Budapest, 7-11 August 2013
Imagine an island where anything goes. Not in a terrifying, Lord Of The Flies meets Lost way, but in a rock’n’roll, sunbathe-all-day and party-all night kind of way. Now fill the island with bands from over 50 different countries and 70,000 fans per day from a total of 69 countries and drop it into the picturesque surroundings of Budapest and you’ve just about sketched out a rough outline of Sziget.
It really is only a sketch, though, because the festival itself is full of so many eye-catching performers, bizarre art installations and surreal venues that it’s perfectly possible to find yourself wandering round in a blissful daze for two days before you even stumble across any music. If you did, you might have spotted Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds headlining the main stage on Wednesday evening. They played a set heavy on material from most recent album ‘Push The Sky Away’, but also featured heartbreaking piano balladry on ‘Love Letter’ and ‘Into My Arms’. A ferocious ‘Stagger Lee’ survived Cave missing a couple of verses while he got down and dirty with the front rows of the crowd.
On Thursday night, Dizzee Rascal bounced around in the blistering sunshine playing party tunes mainly drawn from his delayed new album ‘The Fifth’ before Biffy Clyro proudly displayed their festival-headliner credentials ahead of their poster-topping Reading and Leeds slots later this month.
On Friday, Mystery Jets played material from ‘Radlands’ and a singalong pop finale including ‘Young Love’, ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Flakes’. Frontman Blaine Harrison said backstage that he felt a hedonistic vibe at the festival, adding that Sziget feels like a “European Glastonbury” and that “there’s naughtiness going on here.”
They were followed by !!! who played an energetic set which peaked with either recent single ‘One Girl/One Boy’ or simply the hypnotic sight of frontman Nic Offer’s itsy bitsy Rolling Stones’ ‘Some Girls’ shorts. After that on the mainstage came bizarre tuxedod monstrosity Seeed, who hammed their way through German covers of contemporary pop hits to cringe-worthy effect. Headliners Blur redeemed the festival with an unforgettable debut set in Hungary. The Britpop heroes opened with a raucous ‘Girls And Boys’, slipped down a gear into the likes of ‘Out Of Time’ and ‘Under The Westway’ before accelerating back to an ecstatic finale with ‘Song 2’.
The festivals final day on Sunday saw something of an interband love-in: The Cribs got their crowd to cheer for Alex Kapranos, who was suffering after an allergic reaction to a peanut, and when the Franz Ferdinand frontman recovered he dedicated ‘Walk Away’ to The Cribs with the words: “This song’s for a band who are also playing today who are great friends of ours, the great Cribs.” Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker also got in on the love, saying: “I realised watching Franz Ferdinand that crowd surfing is awesome.”
After the sun went down those massed crowds went in search of dancing, but headliner David Guetta’s party was surprisingly lacklustre: Avicii & Aloe Blacc’s ‘Wake Me Up’ and his own ‘Play Hard’ might be chart-conquerors, but they lack the certain ‘Oomph’ required to close a festival. At least his fireworks show was pretty. The night was saved by Katy B, playing a fun, upbeat set after Guetta had disappeared which included a pair of Aaliyah covers: ‘Try Again’ and ‘More Than A Woman’. Sziget is a festival where you can find whatever you’re looking for – and somehow the organisers deliver on their promise of an ‘island of freedom’.
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Kevin EG Perry