In partnership with Sziget
With over 60 stages, the sheer Fitbit-busting size and scale of Budapest’s Sziget – a unique six-day festival which takes place on a beautiful island in the middle of the Danube river and attracts more visitors than Glastonbury – bedazzles you and feels like creative fantasia big on the “stumble upon” factor.
Everywhere you look, there are eye-popping installations by emerging artists (reflecting their “Island of Freedom” values of tolerance and promotion of different cultures, sustainability, and anti-war stance), break-dancers, and Living Statue championship-winners disguised as trees. Elsewhere, there are huge, puppet-style ravenous birds walking through the roads and pecking you, or a ‘Toi Toi’ party – an innocuous-looking Portaloo that leads, like a urine-themed The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to a secret rave. Hungarian hardcore bands and Estonian folk acts play on the Ibis X All Europe Stage, while Voguing Workshops hosted by Spanish drag divas are happening outside the festival’s LGBTQ+-focussed Magic Mirror tent, where panels grappling with weighty subjects such as the role of Pride in Ukraine give way to raucous sundown discos.
Although it prides itself on its blissfully friendly atmosphere (legend has it someone once turned in 1,600 euros at the lost property office – and diversity of programming as much as the main big-name acts playing, Day Four, Sunday – the midway point – proves no slouch in that department either.
At the FreeDome stage, Baby Queen – two days after announcing an October release date for her anticipated debut ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ – is firmly getting into Sziget’s famed partying spirit. Clad in an AC/DC T-shirt, the pop hero laughs: “Is anyone drunk?!, before gleefully raising her hand “I’m drunk!”, like she’s set to end up in the Samsung Party Arena at 2am going batshit to Diplo. Her vibrant set of Day-Glo pop with self-scouring lyrics begins with 2020 calling-card single ‘Internet Religion’, sees her sprint through the crowd high-fiving fans during ‘Dream Girl’ and eliciting swaying hands during the swoonsome Heartstopper anthem ‘Colours of You’.
Over on the main stage, meanwhile, Mercury Prize-winner Arlo Parks unfurls her candid portraits of trauma, mental wellbeing and mindfulness (the highlight being a transcendent ‘Black Dog’) with a palpable sense of cathartic joy. Swathed in blue lights, M83’s euphoric ‘Fantasy’ tour goes down a storm in the FreeDome tent, while a saxophone-assisted ‘Midnight City’ sounds as box-fresh as it did twelve years ago.
Over on the main stage, a fusillade of pyro accompanies headiners Mumford and Sons’ opening number ‘Babel’, as the millennial Wurzels turn Budapest into one big celebratory hoedown that peaks with ‘I Will Wait’. Back at the FreeDome tent, before Nothing But Thieves take to the stage a rabidly enthusiastic crowd are singing DJ Ötzi’s ‘Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)’ before them – warming up their larynx to bellow every word of the Essex band’s searing rock-pop appearance, which culminates in a blistering ‘’Amsterdam’.
As the festival market begins to look ever-more identikit, Sziget feels like a self-contained liberating world that’s retained its own idiosyncratic identity; an eclectic oasis with an international outlook where spectacular Guinian acrobats are performing alongside Israeli comedians and DJ parties are happening on boats. The festival also has a proud commitment to highlighting local Hungarian and Roma music and culture.
With a final day of a stacked bill topped by Billie Eilish still to come, for the hardcore Szitizens, the blowout is only just beginning.