Summer of Love

July 5th 2017 was a big day. Not only was it my sister’s birthday (HBD Lou Lou) and one of my bezzie’s birthday Boxing Day (HBD Karen) (I didn’t forget either), it was my second time ever at a festival, my second time ever camping (I kid you not), and my second chance to FINALLY see The Killers play live, after eleven long years of waiting*.

A long bus ride from Budapest (on which I will say no (FCKN) more) brought me to Novi Sad where I met my LA babe Sophie (romance first blossomed in Kraków) for the renowned Serbian Exit Festival – this year themed the Summer of Love (absolutely no attempt to incorporate this ‘theme’ into the festival whatsoever) – held in the magical (and supremely dusty) Petrodian Fortress. We made our way in the sweltering heat (with our backpacks, without any injuries) to the campsite, which, in comparison to the torture that was the queue to get into Reading Festival 2009, was a bloody breeze. (I’ll skip over the minor hiccups of Sophie’s ticket not arriving in time, her back-up ticket not including The Killers’ set and her driving license not being deemed an acceptable form of ID required to allow her entry. Minor hiccups.) We approached the tent rental desk with trepidation; neither of us had the foggiest on how to put up a tent, let alone in the mid-thirty degree heat. So when we were taken personally to our pre-rigged tent, sleeping mats and bags (and we didn’t even order (or pay for) bags!) within, all ready and waiting for us in a freaking great spot on the grass and in the shade… we knew this was going to be a good week.

The first night of the festival – Day 0 – was headlined by The Killers (I reckon the band were unable to play any of the dates of the actual festival, so the organisers just bunged another day on at the start to accommodate them). We were both super excited and set off to the fortress with plenty of time to get aqauinted with the layout, have a bite to eat and secure a great spot for the set. (Which was bloody lucky as we arrived at the fortress after a ONE HOUR walk from the campsite.) On entering the complex we soon realised that the police security meant business. If you thought airport frisking was thorough then let me introduce you to a whole new level of public body search. (Let’s just say if you’d had anything non-surgically inserted to enhance what yo mamma gave yo, you would have been flat chested in the space of ten seconds.) Gateway groping complete, we were free to explore the venue (and rearrange our lovely lady lumps). Dinner down, beer in hand, it was time for The Killers. We got an almost incredible spot just one row back from the security fence behind the superfan pit (we are fans but let’s not get carried away), behind two of THE MOST ANNOYING GIRLS WE HAD EVER ENCOUNTERED. (Well, initially we were third row, but after a sneaky have-the-rest-of-my-warm-beer-if-we-can-swap-spots deal with some tall Serbian teenagers, we achieved second row status.) The first (of the annoying girls, not Serbian boys) liked to jump (I have no problem with jumping) while holding onto the railing for support (still a-ok), with each takeoff catapulting her arse back into the crowd behind her (giving me the right hump). The second just got very emotional, and proceeded to sob through the majority of the set (and tried to use this hysteria to get some more (probably just as annoying) friends to join the front row (which we were having none of)). But despite the non-stop arse and tears, the concert was bloody brilliant, culminating perfectly in their most famous smash hit. My fourteen-year-old self was finally able to open up her eeeager eyesss to Mr Brightside.

Daytime at the festival was very chilled, and a step up on the hygiene front from my (very limited) prior experience – thank the lord. The toilets were individual portaloos as opposed to the large open trough cesspit (akin to that iconic Slumdog Millionaire scene) of Reading ’09; showers were easily accessible (as opposed to my rather sticky bank holiday weekend in Berkshire); and I avoided the pleasure of being offered someone’s rhythm stick surreptitiously disguised in an empty popcorn box held cunningly at hip height (that did happen and I did nearly reach in for some popcorn…). The music didn’t start until the evening, so our days were spent fluctuating between chilling in the shade at the campsite and chilling in the sun at the beach, all the while sipping on delicious smoothies and grazing on pasta. (Someone’s gotta do it.) And there was no need to worry about getting sick of eachother (obviously this would never have been a problem for Soph) because we met a great bunch of equally crazy festival goers. The first and in many ways most memorable was an Arg from towie lookalike, with the accent, tight shorts and hair styling rucksack (and love of eating) to make you double take, wondering if you were indeed in the vicinity of Brentwood royalty. Unfortunately not. But this guy was bloody hilarious anyway. He had a serious(ly unrequited) crush on Sophie (bless him) and farcical stories involving illegal substances, kinder eggs and a certain orifice (one story not three), the visualisation of which will stay with me as a lingering lasting memory of my time at Exit. (Sorry if FTMI (far too much info for your delicate eyes) – my ears had no choice in hearing it either.)

Now back to the music. The line up of über cool DJs which I had never heard of was interspersed with some not-all-that-fitting British (Jake Bugg, Years & Years, Rag & Bone Man) and American (Jason Derulo (shockingly bad performance bulldozed our exceedingly high expectations (we didn’t even stay for Ridin’ Solo))) artists, with Hardwell’s closing party being the friggin’ best thing ever, which really came as a shock to me! I started the week hating the guy. His face was just so annoying. Good looking (don’t get me wrong) but annoying. And then he played the best set ever – along with fireworks IN TIME WITH THE MUSIC – and I realised he was simply very, very good looking. It was a pleasure to watch.

After pretty much every single night of me being the first one to bail on the music and escape to my tent (we all know I’m a boring bitch who needs a lot of sleep), our aim for the last night was to party until sunrise, for which I am very happy (and a little surprised) to confirm: we totally did. After falling in love with Hardwell, we got our groove on at the reggae tent ’til it was light, and posed in front of a pink elephant and blue santa (why the hell not?) to capture the beautiful moment. After a couple of hours of recovery tent time, Exit Festival was over and out.

*Rewind to fourteen-year-old Rachel, year 9 at high school, having just been invited by now-Berlin-based Kirsten (scroll down to relive the breakfasts) to join her at The Killers gig in Birmingham. Wahoo! Get home. Tell mum. [Insert older sister getting in mum’s ear.] Suddenly I’m not allowed to go to the ‘heavy metal’ ‘mosh pit’ concert aimed at grown men with face tattoos and metal spikes on their shoes and shoulders (ok maybe I’ve embellished a little). I was told over a barbecue in the garden – such a nice setting for such horrible news. So after over a decade of passive aggressive renditions of Hot Fuss classics in the shower, on July 5th 2017 I was finally able to give (to Serbia) my – slightly withered by now – Brandon Flower. The climactic Mr Brightside hit all the right spots.

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