Live Review: Sziget Festival [Óbuda Island, Hungary] 7-12 August, 2012

So. Sziget. You’re twenty. happy birthday, and such. It’s good to see you again. This is some great weather you’re having. TUESDAY Starting off here on the picturesque Óbuda Island, […]

So. Sziget. You’re twenty. happy birthday, and such. It’s good to see you again. This is some great weather you’re having.

TUESDAY

Starting off here on the picturesque Óbuda Island, on Tuesday’s (August 7) metal day, we are thoroughly excited. Completely and utterly by storming sets from Dimmu Borgir and Lacuna Coil. Both bands are, of course, at the forefront of their genre, and while Dimmu champion a much heavier black metal style (with songs like ‘Puritania’ and ‘Progenies…’), Lacuna Coil’s strong delivery means that (with hard-hitting and strong rock tracks the likes of ‘Spellbound’) they are equally as intense and powerful in terms of visual and aural impact. Nice work showing the horns, Sziget. It’s great to see fans of heavy music out in force, as previously the festival has been known to champion indie, rock and electronic music particularly.

WEDNESDAY

On the Wednesday (August 8), after some absolutely stellar drumming from the wonderful Gocoo troupe (they are officially the Tokyo Tribal Groove Orchestra – cool, huh?), we watch Glasvegas on the main stage. Their sound is altogether different – good ‘ol Brit-rock from right out of the addictive Biffy Clyro playbook. Intense, progressive riffage matches up with furious drumming all around lyrics centred upon love and relationships. Top marks, and a highlight must be awarded to the track ‘Go Square Go!’ which really gets the early afternoon crowd moving. Nice one, boys.

Next up, we have German rockers The Beatsteaks powerin’ up the main stage with their fiery crossbreed of punk and reggae. Of course, these are ingredients that the crowd thoroughly enjoy. As well as promoting the best in their own material, it’s clear that they’ve got loads of taste as it is, with their cover of ‘New England’ by Billy Bragg. Again, this is top stuff from a band that prove to (absolutely) be the liveliest of the day! They have an incredible energy about them, and their songs, including the defiant and rousing ‘Let Me In’ are the perfect accompaniment to Sziget’s progression. With a touching tribute to MCA of The Beastie Boys in the form of a ‘Sabotage’ cover, it is also clear that The Beatsteaks are one of Germany’s greatest festival-ready exports.

Watching Hurts is interesting, they’ve got this whole dark and brooding sound going on. Sort of like Depeche Mode, but more pop-orientated. It’s much “sunnier” and upbeat, and this certainly works a treat for the Sziget crowd who are lapping up the soft vocals and skyrocketing electronic beats. Songs like ‘Wonderful Life’ are emotive and heartfelt; they serve to make the set, and set the mood perfectly for Placebo’s upcoming showcase.

Before that though, we nip over to see our boy Al and Ministry rip up the A-38 stage. This location is a good one for tonight’s shenanigans; it’s set like an old aircraft hangar – it’s meant for hard as f*ck heavy metal, really. From “classics” like ‘No-W’ to newer material like ’99 Percenters’, it’s clear to us just how much influence Ministry carry over bands like Korn (who we will see later this week) in terms of the heavy hooks that they seamlessly craft and the raucous, unbridled energy that is portrayed. Their lyrics have always pushed hard and fast against modern political movements, and tonight Budapest is treated (with the aid of visuals from Ministry videos) to the best and boldest of Ministry’s material. Also, just on a side note, we’re pretty sure Al Jourgensen cannot die. Can anyone confirm this for us?

Next, we race back to the main stage in order to catch Placebo who are armed with new material in the form of ‘B3’ alongside the now “classic” body of work that they’ve perfected. Their energy is infectious, and it’s good to see them headlining such a credible festival bill (they’ve done it before, here too). Tonight at Sziget, it is very easy to see just how Placebo have been able to graduate from snotty androgynous punks to an internationally recognised and celebrated rock legends. This is signified in the set as well; the band leave out tracks like ‘Nancy Boy’ in favour of the (arguably) more mature (and polished) ‘Infra-Red’ to close things off. Again, it’s just obvious that this band have grown up and developed, and in our opinion that’s no bad thing. Props.

THURSDAY

Waking up bright and early with the sun shining brightly and the mood high (aww, you know how we like to rub it in, right?), on this Thursday (9) we head over to the main stage to watch The Roots, but erm…they’re not on it? We are informed (thankfully) that they’ve been moved over to A-38 later in the day and that they have now swapped with mighty punks Anti-Flag because well, The Roots are just a bit late. Of course, we see Anti-Flag regardless, and we’re treated to some quality material in the form of ‘Turncoat And Die For Your Government’ and ‘The Press Corpse’. This stuff is strong and upbeat, and the cross-continental masses certainly respond well to this powerful and altogether uplifting, energetic material.

Heading over to the A-38 to see the aforementioned Roots, we have in all honesty (not even as part of the massive orgies with have in the Soundspheremag office) never been a part of something so darned hot, in ever. It’s packed. So packed. Unbelievably packed. It’s easy to see why this band needed to be on the main stage for their set originally. The Roots are pure and simply one of the best live bands you will ever see in your life (though, we advise you see them outdoors), and their set is without doubt the highlight of our weekend. The strength of tracks like ‘The Fire’ and ‘You Got Me’ mixed in with excellent short bursts of The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ and Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ respectively, is astounding, and we’re proud to have seen this band live.

It’s back to the main stage now for Maximo Park’s excellent mix of humour and good ol’ fashioned indie rock. It doesn’t really get much more fun than being a fan of British music and watching these lads mid-afternoon in the baking sun. ‘The Kids Are Sick Again’ is a definite standout for the band who are without question one of the best live acts that we have coming out of the UK. The Hungarian language barrier means nothing to vocalist Paul Smith who is having a great time performing new tracks (‘The National Health’ is just tops!) as well as the established ones (who doesn’t love ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’?) to an adoring audience.

Before heading over to watch alternative music’s ultimate crossbreeders Korn, and after darting to the dance-orientated Arena venue to watch Crystal Fighters smash out some bangin’ tunes on a multitude of instruments (‘At Home’ is fantastic to hear live, and in living colour, almost perfect for this sweaty-yet-feel-good festival environment), we decide to check out some sexy, sleazy electronic rock music from France in the form of Shaka Ponk. We would though, wouldn’t we? It’s all good as well. Like a more accessible and funny KMFDM. There’s one dude, and one girl fronting the band and the formula is pretty simple. The dude (Frah) jumps around (and into) the crowd while the girl, Samaha Sam (eventually) starts taking her clothes off as part of one great big musical riot. We know that most of our readers can dig a band like this. They’re definitely a live act though, and their recorded material just doesn’t do them justice. ‘My Name Is Stain’ is heavily “rocked up” for tonight, while ‘Let’s Bang’ is pretty much the ultimate sex-tinged party track, and it wouldn’t be out of place on a Mindless Self Indulgence record. Delightfully tacky (but frankly, brilliant) rock music. FYI, ‘I’m Picky’ is just awesome as well. Great stuff.

It’s pretty easy to work out what you’re going to get with Korn really, isn’t it? Well actually, nowadays it’s not. They’ve got this whole dubstep-rock thing going on. It’s no great stretch to say that Korn are probably the most diverse collective in modern metal music today. ‘Chaos Lives In Everything’ is a definite standout from the band’s epic headliner tonight. J-Dizzle (ahem, Jonathan Davis) breaks out the bagpipes and all is well for the “ultimate” tracks like ‘Got The Life’ and ‘Somebody Someone’. Here, at Sziget 2012, Korn live up to their rep as one of the best live acts in heavy music, silence any critics of their new (more electronic) direction and are incredibly humble while doing it. This is the best headline set of the weekend, and the band leave it all on the stage. Properly epic.

FRIDAY

On Friday (10) we decide to start by keeping things chilled with Wild Beasts over on (our favourite) A-38 stage, and despite the early afternoon time (and the small-yet-dedicated crowd), we do feel like we are watching something special. While the Kendal-based band will not be interesting to the hardened rock or electronic fan, their summery indie sounds succeed in filling the room, and we are suitably impressed by their eagerness, and Hayden Thorpe’s astounding range on ‘All The King’s Men’, specifically. Even if it doesn’t sound like your type of thing, give this act a chance, and they could really surprise you.

Talking of surprises, we get a very nice one next with Sportfreunde Stiller over on’t main stage. If you haven’t heard of them, then you should probably give ’em a good Google-ing (because we say so…go on). They’ve got this wonderfully upbeat and powerful alt-rock vibe and their songs are just anthemic. In our eyes, this band could be just as big as Rammstein if given the right exposure abroad. Saying that, they’ve already featured as part of the MTV Unplugged series and been included on some prominent video games (see FIFA and Rock Band). This act come fully prepped with a mini-orchestra of violins and roar through excellent tunes the likes of ‘Ein Kompliment’ without ever having to remove the smiles. Part (German) REM, part (German) Idlewild whatever. This band will rock your socks.

Next up, we try to enjoy a little bit of The xx. They are of course and excellent band that rely strongly on mood and atmosphere to succeed within the live arena. ‘Angels’ is decadent and ‘Islands’ is pretty gosh darn perfect as well. Here, as the sun slowly removes itself and sinks behind the main stage, we feel as perfect as any writers can when reviewing music. The time and the place is just right for The xx tonight in Hungary, and despite their softer and more intimate soundscapes, and heart-wrenching subject matter, the understated band still thoroughly deserve to be placed so highly on this bill. We finish up feeling relaxed and strangely inspired before witnessing some Madchester legends.

And…here we go. This is the big one of our weekend. When we say the big one, it’s because we are a publication based in the North of England. We don’t completely focus on Manchester, but we cover it. The Stone Roses are an iconic band. They’ve got some amazing tunes, and we are extremely excited to see them played out live. The fact that vocalist Ian Brown sounds pretty “out of it” (yes, more than usual) doesn’t really matter. Because it’s The Stone Roses, and Britpop is back for the evening! As you might expect, highlights come in the form of ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ which are flawlessly delivered by a band (not counting Brown in this, guys) on form. The fact that Ian can’t seem to remember what the name of his band is (he keeps shouting: “Stone Roses one more!” and confusing all) is irrelevant. It’s the freakin’ Stone Roses, and you need to see ’em before you croak (we say that a lot…we’re not wishing anything on you…honest). Strangely enough this set marks the first time (at least to our knowledge) a girl takes her shirt off and it gets shows on-screen over on the main stage. Weird timing, don’t you think? Ian Brown is obviously a sex symbol, and most of TSR have still got it. The action’s not over yet though. Oh no, no, no. We head over to the wonderful A-38 Stage to capture the buzz that currently surrounds those young’uns the Rizzle Kicks. We are pleasantly greeted by the band rockin’ a (fairly) fresh ska-tinged UK grime-infected hip-hop sound. ‘Down With The Trumpets’ and ‘Mama Do The Hump’ are heavy hitting and great to hear in this rammed-out space. This youthful unit deserve the hype and they are obviously going to develop their sound even further and make it translate globally. Nifty.

SATURDAY

Like any (fairly) decent press outlet should do, we start the Saturday (11) of our epic Sziget journey with a press conference (yay!). And it was interesting. No, really! We found out that this year (Sziget’s 20th anniversary…) visitors from over 60 countries joined the event, entertained by performers from 43 countries. Just for your info, the best represented country amongst visitors is (unsurprisingly) Hungary, while The Netherlands is by far the biggest foreign market of the festival. Also well represented are France, UK, Italy and Germany, with France and Italy having special national campsites in the island. The ratio between Hungarians and foreigners is also this year at around 50-50 per cent. Nice! Another decent fact to chew on is that on August 10, the 6 millionth Sziget visitors (actually there were two of them arriving at the same time) entered the gates – and won life-long Sziget tickets as a reward. That’s just lovely isn’t it?

Anyhow, dear readers, it’s time to get back to the music! Woohoo! Yeah! We head over to the main stage to check out The Horrors! Now, this might sound a tad controversial (just a tad…) but we prefer old-school Horrors (‘Strange House’ – 2007) – the crazy rock and pyschobilly stuff, you know? Yes, we understand the appeal of ‘Skying’ and the accessible beauty of tracks like ‘Still Life’, but there’s no real substance there in our view, at least – nothing alternative, and we want to know what prompted that decision. We know! We know! Awards have literally been flying off the shelves at the lads since the 2011 release, but we’re just not convinced here, live in Budapest. To us, they are just like any other bland British indie act in terms of their impact (on us at least). Next, we do have a chance to quickly check out Leftfield over in the dance Arena, and ‘Open Up’ sounds freakin’ anthemic. It’s great to see such an influential and pure electronic act being able to translate so well within the live arena, particularly with the use of some live drums alongside the more stereotypical electronic knob-jigging.

Sum 41 are up next, and being honest, we are very pleasantly surprised by this lot. We’ve seen them before over in the UK doing the rock festival circuit, but the reaction they get here far surpasses anything we have seen before. They probably could headline. The usual suspects (and teenage hits) are brought in, and ‘Fat Lip’, ‘Still Waiting’, ‘In Too Deep’ and ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’ all receive riotous applause and adoration. You know what? It’s good to see, and thoroughly deserved. This band have always worked their balls off, and it’s nice to watch a European crowd really appreciating a band simply for the quality of the song-writing (and…of course, a massive riff-driven chorus helps as well…) – that does happen a lot here, actually; bands, no matter where they are on the bill, are made to feel like they are headlining arenas, because people here do seem to appreciate live music that little bit more (than the UK, at least), simply because they get less of it. Anyway, Sum 41 to headline 2013, anyone?

Next up, we’ve got our boy (he’s not really though) Snoop Dogg (is it actually lion now, we can’t tell?), and we are underwhelmed. Despite having (potentially) the biggest crowd of the weekend and seemingly managing to persuade everyone of those people to roll a “fake” joint with him, Snoop’s headlining set (littered with a few big tunes like ‘The Next Episode’, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and ‘Sweat’) leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the best bit about the entire set is the “I wanna rock right now” sample taken from Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Rock That Body’. Okay. Alright! There’s a bit more to it. There are dancing girls. Fit ones doing provocative poses. That’s all well and good, but there’s no real spectacle to the live show, just Snoop’s “crew” giving it loads shouting up between raps. The guy’s got skills, there’s no doubt, but the real impact for the D.O-double-G will always come from his studio output. See you later Snoop. Sorry. But err, if you teach a few of our team how to get girls….we’ll change the review and make it awesome. ‘kay? Cool.

On a brighter note, we do manage to catch most of a set from UK’s finest in The Pogues over on the OTP Bank Stage. It doesn’t really matter that throughout the entire set (including the slurred [yet-still-brilliant]) ‘Fairytale Of New York’ Shane Macgowan is wasted. It’s a little sad, really. But the band behind him works well together and manage to collectively laugh it off every time the vocalist disappears off stage (to find a drink) leaving the other members to handle song duties. Honestly, it’s probably one of the more entertaining parts of our festival, and despite Macgowan’s epic booze-fest The Pogues certainly remain a band that you need to see before you (or Shane…) die.

SUNDAY

Oh man, it’s the last day. It’s the Sunday (12), and it is very scary how fast this week has gone for us. We start off though, on a brilliantly positive note with The Subways. Here’s another band (much like with Sum 41) that early in the day could headline this entire thing. It is like 3pm in the afternoon and this crowd is just proper up for it and stretching back a fair way. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Queen’, ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and ‘We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time’ are brilliantly delivered, as this band without question, get one of the best receptions of this entire fest (probably because of Billy Lunn’s excellent grasp of Hungarian language, Josh Morgan’s effort on the drums, and Charlotte Cooper’s fantastic personal rock-outs. The Subways peddle totally excellent stuff that creates a feel-good mood, and another fine example of great British talent going worldwide while at the same time recalling the best of old-school alternative rock. If you get a second at home, go and see them! One of the best performances of our weekend, for sure.

As part of our (too brief) international artist exploration for this weekend, Mando Diao fit in quite well. From Sweden, they’ve got a cool Hives-meets-King Of Leon style. Their material fuses jazz and blues extremely well. ‘Dance With Somebody’ is a prominent garage rock track with some epic pop hooks. Meanwhile, ‘If I Don’t Live Today’ is dedicated to the civilians in Syria who are currently experiencing very difficult times. MD are a really great live band; made for the festival environment. Their material veers from frenzied, to sombre and emotive quickly, and this is a great testament to their diversity and showmanship. If you’ve not heard them yet, they’re definitely worth your time.

Next up, we get to party rockin’ with LMFAO. It’s a fun set, and they’ve got sexy live dancers and a good routine. Pretty much everything Snoop Dogg had at his disposal yesterday, but ten times better. Like seriously. For real. ‘Party Rock Anthem’ and ‘Champagne Showers’ are the ultimate inspiration to get wrecked and party as much as possible, and Sziget is a slave to beat. Right from the techno-rock intro of err…’Rock The Beat II’ to the frenzied a ridiculous ‘Shots’, LMFAO’s brotherly duo show boundless energy and (potentially) more than any other act this weekend. Just fun. Go and see them if you want a fun night. Period. Oh, and way better than Snoop.

In what may prove to be a damaging choice (depending on your opinion of The Killers, of course), we choose to review The Ting Tings instead of the aforementioned on our last night here in Hungary, and honestly, we are very glad that we did. The band have managed to arrive here (just) with everything intact (kit-wise), and they sound awesome. Aside from all the usual suspects (‘That’s Not My Name’ and ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’), the new material sounds huge. ‘Hang It Up’ fires off like a proper modern electro-rock anthem that gets everyone (and there’s a substantial amount of people here with us, because it’s just started raining, and because the band are ace…obviously) while ‘One By One’ explores a much more melodic side to the band for the set’s fine standout. Ahh, we love it here. Lots of great music all the time! Did we mention the weather as well?

Sziget’s cultural diversity is immense, and there is so much to choose from if you go with approximately 60 venues to choose from specialising in different styles of music and the arts. We highlighted some of the best stuff in last year‘s review, and this year we are going to pull focus and mention the great staff and people of Sziget’s festival. From the Ability Tent (focusing on activities in sports and leisure for people with disabilities, to the Ambient Tent and chill-out area (which gives people at the festival a quiet place to relax after a hard day’s walkin’). The positive energy at this European fest far surpasses anything we’ve done before, and you know, we do a lot of festivals. Everyone’s friendly, and everyone’s got time to help (also, most everyone speaks English, so that’s pretty useful to any UK fans as well…). There’s loads of great quirks about Sziget too. Yeah sure, there’s the standard festival food stalls, but there’s also a tonne of healthy options in fruit and European dish stalls, and we personally love relaxing and the aforementioned Ambient Tent with a huge cup of Chai tea! Gotta love that stuff! Also, the Sziget Eye has been introduced this year offering festival goers the chance to view the whole island (it’s pretty massive, to be fair) from one spot; sounds cliched for a festival, but it’s definitely worth a go for those who might not get a chance to see everything.

What’s also interesting are some of the activities; from giant rocking horses (see an example above) to structures in the shape of a wolf (see above), there’s something to interest everyone at Sziget. What we found most interesting however, was the Luminarium (pictured above and, before the break and after the lovely intro complimenting Hungary’s weather this week). This beautiful piece of art was built by Brit architect of air Alan Parkinson (who currently works out of both France and Nottingham), and it’s a network of colourful bubbles, tunnels and rooms. Pretty fantastic to look at, really. Interestingly, the walls were hand-made of special, light-permeable plastic specially produced for this purpose, and the pressure of air keeps them standing. The walls of the Luminarium are thinner than 0.5 mm, so they are very sensitive, and you have to be careful when walking on ’em, but if it makes a return next year, you definitely need to check it out. Oh! Oh! And we are always (you can tell reading our last review) that we are great advocates of the Tarot Labyrinth, which is really exciting! You go in and get your life story sussed out by a group of “fortune tellers” and basically go on a journey through this weird and wonderful maze and find your way out to the tower (usually, via a meeting with the devil). The figures that meet you (each representing different guides) ask questions designed to help you in your travels and self-realisation. It’s very interactive and great for those that fancy killing time in an innovative way; and the guides speak in broken English, so for our readers that’s very useful isn’t it? Yeah! Check out a couple of photos below.

We think that’s a fine place to end it. Sziget Festival (which runs over the course of ten days – we skipped two, and the Monday [13] is a “recovery” day where everyone leaves the island – it started on the 5th – we know, we’re lightweights!) is a fine place to be at the end of your summer. To be fair, we wish we could’ve spent most of ours there – it takes that long to get around it all! It’s a holiday and a festival rolled into one, and you’ll be spoiled for choice wherever you go. The organisers change it up every year, meaning that while popular stages can sometimes move location and even disappear, the people behind this mega-thing (it’s reached full capacity of 70,000 before now on one day, in the past) do actually listen to fans and pay attention to what they want. Heck, there’s no bigger testimonial than having Glastonbury’s organiser Michael Eavis stand up (during that delightful press conference we mentioned earlier) and say that Sziget “deserves” its Best Major European Festival title (which it won at the Festival Europe Awards last year over his own brand. Yeah, he was there this year and seemed to have a nice tan (because of that nice weather we’re having over here), which ya’know, will be a nice change for him (it rains a lot at Glastonbury!). It doesn’t really get much better than that (in terms of praise), does it?

Goodbye Sziget, for another year, see you, and your awesome weather again, very soon.

For more information visit the official Sziget UK website.

All photos by Anastasia Smith on behalf of Soundsphere magazine

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