The Mancunion

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Festival: Sziget

Music isn’t the only thing on the festival bill, art and culture also play a big part


11th – 18th August


It is hard to imagine a better location for Sziget than the island in the centre of the Danube, the river that splits Buda and Pest. In the heart of the city, it is easily accessed but the river acts as natural sound-proofing to avoid the late night noise issues that plague other city festivals.

Walking across the bridge to the “Island of Freedom” into a forest of trees with multicoloured trunks, strung with fairy lights and jewel coloured umbrellas was the perfect start to Sziget. Music isn’t the only thing on the festival bill, art and culture also play a big part of the experience and the island was decorated accordingly with clever, offbeat sculptures from watering cans pouring light (by means of fibre optic “water”) to a giant table with enormous chairs straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Festival highlights obviously included Darkside’s closing night show on the A38 stage. A heavy touring schedule this summer has built such a formidable live reputation that towards the end of forerunner La Roux’s set, a sizable crowd had already started to gather (which I’m sure had little to do with “Bulletproof”). Opening with “Freak Go Home” was a riskier choice than the more recognisable “Metatron” or “Paper Trails” but it was perfectly executed to drive the already excited crowd into a near frenzy. Harrington and Jaar expertly built excitement through the set to culminate in a prolonged version of “Golden Arrow”. While Darkside fuses rock and electronic elements, silence throughout the performance which blends each song into the next cements this as an electronic show.

Unfortunately Mount Kimbe’s show earlier on Sunday was disappointingly ruined by overzealous bass that drowned out musical definition, so the songs were indistinguishable. However this thankfully didn’t seem to affect the rest of the performances and the sound quality on the main stage was impressively clear.

Fridays highlight was Cee Lo Green’s brilliant performance on the Mainstage. Wearing what resembled a black floor length dress and diamond necklace, his phenomenal voice sailing over classics “Crazy” and “Fuck You”, he was at once sublime and ridiculous. The performance managed to exist in both the realm of the absurd and the extremely entertaining, a complete class act. The rest of Friday was a brilliant nostalgia trip with the Palma Violets on A38 playing the perfect afternoon set. “Best of Friends” was the standout number, with songs  from their album Invasion of the Tribbles sounding like a beautifully executed reimagining of music I used to listen to and music they used to listen to. The Klaxons were the logical next step down memory lane and a surprisingly good show.

Bombay Bicycle Club played a brilliantly judged Saturday afternoon set on the mainstage  with beautiful versions of “Luna” and “Always Like This”. This acted as a natural prelude to The Wild Beast’s stunning performance on A38.

The stars of the mainstage, though unexpected given the famously disappointing Coachella show of earlier this summer, were Outkast, who took the stage for the penultimate mainstage show. The hotbed of charisma and charm that is Andre 3000 worked the crowd perfectly for old favourites “Roses” and “So Fresh, So Clean”. The Speakerboxxx and Love Below dynamic mostly worked well, although occasionally felt like two acts sharing a stage. Live rap with a large crowd rarely works well and the audience lost interest with the early album material that closed the show but, on the whole, a great performance.

The first few days have a sparser line-up which provides a great opportunity to explore the Art Zone, the Hungarian museum or venture out into Budapest. Without the stress of frantically pitching a tent on the first day and inevitably missing half the people you went to see, the opening day of Sziget is a lot less chaotic than an English festival. This lack of chaos pervades the festival thanks to the organisational prowess of the team behind Sziget. Everything is executed with fluid precision, from the gate system to prevent crowding in tents, to the festival card to save faffing around with change or tokens. I even found myself in a state of shock when I didn’t have to queue for a bathroom, and then further shock when it wasn’t revolting.  In fact, the lack of mud, grottiness and disorganisation, combined with cheap drinks, food and friendly staff might even make Sziget the perfect festival.