ Roses, Duran Duran, Faithless, Motörhead, Jason Derulo, David Guetta, Migos and The Cure.

 


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