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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 July 2006, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
The fortress versus the festival
By Neil Arun
BBC News, Novi Sad

The walls of the fortress
The fortress walls have been decorated for the festival
Two Serb jet fighters swivel in mid-flight over the ancient fortress, playfully pursuing each other along a bend in the Danube river.

"Our history has, at times, prevented us from seeing clearly into the future," says Vladimir "Vlidi" Jeric, perched on the ramparts of Novi Sad's Petrovaradin fortress.

The softly-spoken guitarist and sampler from legendary Belgrade band Darkwood Dub is in town to play at the annual Exit music festival.

Formed in 1988 - "more than a lifetime ago", according to Vlidi - the band's career has spanned the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

Festival-goers on their experiences at Exit

- Having played at Exit for five out of the last six years, Vlidi believes the 17th century fortress is an ideal location for a festival.

"I do understand the importance of preserving our heritage," he says, when asked if he believes the annual event endangers the historic building.

But, he says, the festival uniting youth from the region's formerly warring republics is as central to Serbia's future as the fortress is to its past.

"With a history as we have and in the position we are in now, I would give way to... progress and if absolutely necessary, I would be ready to sacrifice a bit of heritage."

During the 1990s, Darkwood Dub's blend of arty rock and electro provided a soundtrack to the domestic resistance to Serbia's wartime leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

Medieval ambience

Among the fans to have enjoyed the band's past appearances at Exit is Ivana Jovanovic, curator of the Petrovaradin fortress museum.

Over the last two millennia, the site she manages has been used as bulwark against invading barbarians, Mongols and Turks.

Now, Ivana says, the fortress is once again under siege.

She fears the volume of music at the festival - and the ever-increasing volume of people it attracts - could eventually harm the ancient structure.

She says the first signs of damage could appear in the building "maybe not this year - but at some point in the future".

Third century BC - Site on hill by Danube used by Celts
First century AD - Romans build fort against barbarians
800 - Medieval Hungarian kings take over site
1241 - Cistercian monks build fort after Mongol invasion
1526 - Fort falls to Ottoman invaders
1691 - Austrian army defeats Ottomans, occupies site
1692 - 1780 - Modern fort constructed by Austrians
1999 - Nato bombs Novi Sad's bridges, fort not damaged
Source: Museum of Novi Sad

But Ivana also acknowledges the point made by Vlidi - the fortress is a uniquely appealing venue for a festival.

The thick walls, built to offer a secure home to soldiers and their arsenal, now provide excellent sound-proofing, enabling loud music to be played at several stages simultaneously and in close proximity to each other.

And, she says, she knows of no other party on such a scale that enjoys the "medieval ambience" of Exit.

Despite boasting a range of exhibits spanning the history of the site, Ivana says the museum has struggled to attract festival-goers.

"The price of our ticket was roughly that of a beer. Maybe people at the festival decided they would rather have a beer than see the museum."

She describes how people from Novi Sad are often those most surprised to learn of the museum's existence.

"Most of the additional visitors we received during the festival last year were foreign," she says.

After the revolt

Rather like the Petrovaradin fortress, Darkwood Dub appears to have more fans abroad than at home.

Vlidi says he believes his band has a stronger following in former Yugoslav republics such as Croatia than in Serbia - a phenomenon he attributes to the illegal copying of their music.

Reggae stage is at site of Cistercian monastery
VIP area is former Austrian army officers' mess
Fusion stage is former Austrian army parade ground
Museum is at site of former military arsenal
Source: Museum of Novi Sad

"People know our lyrics when we play in Zagreb," he says, "thanks to what most people are wrongly entitling 'piracy'".

He says illegal copies of the band's music have boosted their fan base and given them "priceless" publicity.

"I believe less and less in official distribution channels," he says.

"The copyright rules of the 18th century printing press cannot be applied to the digital age."

Having witnessed the success of the revolution it supported against Milosevic, who was deposed in 2000, Darkwood Dub is now looking to digital technology to help it face new challenges.

"During the 1990s, we had the burden of being dissidents," says Vlidi.

Now, he says, the dissident's place has been taken by the "small players in liberal capitalism".

And, he says, it was in many ways easier fighting a repressive government - "an enemy with a face and a name" - than it is to fight the market.

"When Milosevic fell, people thought we can finally sit back and relax. They didn't see that this was only the first step in a longer struggle."

See video of the Exit music festival

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