A week spent on the Island of Freedom and the city of Budapest itself lent itself to some of the most memorable moments of my lifetime to date. Not simply because of the myriad of acts present, but more due to the amalgamation of the city’s culture, the festivals atmosphere, and the salubrious weather.
Other European festivals I’ve had the liberty to frequent seemed to emanate an aura of relaxed cuteness. Sziget was anything but lackadaisical, yet still was welcoming in its charm. Food stalls from around the world populated the seemingly endless landmass. Water sprinklers could be found almost anywhere, listlessly dousing the enduring festivalgoer that needed a break from the 37-degree weather. Enormous wooden eggs provided shade-enclosed cushions to anyone daring enough to explore and find them. A reverse bungee entertained anyone who had the stamina to endure it. A Ferris wheel akin to the London eye loomed over the entirety of the island and its veritable smorgasbord of activities. Stages varied from the enormous main stage, through the alternative A38 sponsored stage, all the way to smaller venues such as reggae tents and Irish music tents. What was most astonishing was the alacrity with which different festivalgoers would fully occupy these various stages and tents, showing off the massive support Sziget has amassed.
The first two days of Sziget lacked any headlining acts per se but it was not bereft of activity. Early birds already milled the grounds and the festival would have bustled if that had been its full capacity. That was not the case, and the population of the island of freedom seemed to double by the weeks end. The first two days saw lesser-known acts flaunt their talent at alternative and international stages. One such standout act was the rambunctious punk act out of Serbia, Repetitor. I’ll admit, I’d seen them before and I do express a sense of national pride because of them, but they absolutely brought everything they had to offer that night. Instead of burning out early, these were the two days we decided to spend our nights out in the seventh district of Budapest and its infamous ruin pubs (with Szimpla conveniently situated 20 seconds from our hostel), something we recommend everyone does.
Day three saw the first arrival of headlining acts, with Everything Everything, Dubioza Kolektiv, Skunk Anansie, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Everything Everything surprised me with the sedulousness with which they managed to replicate the sound cultivated on their albums, much to the delight of their many fans. Since this was a European festival (and I am unashamedly European) we ventured over to the world music stage for Dubioza Kolektiv, a Bosnian act that is known to meld various forms of genre. With the vigor and vitality they displayed, they had the entire audience jumping under the sprinklers (that tried oh so much to ‘cool’ us off at every stage). Skunk Anansie took to the main stage and, as if the 00’s never happened, descended into mid-90’s alternative rock histrionics (a dangerous move, had she not displayed immense confidence) that the crowd responded to extremely positively. Finally Nick Cave graced the stage. Although I was initially annoyed he only granted us one song in the photo pit, I soon realized why.
The second we left he ran across platforms that spanned the entire pit and essentially proceeded to conduct his entire gig from the railing that separated the stage and the audience, using the arms and hands of various a festivalgoer to maintain balance. The show was anything but prosaic.
The rest of the festival week sort of blurred together after the first day and I ceased to structure time around days and weeks, instead relying on minutes and hours, here is what those minutes and hours held in store for me. Biffy Clyro essentially made everyone sweat and palpitate (literally, they decided to gush flames out of the stage and rafters which proceeded to make us feel as if we were in a volcano), much to the pleasure of us all I suppose. !!! (Chk, Chk, Chk) were my second favourite act of the entire festival, with the front man owning the stage in a pair of boxer shorts while the band threw out disco-punk riffs that had the front man and the entire audience dancing along to. He gave some love to us photo people as well as he jumped into the pit and proceeded to wade through us while pointing at us enthusiastically, a real showman. An unfortunate (and mind-boggling) schedule clash had me choose Blur over Peter Bjorn & John and I still don’t know as to whether that was the right decision. Not because Blur played below par (they didn’t, they pleased the crowd with every conceivable hit they’ve ever made) but because I enjoy both acts to an equal extent. This is probably the only miniscule gripe I had with the entirety of the festivals’ organization, which was otherwise immaculate.
Then the weekend came about, which I acknowledged due to the fact that adults with real jobs started cropping up everywhere. The Fratellis and Editors billed the main stage but the real headliner (at least for us) was The Parov Stelar Band. This was the third time seeing them and I don’t think they have ever disappointed. Their charm, charisma, adroit instrumentation, and knowledge of rhythm had the entire audience smiling and moving uncontrollably. The last day saw performances by Franz Ferdinand and the band I have closely admired for the past 5 years, Tame Impala. Franz Ferdinand are arrant professionals at pleasing crowds at this point in their career and they gave the audience exactly what they wanted. Tame Impala were everything I had hoped for. Kevin Parker listlessly waved his hand as he approached the microphone and proceeded to take us on an hour long trip that consisted only partly of released material, the rest of our journey saw the band scurrying off on tangential riffs and solos, effectively blowing my mind in the process.
Sziget is a festival that has grown to become an enormous summer attraction throughout the entirety of Europe, and I do not see that changing any time soon.