REVIEW festival Sziget Festival

Why A Spontaneous Trip To Hungary Was Our Best Decision Of 2015

We’ve all heard about Reading and Leeds. We’ve all heard about Creamfields. We’ve all heard about Glastonbury. However, one major festival that seems to magically elude many UK music fans is the incredible experience of Sziget Festival, located in the heart of Budapest, Hungary.

Arriving at the entrance to the festival is a pretty awesome experience. The first thing you see is the huge sign, informing you that you’ve arrived at ‘The Island Of Freedom’, and just like that, your incredible experience begins. Quite frankly, there is way too much to mention in this little review; the only way to truly understand Sziget is to go yourself.

The first standout feature of Sziget Festival is that the camping policy is unlike any other festival we’ve been to. Where most festivals have a designated campsite completely separate to the arena, with Sziget, once you cross the bridge, that’s it - there’s no-one telling you where you have to go, there are no restricted areas, and you can camp wherever you want – it truly is the Island of Freedom.

Let’s not forget about the music. More than 441,000 people from all over the world descended upon this huge island in the middle of the River Danube for 7 days (!) of music from huge headline acts Robbie Williams, Florence and the Machine, Alt-J, Ellie Goulding, Avicii, Kings of Leon and Martin Garrix, and so much more on top of that.

Think what you want about Robbie Williams – this Monday night headliner knows how to put on a show. Taking stage nearly 10 minutes early and kicking off with smash hits “Let Me Entertain You” and “Rock DJ”, he dazzled thousands with what may have been the highlight show of the entire week. Backed by his entire band, the set was supplemented by covers of “Wonderwall” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but as you’d expect, this is nothing compared to the glorious set closer “Angels”, which serves as the perfect way to start this week-long festival holiday!

Finnish ‘violent pop band’ Blind Channel, as well as Austrian metalcore outfit A Caustic Fate were among the many alternative bands to grace the Europe stage on the second day of the festival, while Hungary’s own Subscribe tore up the Petofi Radio stage with their Rage Against The Machine-esque antics, but no performance of the day comes even close to comparing with that of Florence and the Machine. Anyone who says Florence and co. don’t have what it takes to headline a major festival is quite simply wrong. From the opening note of “What The Water Gave Me”, the crowd at Sziget were filled with an air of glee and passion to an extent unlike anything we’ve seen before. Graceful and elegant, Flo can be seen skipping across every inch of the Sziget Main Stage, truly capturing every blissful moment.

In classic Florence fashion, “Rabbit Heart” is met with a sea of fans perched atop someone else’s shoulders, and if that wasn’t enough to be giddy about, the set stopped half way through to allow a bunch of lucky fans to swarm the stage and give Florence a hug. Set highlight was “What Kind Of Man”, the chillingly soulful lead single from the band’s chart-topping third album, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’. Massive tracks “You’ve Got The Love”, “Spectrum” and “Dog Days Are Over” followed, ending a fantastic set and leaving everyone wanting more. Once more for good measure: Those who think Florence and the Machine cannot headline a major festival are wrong.

Possibly my favourite aspect of Sziget Festival is that all the bands and artists performing get an unusually long set time (probably because the festival runs ‘till 6am every morning). Although a few seconds is all Gogol Bordello need to infect everyone with dance fever, the American gypsy-punks had a whopping 75 minute set opening the main stage at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon. Sprinklers located above the “dancefloor” were a welcome addition to prevent the ‘Szitizens’ from dancing themselves into an overheated oblivion, while the sheer size of the stage blocked out most of the sun, keeping everyone blister-free.

Enter Shikari have been blessed with the ideal place to showcase their new material to Hungary. The enormous A38 stage is located in a huge marquee (fit with central bar!) behind the main stage, and is easily on par with UK arenas in terms of capacity. Big, dark and warm, the A38 stage welcomed the impending chaos with open arms and an open heart. “Destabilise”, “Radiate” and “Sorry, You’re Not A Winner” opened the fast-paced and generally manic 11pm set. The welcome lull in intensity during the stripped back “Interlude” and “Dear Future Historians” shows a more mature side of the band, though we’re quickly brought back to earth when Rou starts howling like a demented creature from the corner of Hades during “There’s A Price On Your Head” and “Slipshod”, the latter being the clear highlight of the entire night.

Piknik Park, Hungary’s favourite Linkin Park impersonators, were one of the many cover acts to grace the Budapest Park Tribute Stage. Much to everyone’s surprise, the five-piece made a pretty heartened effort to cover one of the biggest modern rock bands of the world. The accent barrier was the only thing keeping Sinka Albert (aka Mike Shinoda) from giving a perfect performance, though Csányi Zoli on lead vocals is one of the few people who’d be able to give the real Chester Bennington a run for his money, performing near-perfect versions of fan-favourites “Papercut”, “Points of Authority” and “Somewhere I Belong” to a huge, receptive crowd.

Limp Bizkit strolled onto the main stage nearly 10 minutes ahead of schedule, proceeding to spend the majority of those 10 minutes teasing thousands with the opening to “Rollin’”. One of the biggest cases of pent-up energy ever witnessed, the crowd exploded into a sea of “hands in the air”. Fred Durst, complete with large beard, barely moves and looks really unwell, like he caught something at a previous show. This doesn’t do anything to slow the crowd down though, as people lose their minds to a set of ‘the hits’ from ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water’. While most would agree this setlist is a good choice, it’s hard to feel that Limp Bizkit are anything but a nostalgia band, considering we’ve been waiting years for the new album.

Looking past that however, there is no denying that Limp Bizkit put on a good show and get an excellent response every time. A massive cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name” keeps people pumped, whilst “Break Stuff” is basically the big red button that triggers the release of everyone’s excess energy. “Take A Look Around” closes this huge set, leaving everyone incredibly sweaty, though reinforcing the idea that Limp Bizkit are quickly becoming a band of reminiscence.

This festival’s atmosphere is absolutely incredible. Everyone is so positive and clearly delighted to be part of the Sziget experience. From Austria to New Zealand; from Canada to Russia, and from Ireland to central Africa, there isn’t a single part of the world not represented in some way form or fashion. Beautiful. A nice Austrian man we spoke to in the river on the second day even suggested one band who turned out to be one of the easy standouts of the entire week – Kraftklub. A five-piece from Chemnitz, Germany, who are considered a mixture of rap and indie/rock, they are so much fun that it doesn’t matter that you have no idea what they are singing about. We can just about work out what the song “Scheissindiedisko” is about as they get the whole crowd chanting along to the chorus. What makes this band is that they do not take themselves too seriously; they poke fun at themselves and get the whole crowd laughing between songs which is a pretty incredible feat on this huge stage.

The award for the best outfit of the week has to go to the lead singer of Marina and the Diamonds; only Marina can pull off a shiny purple cat suit, paired with neon pink shoes that are so bright you can see them from the moon, and still look so effortlessly cool. With a perfect mix of old and new material, Marina had the whole crowd dancing along to an upbeat set that was at times reminiscent of a night out in the 80s club. In stark contrast, she sang heartfelt renditions of “Happy” and “I Am Not a Robot” with just her keyboard, which really highlighted the gorgeous tomes she has in her vocals. However, the crowd seemed distracted as the set slowed down and could not wait for her to close it out with an energetic hit “How To Be A Heartbreaker” to get us all excited for the next act.

Paloma Faith may have changed her trademark red hair but her fiery attitude on stage is ever present. For such a tiny lady, it is amazing how much stage presence she can have as she strides up and down in her towering heels, climbing on top of the piano and belting out ballads such as “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” and “Picking Up The Pieces”. She is very popular with this crowd despite the fact she plays virtually all new songs which is a credit to her enchanting voice and her infectious little grin that shows she is clearly enjoying this performance. She finishes off the set with her biggest hit “Changing” getting the whole crowd in this hot tent jumping up and down despite the fact it was after midnight.

The thing about Sziget is that it caters for everyone. If you’re not in the mood for music, there are plenty of other things to do throughout the week. Aside from the fact that the country as a whole is outrageously cheap (£1 beers…), there’s a purpose-built ‘Chill Garden’ to relax during the day, there’s a circus/entertainment stage for all sorts of mysterious fun, and if that’s not enough, the river-borne location of the island festival means there’s even a beach to allow for swimming and sunbathing, which is ideal for when the tent inevitably becomes an active oven around noon.

Nottingham’s Luminarium and Fuerza Bruta – the Argentinian Giant Street Theatre exhibit – are just a few of the unique experiences suitable for the more curious minds out there, whilst those less inclined to ‘experience the arts’ can go jump off a 10 metre platform onto a massive bag, play some beach volleyball, or have a drink at the Sky Bar – literally a bench lifted 30m into the air via a crane.

It’s also the cleanest festival on our little list. Perhaps it’s that the UK is disgusting, but there is a complete absence of a littering culture here at Sziget. Bin bags are absolutely everywhere, and regular patrols from the dump trucks and ‘poo wagons’ serve to keep the festival clean throughout the 7 days.

Needless to say, I could go on and on. Simply put, my week on The Island of Freedom was my best holiday experience to date, and I quite frankly struggle to understand how such an incredible event can slip under the radar. With Sziget being twice as long as, yet cheaper than the major UK festivals, I have absolutely no trouble declaring that I will be attending every year for the foreseeable future.

Blaine Marshall & Nicole Fitzsimmons