SZIGET Festival 2013, Budapest
- 21st Installment : Island of Freedom -
Wow, where to begin… I have been to many festivals all over the world but I have never been to one, where setting the scene is as important… because in Hungary, ‘Sziget’ means ‘Island’ and the scene is an island… an island in the middle of the Danube River, between Buda and Pest…
‘You cross the bridge, enter the venue and leave all your bad energy behind. You need a week together. Anything is possible, nothing is compulsary’ says Fruzsina Szep, the Programme Director about the spirit of Sziget, the 3rd biggest festival in the world.
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In very far away little New Zealand, not too many know much or anything about this festival, so let me fill you in a little. Following the end of the Communist era in 1989, the formerly lively summer festival scene in Budapest faced a crisis due to a sudden loss of governmental funding. A group of artists and rock enthusiasts proposed the Sziget event as a way to bridge this gap. It all started as a relatively low-profile student event in 1993 and has since become one of the prominent European festivals for music & culture, and is now being increasingly labeled as a European alternative to the Burning Man festival because of its unique features.
A it happened I was already in Europe this August, so getting to Budapest worked out quite reasonable, only costing around NZ$150 return in flights. The ticket itself was €229 or NZ$392, including a 7-day camping pass, which was an absolute bargain, considering you get a full six days worth of bands, djs, headliners and entertainment.
There were 54 programmed venues with over 1,000 performers – that alone is just insane and deserves its own review!
The line-up must be the most diverse one out there, crossing over into any sound and corner of the glob you can possibly imagine. Some of the headliners on the main stage this year were Mika, Franz Ferdinand, Blur, Dizzee Rascal & Skunk Anansie from the UK, Die Ärzte (GER), David Guetta (F) and my personal highlights : extra energetic & politically outspoken Ska-P from Spain and all-time favourite German reggae & dancehall heros Seeed.
Aside from the main stage and the docents of smaller zones, there were also two main dance areas (which are called A38 and Dance Arena). Both are MASSIVE tents, the Dance Arena being the biggest tent in Europe with 5,000sqm, and stay open till 6am, featuring their own set of headliners and sub-headliners which start AFTER the main stage headliners so you don’t miss them! I watched Bad Religion, Dub FX, Nero, Bat for Lashes, Feed Me, Noisia, Chase & Status, Deichkind, Timbuktu and our very own Iva Lamkum in there. And it was HOT, damn, it was hot. With 42°C outside in the shade, the heat inside the tents were just ridiculous but hey, it’s a festival and you gutta get amongst it.
Other Kiwis acts that performed at Sziget 2013 were Moana and the Tribe who were also doing daily workshops, Haka & Maori tattooing and take a guess, our world music export Batucada Sound Machine.
But Sziget is not as much about the big acts as it is about the magic created all over the festival. There was 30km of special tree lighting alone, a travelling circus area, a massive water puppet theatre from Vietnam, public art displays, salsa classes, Moroccan tea rooms, African coffee making ceremony, giant play parks for the kids (and the large fat drunk Germans who could not resist them, no offence) and now have their own beach as well with Fool Moon night and day parties.
In the centre of the festival site is what they call the city centre. Here, you can go to the post office, buy groceries at a small supermarket, visit a local bank, leave your luggage, visit a pharmacist, get your photos developed, have your laundry done or – and here it comes - get married! (not joking there was a marriage tent and plenty of intoxicated people making the biggest mistake of their lives).
The campsite...well there isn’t a campsite - you can camp anywhere. I saw people camp in the woods just a two minute walk from the main stage and was told it was great waking up surrounded by trees rather than crammed into a field like sardines like most festivals. I, however, stayed in a beautiful and quiet hotel 10 min away by taxi away from the festival site – again, it’s all your choice.
Overall, Sziget was just awesome. I don’t know what I expected, probably just too many people cramped together on a small space, chaos, big lines, poor organization and too many drunks like I was used to from big festivals. Hungary is a small and a very rich country but the festival is run by people that care, that do it for the love of it and it shows. The atmosphere was amazingly peaceful, 400,000 people partying on a small island for 6 days and EVERYONE was in such a good mood ALL the time. No fences, no rules, I hardly even noticed police or security guards around; it just worked.
Visitors from 69 different countries were there as I learned at the press conference, with more than half of the ‘island’s population’ being from outside of Hungary, and with performers from 52 countries and 2,000 journalists from over 20 countries, truly making this festival the biggest world affair of them all.
WHAT YOU SZI IS WHAT YOU GET & I FOR SURE WILL BE BACK
Review by JAZZ
Managing Director BASE FM, NZ
A&R Crazy Planet Records, GER