My chest was wheezy and tight on my first morning in Belgrade, I had smoked about ten cigarettes too many the night before as MAD festival’s hospitality saw me get a little bit too caught up. The morning after, the sun poured through our large sash window, beating down on me, demanding that I arose. I leant out of the window, into a view that was significantly better than I’d anticipated – trying not to jump – something that, at the time, seemed like the easy way out of this hangover.
Mellow drama over I shook off the headache with; 2 litres of carbonated water, beef jerky and a few paracetamol. I rolled out of the city grounds, onto the river, home to the recent natural disasters that had swept the region and more specifically MAD in Belgrade’s smooth running. MAD, a festival run and operated by the same guys that brought you EXIT Festival, Serbia’s most notable festival export, was in it’s first year and seemed to have a really tough time of it. With the aforementioned disaster hitting the city (major flooding more specifically) MAD seemed significantly stretched as it attempted to maintain a level of confidence and positivity that comes hand in hand with running a festival like this.
I walked back down to the festival grounds, a space that I’d spent 8 hours enjoying the night before. A significantly large space for MAD’s first outing and surprisingly close to the city centre, I wound through fields of long grass and sporadically placed trees, after exiting the city’s main linking bridge. I’d dropped down off the bridge down a few hundred steps to the road running parallel to the city’s Sava river. The river’s banks had burst again and again over the past week and the water had unfortunately nullified any hope of MAD’s planned boat parties. Restaurant boats were left abandoned through the tough time, with the water raising so high that tables and chairs were often out of sight. Cutting through a gap in the fence, getting off the road, architecture reminiscent of a late 70’s soviet spy film led us up to the Festival grounds. Two large men, bald and seemingly characterless from a distance, clocked me as I approached with a large rucksack on my back and camera slung around my neck. Keeping my head down for the majority of the approach, not making eye contact throughout, I raised my [foolishly warm] wool baseball cap off my sweaty head, as bellows of “Welcome to MAD my friend, welcome to Belgrade my friend!” rung down the narrow approach. All my nerves were calmed instantly as all the Eastern European stereotypes I had stored in my head previously, were ridded.
It was no secret that the floods had affected numerous areas of the city and it was noticeable as things seemed to take a lot longer to get going within the Festival grounds. The stages were impressive none the less, boxing in the grounds nicely, as the Crazy Rabbit Stage hung it’s giant ears over it’s audience and the large MAD DOG Pyramid stage sat grand, as the festival’s centre piece. Tuborg green banners and signage flowed throughout the grassy field, with Summertime festival revellers taking in the warmth of the strong Serbian sun. The atmosphere was one I didn’t expect in the slightest, it was calm and relaxed and music festivals don’t really do calm and relaxed that often. Speaking to those running the event, they expressed that they felt it was important to make it clear that MAD wasn’t masking the current issue of the city’s flooding and that MAD were very concerned with the whole situation. Belgrade is a city that, when put in a tough position, really bands together. It’s had too, it’s been through the mill a few times. MAD embodied this coming together of people and more importantly, the coming together of a youth when times get tough and it was something special to witness. The festival offered free tickets for the Sunday’s music, if visitors to the site brought a large pack of nappies, supplies that could be sent to families in desperate need. I bumbled around the festival ducking in and out of various sets, enjoying the atmosphere of the entire event more than a specific artist or act.
Omar S was the name being uttered constantly on the approach, as the crowds flooded into the festival grounds, flocking to the MAD DOG stage at 4 o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Boiler Room x MAD cut into Omar’s set. The synonymous Boiler Room set up sat in amongst a plastic wrapped scaffolding structure as the space filled up to the brim, as messages of flood support were echoed down camera on a constant basis.
The Festival is definitely on the up and with such tough circumstances surrounding the inaugural event, I’m sure that MAD’s second outing will be one with a lot less tension and hardship surrounding it. It was something that was out of the festival’s hands and it didn’t hinder the vibes and overall sense of good times, at all. With a solid location and ability to bring in high profile acts, MAD has the opportunity to mimic the success of EXIT, perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, in bringing an accessible day festival to the city of Belgrade.