Live Review: Sziget Festival 2013 [Óbuda Island, Budapest, Hungary] 5-12 August, 2013

It’s fair to say that Sziget Festival has had its fair share of challenges this year – a tough economic climate in Hungary, an army of keyboard warriors grumbling about […]

It’s fair to say that Sziget Festival has had its fair share of challenges this year – a tough economic climate in Hungary, an army of keyboard warriors grumbling about the perceived quality of the line-up, and even mother nature herself threatening to swallow Óbuda Island whole. It’s testament to the tenacity and vision of the festival’s organisers that the 21st edition of Sziget proved to be a magnificent and magical event – and we’re going to do our best to explain why.

Sziget Festival Banner

Monday, August 5th

We arrive at the festival site on Monday night, chasing the sunset but ultimately crossing the bridge to Óbuda Island after dark. We stumble around looking for a spot to camp and end up on the edge of an area so bedecked in fairy lights that it has the otherworldly feel of a magical forest. Once we’re set up, it’s time to try and take in the enormity of the place. On the main stage, a night of music in tribute to Cipő (the late singer of Hungarian rock band Republic) is taking place – though we don’t understand the language, the vast crowd indicates that this performer meant something to a lot of people. It’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into the decoration of the place too – on our travels, we spy a light-up dragon made entirely out of plastic bottles, and a scale model of the Eiffel Tower constructed entirely from recycled aluminium cans. Ultimately, however, we decide to embrace the Sziget spirit by making some new friends and partying until the sun starts to come over the horizon.

Sziget Festival Night

Tuesday, August 6th

Tuesday starts out with hopes of taking a trip into Budapest itself to see the sights, but the baking heat and the fact that we’ve had very little sleep takes its toll on the team. Some of us go to get re-invigorated at the sports park, while others simply crash out in the shade. We end up regrouping at the new Sziget Beach area, which is the perfect place to relax, have a bit of a dance, or take a quick dip in the waters of the Danube. There’s also some very impressive sand-sculpting going on, once again demonstrating that art and visual appeal is a big part of the festival. Speaking of which, the impressive Luminarium returns to Sziget this year, and it’s definitely worth taking the time out to see its mesmerising array of colours and patterns (but be warned, it gets pretty hot in there during the daytime!).

Sziget Festival Luminarium

Tuesday night’s entertainment has been curated by Hungarian alt-rock stalwarts Quimby, and we catch a little of their set on the main stage. They prove particularly difficult to pin down – playing prog-rock influenced numbers, brassy carnival-rock, and something sung with such anger it surely must have been some sort of protest song. But there’s also a chorus of ‘Stand By Me’, and another song sung half in English that kinda breaks the spell a little – and then all of a sudden things start sounding a bit AC/DC. Though the band are undeniably entertaining, it’s also fair to say that there’s definitely something lost in translation, and we leave the stage intrigued and confused in equal measure.

Wednesday, August 7th

Wednesday is the day the festival gets into full swing and all the international artists come out to play. We say “international”, but the majority of bands we end up watching today are actually from the UK. You can take the Brit out of Britain…

Along those lines, we start the day off with a blistering set from Welsh three-piece The Joy Formidable, who whip the crowd into a frenzy thanks to the guitar heroics of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan. Some particularly primal drumming from Matthew James Thomas sees him forced to leave the stage prematurely, and we can’t blame him – it’s exhausting enough simply watching bands in this heat, never mind being in one. Fortunately, he recovers and is able to comes back and play the final song of the set, a colossal rendition of ‘Whirring’, which cements the band’s Hungarian festival debut as a complete success.

On the other hand, Skunk Anansie are no strangers to Sziget Festival and waste no time getting the crowd going, with vocalist Skin leaping around in a glittery jumpsuit with massive shoulder pads. Opener ‘The Skank Heads’ is angry and energetic in equal measure, and Skin starts crowdsurfing during the band’s third song – it’s a confident showing from the recently-returned UK rockers.

Another British band making their debut at Sziget are Everything Everything, who take to the A38 stage in the mid-afternoon heat – wisely, they’ve at least partially ditched their traditional jumpsuits. At their best, the Manchester four-piece are blessed with a capacity for moments of utter genius, and we’re treated to some of those throughout their set. ‘MY KZ, YR BF’ gets the crowd going early on, but ‘Cough Cough’ has undoubtedly usurped it as the band’s most danceable track if the reaction of the Sziget crowd is anything to go by. Perhaps the best moment is one of the calmest, with the beautiful simplicity of ‘Tin (The Manhole)’ bringing the audience to an awestruck standstill. The band are clearly awed themselves, but they don’t let that stop them making ‘Don’t Try’ feel like an utterly triumphant finale to their set.

Over at the Party Arena, Chase & Status have taken to the stage, and judging by the teeming hoards of people pouring into the tent, the UK Drum ‘n’ Bass titans are a big draw. Even outside the venue the volume is near-deafening, and inside the atmosphere is utterly sweltering. Marshalled along by a boisterous MC, the crowd move as one – clearly they’re loving it, but let’s just say it’s not really doing anything for your humble corespondent.

Fortunately, the beauty of Sziget Festival is that there’s always something else happening around the corner, and so we set off across the island in search of alternative entertainment. On our way between stages we catch a little bit of German punk legends Die Ärzte, who’ve managed to get the entire crowd waving their shirts around their heads, so fair play to them. We need something a little bit more cultured to clear our minds though – so why not watch a performance from the Hungarian State Opera? Yes, Sziget seemingly caters for every taste – I don’t understand a word, but it’s nevertheless strangely cleansing. Later in the show the performance will take on some more recognisable numbers from famous operas such as Carmen, which proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience – we’re sure our parents would be proud.

The main event for the night is Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, and anyone who caught their set at Glastonbury (even on the TV) would know that this wasn’t something to be missed. ‘We No Who U R’ opens their performance with a moment of sinister calm, but it’s not long before Nick Cave is prowling amongst the front row. ‘Jubilee Street’ takes on a new life in the live arena, its sweeping grandeur slowly worked into a frenzy by the Bad Seeds as Nick Cave screams “LOOK AT ME NOW!” into the faces of stunned audience members – and really, you’d be a fool to avert your gaze, for Cave is a more captivating performer than most men half his age. The deranged majesty continues with tense, brilliant performances of ‘From Her To Eternity’, ‘The Weeping Song’ and ‘Tupelo’, but there are also different sides to Cave’s character – the campy theatrics of ‘Deanna’, the wounded pride of ‘Mermaids’, and the surprisingly tender ‘Into My Arms’.

Sziget Festival Nick Cave

Photo Credit: Sziget/Mohai Balázs fotói

The set comes to a crescendo with the one-two punch of ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Stagger Lee’, both of which are perfect examples of Nick Cave’s ability to be a gripping raconteur, as well as the Bad Seeds’ capability in providing a suitably dramatic backdrop for his dark tales. ‘Stagger Lee’ in particular sees Cave balancing precariously on the barrier that runs down the middle of the main stage, howling at the enraptured fans on either side. Then, the calm after the storm comes with ‘Push The Sky Away’ – hushed, defiant, and a magical moment for those in the crowd willing to stop and listen to Cave’s words. It would have made a fitting finale, but we won’t say no to an encore – particularly when the track in question is ‘We Real Cool’, whose mesmerising bass thrum and quiet desperation make it a standout track on the band’s latest album. Truly, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have shown the depth and breadth of their capabilities tonight, and there can be no doubt that they rank amongst the finest rock bands in the world.

We’d have been happy to leave it there, but as the entertainment continues into the night throughout the island it’d be rude to go to bed right now – so we opt to return to the A38 stage to watch Bat For Lashes. It’s clear that she’s long-since transcended the label of quirky singer-songwriter, with her performance tonight littered with emotional and affecting moments. The best among these include the soaring theatrics of ‘Glass’, the mystical drama of ‘Horse And I’, and show-stopping ballad ‘Laura’, before a grateful Natasha Khan ends her set with one last ace from the pack – the perfectly realised alt-pop of ‘Daniel’.

We then move on to the Colosseum, an open-air venue constructed entirely out of wooden pallets where the party seemingly never stops, constantly soundtracked by pulsating dance music. We’re intrigued to catch Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs though (the name alone has us interested), so it’s back into the A38 tent we go. Though the girls in costumes that have little dinosaur tails are a cute and amusing touch, it’s Orlando Higginbottom’s propulsive yet melancholy electronica that’s the main draw, and it keeps us moving late into the night.

Thursday, August 8th

We finally manage to make a brief trip into Budapest on Thursday, though it largely consists of wandering around the city centre pointing our camera at anything that catches our eye. Budapest, we’ll have to come back and give you a proper visit some day. Back on the island, Regina Spektor is opening the main stage with her pleasant, cheery tunes – but though it’s all nice enough to listen to and ‘On The Radio’ gets an early airing, we find our attention waning in the heat.

We’ve had Belgian rock trio Triggerfinger recommended to us, so we decide to go back to the A38 stage and check them out. All decked out in suits and ties despite the extreme heat, it doesn’t take them long to comment on the temperature. “We’ve never played in a microwave before, but there’s a first time for everything!” comments frontman Ruben Block – later in the set he’ll go on to describe the festival as “a beautiful wasteland of dust, music, sweat, and erect nipples.” It is, in its own way, the most accurate description of Sziget we’ll hear all week. As for the band themselves, they keep us hooked with huge riffs and a relentless rhythm section. Special mention must go to drummer Mario Goossens – while his bandmates take a break to recuperate, he keeps us entertained with an epic drum solo.

Stepping the tempo up even further, Dizzee Rascal makes a triumphant return to the main stage after his last appearance two years ago. Together with a pair of fellow MCs, he riles the crowd up, even pitting the two halves of the audience against each other in a battle to see who can shout “F*** that side!” the loudest. While we can’t help but feel that some of Dizzee’s earliest material (‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, ‘Jus’ A Rascal’) might be a little bit lost in translation, the crowd respond to the slightest provocation regardless. Clearly though, they’re all here to go ‘Bonkers’ – Dizzee teases them by saving his biggest track until last, and the reaction is absolutely colossal. He also plays a new song featuring Will.I.Am – it’s called ‘Something Really Bad’, which seems like a fitting title for anything involving the seemingly-ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas goon…

At a loose end, we once again find ourselves roaming the island – if we’d have been desperate to get into the tent for Nero then we’d have been completely out of luck, as the Party Arena is bursting at the seams. Over on the main stage, meanwhile, Spanish group Ska-P are starting a ska-punk (the clue’s in the name) party on the main stage, with a grand cry of “Viva la fiesta! Viva la revolución! Viva la marijuana!” But how are they going to start a revolution if they’re stoned the whole time? They don’t seem to have any trouble keeping the good times going, at least.

A scheduling change means we have to skip watching French trip-hop act Wax Taylor, but we’re keen to see if Biffy Clyro have the chops to headline a European festival. The answer, on this evidence, is a resounding yes – they’re yet another UK band making their Hungarian debut at this year’s festival, but they play with such confidence that you wouldn’t know it. “I’m hungry for more Hungarian,” quips Simon Neil a couple of songs in, to the delight of the crowd. Though the band’s opening gambit of ‘Different People’, ‘That Golden Rule’ and ‘Who’s Got A Match?’ is a strong way to open the set, the euphoric chorus of ‘Biblical’ makes it feel like the first song that makes a perfect connection with the audience.

Sziget Festival Biffy Clyro

Photo Credit: Sziget/Csudai Sándor fotói

From there on in it’s pretty smooth sailing for the Scots trio – if there’s a number that falls a bit flat, it’s soon followed by one that picks the crowd right up again. ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ is as stirring and dramatic as ever, and we barely have time to wipe the tears from our eyes after ‘Many Of Horror’ before the band kick into ‘Modern Magic Formula’. There’s also a moment during ’57’ where Neil changes the lyrics and sings “your Budapest face,” which definitely brings a smile to our faces. A rousing version of ‘Mountains’ rounds out the set, and the band are clearly grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response of the crowd – “This evening feels like we’ve been at home, you guys are amazing.” If this is how they handle a debut performance thousands of miles from home, Biffy Clyro are in good stead to blow people away when they headline Reading & Leeds.

Next up, we stumble across a crazy street theatre production, featuring elaborate vehicles that are competing in some sort of race. The bizarre contraptions are driving around the area in front of the A38 Stage, surrounded by the festival crowds as a booming announcer eggs them on. They then make a bold attempt to get their machines to fly, but fail, one and all. The show ends on a happy note though, with the would-be pilots releasing balloons into the air to symbolise that even though they’re stuck on the ground, their spirits will still soar – it’s a fitting end to a strange but touching performance. We also manage to catch a bit of Bad Religion, and it strikes us that they basically laid down the solid American punk blueprint that Green Day proceeded to scribble all over in crayon. The setlist taped to the drummer’s monitor spans three sheets of A4 paper – great if you’re a die-hard fan, but this writer just isn’t punk enough to stick around for that many songs.

It’s after this that our night takes a turn for the bizarre, as we’re encouraged by a one of our new friends to check out Dutch DJ Kees Van Hondt. It’s difficult to describe what happens next as you really have to see it to believe it, but we’ll do our best to try. As we wait outside the A38 stage, we see hoards of people descend upon the tent – most of them are carrying branches plucked from the unfortunate flora of Óbuda Island, while others wave inflatable animals in the air. Some people even attempt to carry other objects into the tent, though mercifully the more dangerous among these are promptly removed by security – tents, chairs, benches, and even a barrel that looks like it was taken straight out of Donkey Kong. It’s at this point that two things become apparent – that there are a hell of a lot of Dutch people on the island, and they’re definitely not adverse to going completely crazy.

Sziget Kees Van Hondt Trees

Gathering our courage, we enter the tent, where the scene is one of joyful chaos – a veritable forest of branches being thrust into the air by the madly dancing crowd. At the front, brave or foolhardy souls go crowdsurfing on inflatable rafts, or balance precariously on sections of plastic flooring claimed from the tent itself. As for the music, it seems anything with an oom-pah beat goes, including (but not limited to): ‘Tell Me Ma’ by Sham Rock, the theme to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, lots of Dutch music I don’t recognise, ‘Devil’s Dance Floor’ by Flogging Molly, a remix of ‘Gangnam Style’, and a version of ‘The Final Countdown’ that has the iconic riff played on a kazoo. Apparently Kees draws the line at ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ though. It’s the kind of bizarre spectacle that raises more questions than answers – namely, how did this become a regular thing? And how was this madness orchestrated by a dour-looking Dutchman in a wizard’s hat? Perhaps we’d have enjoyed ourselves more if the whole situation didn’t seem so alien to our British sensibilities (or maybe we just needed to be drunk…) – we wish we’d have been able to fully embrace the chaotic spirit of the event, but as it stands we spent our time in a state somewhere between perplexity and mild terror.

After taking some time to recover, we plan to head back to the tent for the night, but a band on the Hungarian Music Stage catches our ear on the walk back. We realise that it would be pretty criminal not to check out at least one home-grown act during our time in Hungary, so we stay a while and listen. The band in question are Nemjuci, a female-fronted quartet who make breezy alt-rock that still packs enough of a punch to hold our attention. It’s the perfect tonic to the more bizarre things we’ve seen this evening, that’s for sure. And yet, we wouldn’t have it any other way – at what other festival would we see a headline-worthy Scottish rock, some outlandish street theatre, a bizarre Dutch DJ, and some home-grown Hungarian talent in the space of a few hours?

Friday, August 9th

Friday afternoon starts out with more festival debutants, as Mystery Jets take to the main stage. Playing songs spanning their previous three records (nothing from debut ‘Making Dens’, sadly), it seems like they’re having a tough time getting the Sziget crowd to engage with them. Indeed it’s odd for us to see songs that would be guaranteed festival smashes in the UK receive a somewhat patchy response – particularly the double-bill of ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’. But apparently all it takes is a little prompting – “Sziget, put your hands in the air!” shouts frontman Blaine Harrison during ‘Flakes’, and they happily oblige. The band also throw in a quick cover of Paul McCartney & Wings classic ‘Jet’ early on in the set, which is an amusing touch.

Next up, !!! get the party going with their punk-funk stylings, with frontman Nic Offer on typically extroverted form. “Me and Paul [Quattrone] are going to have a baby,” he shouts, with a beach ball stuffed up his shirt, “and we’re going to call it Sziget!” Not long after that he’s in and among the main stage crowd, much to their delight. A more restrained offering comes later on from Calexico, whose carefully considered blend of Americana and Mexican influences makes their grandiose music a pleasure to hear.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day comes from Little Boots, who recently returned with second album ‘Nocturnes’ and deserves some more recognition based on this performance. Her shimmering electro-pop anthems leave us feeling invigorated – the dark intensity of ‘Broken Record’ channels Crystal Castles (more Ethan Kath than Alice Glass), while ‘Satellite’ explodes into a glorious technicolour chorus. Victoria Hesketh and her band also do a pretty good job of reminding us that ‘Earthquake’ should absolutely been as big a hit as, say, ‘In For The Kill’, while ‘Stuck On Repeat’ and ‘Remedy’ also prove big highlights from her back catalogue.

Ultimately however, today is all about Britpop legends Blur, who are very much on a wordwide victory lap after their monumental performance at Hyde Park last summer. Incredibly, this is their first ever show in Hungary, and it’s clear from the off that the crowd is excited beyond belief to hear these songs. The band start out strong with a rowdy rendition of ‘Girls & Boys’ and proceed to cram as many hits as possible into their set. The cocky swagger of ‘There’s No Other Way’, the menacing chug of ‘Beetlebum’, the beautiful melancholy of ‘Out Of Time’, the world-weary charm of ‘Coffee & TV’ – the list goes on. Indeed, the only moment that could be described as even remotely self-indulgent on the band’s part is the back-to-back airing of ‘Trimm Trabb’ and ‘Caramel’ – but let’s not deny the fact that those are also brilliant songs in their own right. There’s not much in the way of stage chat – the biggest interaction comes when we’re asked to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ for a member of the band’s road crew – but Albarn certainly isn’t adverse to getting involved in the crowd on occasion.

Sziget Festival Blur

Photo Credit: Sziget/Szemerey Bence fotói

Many of the crowd are most likely here to see the band in full-on Britpop mode, and those fans will have no doubt been very pleased to hear ‘Country House’ followed immediately by ‘Parklife’ – both songs certainly spark a wild reaction. But for us, it’s the band’s more thoughtful moments that make them the most enduring act of the Britpop era. ‘Tender’, ‘This Is A Low’ and penultimate track ‘The Universal’ all prove to be very emotional – we suspect we weren’t the only ones getting a little teary-eyed. ‘Under The Westway’, meanwhile, looks to have cemented itself firmly into the band’s canon despite being a relatively new song, and it shows that Albarn still has a knack for an affecting lyric even after all these years. But if there’s one song that instantly unites the tens of thousands of people who were watching this performance, it’s ‘Song 2’ – cheekily saved until the very end, it sees the Sziget crowd release all its pent-up energy in one glorious burst. And with that, they’re gone – one can only hope that Hungary will get at least one more chance to see this finest of British bands before they call it a day for good.

Somewhat surprisingly, French artist Woodkid receives almost as rapturous a reception as Blur did during his set on the A38 stage. Accompanied by a seven-piece band, he creates stirring music that mixes folk sensibilities with cinematic grandeur, with Yoann Lemoine’s hushed vocals meeting thunderous drumming and dramatic brass flourishes. The trick does threaten to get a little old over the course of the hour-long set, but the fans don’t seem to mind – for us, at least, it’s refreshing to hear a track like ‘I Love You’ where the words rise above the bombast and add an extra layer of emotion to the song. It also provides Lemoine the perfect opportunity to play to the crowd. “I’ve got one thing to tell you,” he shouts – “I love you!” If it wasn’t clear enough from the very beginning of the set, then by the time that monumental standout ‘Iron’ rolls around it’s obvious that Sziget Festival very much loves Woodkid too.

Saturday, August 10th

Saturday opens with a Press Conference held by the festival’s organisers, and we learn a few interesting facts. Did you know, for example, that Sziget was originally envisioned as an alternative to the summer youth camps that disappeared when the socialist regime fell from power in Hungary? Or that the A38 tent has the biggest capacity of any in Europe, able to hold 10,000 people in its 5,000 square meter space? Or that fans have come to Sziget from a total of 69 countries, with performers hailing from 52 different countries this year? We also learn that there are a whopping 2,000 journalists present at Sziget this year, which shows the team’s dedication to spreading the word about their festival. It’s also worth pointing out that the venue for the conference was the island’s colourful Eastern-European Funfair – as far removed from a sterile conference room as you can imagine!

We’d love to join the organisers on their tour of the island, but it would be remiss of us if we didn’t catch Enter Shikari on the main stage. Their mix of heavy riffs, impassioned vocals and electronic breakdowns get the crowd worked up, with moshpits forming on either side of the stage. They could maybe do without trying to whack dubstep wobble-bass on everything though – ‘Mothership’ certainly doesn’t need it, for one thing (those 90s trance-style synths are what made this writer like the song in the first place). The band are certainly grateful for the strong early turnout, with Rou Reynolds commenting that “we appreciate that we don’t make the most middle-of-the-road, easy-listening music” before thanking the fans – well, that’s certainly an understatement. But he’s not adverse to having a little fun either, throwing in cheeky snatches of ‘Get This Party Started’ and ‘One Way Or Another’ into his lyrics as he bounds across the stage, and even clambering on top of a truck near the main stage at one point.

Sziget Festival Enter Shikari Truck

Photo Credit: Sziget/Sándor Csudai

Feeling like we should do something more culturally valid than watching The Fratellis, we take the organisers’ advice and go check out the brand new Cirque Du Sziget – and what a treat it turns out to be. Infusing classic circus acts with the sensibilities of modern theatre, the result is a performance that is breathtaking and dramatic, but also light-hearted and amusing at times. The aerial gymnastics steal the show though, with performers dangling from giant sheets of fabric, hanging from a trapeze, and suspending themselves in mid-air with incredible discipline and strength. It definitely proved worth taking some time out from our busy schedule of watching bands to catch this amazing performance, and we’d urge you to do the same if you find yourself at the festival next year.

Editors may have stepped up to the challenge of headlining Belgium’s Rock Werchter festival for the past two years, but it feels like they might have struggled to match that feat here at Sziget. It’s not that they lack the songs to do so – the likes of ‘Bones’, ‘Munich’, ‘Bullets’, and ‘The Racing Rats’ all pack a weighty punch – it’s just that the whole performance seems a little too businesslike to really connect with the crowd. It doesn’t help that some of the band’s newer songs don’t quite match the live impact of their earlier material – there’s a nagging feeling that we really just wish we were watching this band four or five years ago. They finish on a high though, as the monolithic, Depeche Mode-esque synths of ‘Papillon’ get the crowd jumping in force.

On our travels we encounter Mika casually throwing out two of his biggest hits (‘Relax, Take It Easy’ and ‘Grace Kelly’) in the early stages of his set like it’s nothing, but we’re not really planning on sticking around – we need something more direct and in-your-face, and Hadouken! fit the bill perfectly. Their rave-rock hybrid has come a long way since they dropped perfectly-formed, scenester-baiting anthem ‘That Boy That Girl’ in 2007 – it’s still part of their set to this day, of course, but they’ve clearly got their sights set on bigger things than pissing off Hoxton Heroes. We’re talking the kind of festival slots that you’d expect Pendulum or even The Prodigy to occupy, and if tonight’s performance is anything to go by then they’re going to get them. Massive hooks, thunderous bass and a rabble-rousing performance from frontman James Smith mean that by the time we’ve reached the sky-scraping finale of ‘Levitate’, it’s clear that Hadouken! are a band in their ascendency right now.

Leaving the A38 Stage proves to be a bit of a mistake on our part, as by the time we get back in the hope of seeing The Parov Stelar Band the place is jam-packed to capacity. When we finally manage to sneak in, we begin to understand why – Parov Stelar’s electro-swing is quite infectious, with his sound further bolstered by a live band. With the crowd being lead on by an impressively coiffured lady, we can’t help but get into the groove. We have more mixed fortunes in our further adventures into dance music – the evil-sounding synths and implacable techno beats of French electronica producer Gesaffelstein turn out to be right up our street, while the breakneck bass music of Dutch DJs Noisia proves a little too brutal for us to handle.

Sunday, August 11th

Somehow, the final day of the festival has come around already, so we make one last concerted effort to see the sights of Óbuda Island. First up is a ride on the Sziget Eye, a 65 metre high wheel that’s situated right in the middle of the island. After taking in the panoramic views and getting a full appreciation for the sheer scale of Sziget Festival, we come across Moana And The Tribe, an intriguing group of Maori musicians from New Zealand whose performance comes complete with traditional Maori dancers. We then make our way to the Logic Games Tent, where we proceed to befriend a couple from Israel and then beat them at Rummikub (more through luck than skill, we’ll admit). We also stop to take a look at the “Before I die…” wall, which after a whole week has all sorts of messages on it, from the touching to the downright hilarious – one that keeps us tickled for the rest of the day is “Before I die, I want to eat David Baguetta.” Sometimes it’s the little things…

Sziget Festival Before I Die Wall

We somehow manage to do all that without missing The Bots kick off the day’s music on the A38 Stage. This frighteningly youthful LA duo are basically akin to The White Stripes hopped up on Sunny D, and their set proves to be endearingly ramshackle. Guitarist and vocalist Mikaiah attempts to venture into the crowd at one point, but finds his trip somewhat curtailed by the length of his mic cable. He’s constantly grateful for the sheer fact that they have a crowd to play to – and to be fair to them, it’s a decently sized one too.

Next up on the same stage are Yorkshire’s very own The Cribs, and they also play up to the Budapest crowd. “This song’s about Wakefield, where we’re from. It’s not as good as Budapest,” states guitarist Ryan Jarman laconically before the band play ‘I’ve Tried Everything’. Though the first half of the set mainly focuses on the band’s most recent two albums, there’s an incredible five-song run in the second half that takes us on a perfect nostalgia trip through the band’s best moments. ‘Mirror Kissers’, ‘Another Number’, ‘Be Safe’, ‘Hey Scenesters!’ and ‘Men’s Needs’ fly by in rapid succession – there are no doubt many bands who’d kill to have written any one of those tracks, so to hear them all gives us an amazing rush. The set ends in a chaotic fashion with the band sprawled on the floor after playing ‘City of Bugs’, before Gary Jarman picks his twin brother up and carries him triumphantly off the stage.

The Jarmans mention from the stage that Alex Kapranos is “on his death bed” with a peanut allergy, leading us to worry that Tame Impala may not make their scheduled performance time. Thankfully it turns out to be an overstatement, as Kapranos doesn’t noticeably look any worse for wear as he and the rest of the band take to the main stage. There’s something a little flat about proceedings, however, and even the likes of ‘The Dark of the Matinée’ and ‘Do You Want To’ don’t quite come across as well as they should. We have a couple of errands to run so decide to leave and come back a little later – and in a stroke of luck, come back just in time to catch the band run through ‘Michael’, ‘This Fire’, and ‘Take Me Out’ in quick succession. Now that’s what we call ‘Right Action’, boys! The encore continues in the same vein, beginning with ‘Jacqueline’ and ending with a storming version of ‘Ulysses’. Hopefully the band’s new material will grow on us, but it was good to know that the band’s big hits can still have their deserved impact.

The closing hours of the festival really do offer a chance to embrace the variety on offer at Sziget. Not a fan of David Guetta? Don’t worry, Tame Impala are playing their trippy psychedelic rock in a tent not too far away. Or if that’s not up your street, there’s still time to visit the Luminarium or catch the Cirque Du Sziget (that’s what we end up doing, and it was definitely worth seeing again), and there are parties of all styles going on at venues all across the island. The point is, no-one’s forcing you to watch the big-name headliner, so don’t feel compelled to stand at the main stage and grumble about the lineup. Explore and embrace the possibilities, and you’ll definitely find that the festival has some way to keep you entertained – there’s a Reggae stage, a blues stage, and entire stages devoted to music from Italy, Hungary and The Netherlands, and more besides.

Sziget Festival Aerial

Photo Credit: Sziget/Péter Kálló

Speaking of entertainment, the party carries on after the last of the closing show’s fireworks have faded away into the night, and we don’t plan on going to bed early. At the A38 Stage, Katy B does a good job of upholding her status as the new queen of bass music, her mix of electronica and singer-songwriter sensibilities making her music both danceable and affecting. Afterwards in the Party Arena, German producer Boys Noize offers up a live set of relentless techno from atop a giant skull with glowing eyes – the music’s so mesmerising that we dance until we’ve got no energy left to do so.

Sziget has finally worn us out, so with goodbyes said to new-found friends we reluctantly contemplate our journey home. We’ve experienced so much here, and yet we also feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the myriad possibilities on the island. But nevertheless, we have seen Sziget Festival, and it’s an amazing place. We know we’ve said this for the past two years as well, but we’ll be back – and we can only encourage you to join us.

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Artist and aerial photography courtesy of Sziget Festival, as credited. Additional photography by Paul Faller.

Paul Faller

About Paul Faller

Writes words, sometimes.