As featured in A Rough Guide to the Dark Side
The "Love-In" On Big War Island
By Daniel Simpson
Once upon a time, I resigned from the New York Times to run a music festival, convinced it could kindle a Balkan Summer of Love.
This idea was sparked by attending two events: the 2001 Kumbh Mela in India, where millions of pilgrims converged on a sandbank where two rivers meet, and EXIT 2002 in northern Serbia, where bright-eyed youths raved from dusk until dawn for nine days straight.
I went to EXIT as a journalist. By the time I wrote up my report, I'd decided to copy my interviewees, who claimed to be "an unavoidable part of the transition mechanism" in their dysfunctional country. As my memoir recalls:
"Whatever else EXIT achieved, it helped me evolve, providing me with a personalized ‘transition mechanism’. Once accredited, I decamped to the press hotel, and embarked on a weeklong stint of immersion reporting, sozzling myself insensate every evening, and dancing like an amphetamine-powered windmill."
At EXIT, I met a disaffected Serb, who'd booked most of the artists on the programme. Since I was also disillusioned with my job, we got on well. High on traditional Balkan delusions of grandeur, we agreed we could stage a much bigger and better performance in Belgrade, on an island where the Danube meets the Sava.
Shamelessly borrowing photos and footage of EXIT, we hustled for money to fund our "copy-paste" event. ECHO's promotional hype made extravagant claims:
“We’re building a vibrant entertainment industry that cuts across Balkan borders; something dynamic to get excited about when many are frustrated with the slow pace of change. And we’re creating jobs in the industries of the future, reversing brain drain. Everyone will profit from long-term investment here.”
Our short-term investment in megalomania backfired. Without big sponsors to pick up the bills, we relied on loans from shady businessmen. This didn't end well.
The event went ahead, but the takings vanished, most likely stolen by our security, perhaps in collusion with my partners; maybe even as payback for stealing from EXIT (which was backed by the government, which was propped up by the mafia...)
All I really know is that ECHO was a one-off. Or at least I thought it was - until 2012. In the latest karmic twist, an event called ECHO launched that year, a decade after my EXIT inspiration. As billed on Twitter, it's "an intimate underground electronic music festival on the beautiful Adriatic coast of Croatia," where thousands of party-going tourists flock each year.
There are dozens of Balkan festivals these days. The "scene" we envisaged came about. I just didn't get rich, which was probably good for me. But I did get a few happy memories of Belgrade. See below for some highlights, or read this account of the headline show by Sonic Youth.
Click on the pictures to read selected articles.