A year ago, Kasabian were in the middle of their biggest summer yet, incorporating a Glastonbury headline slot, a huge hometown show in Leicester and enough novelty T-shirts to fill Camden market. The group’s ascension to headliner status was in support of an album – ’48:13′ – that confirmed their consistency, longevity and commitment to pushing things forward. The mood, especially of that Glastonbury show, was strikingly serious, the work of a band with something to prove attempting to stick a flag in their own little bit of music history.
But now, the finish line on the album campaign is in sight – just a V Festival headline set stands in the way of a few months with their feet up. And here, at the brilliant Sziget Festival, the band seem buoyed by an overwhelming end-of-term feeling, playing it loose, cracking jokes and letting their freak flag fly.
Frontman Tom Meighan spends much of the show with bug-eye shades on, sticking his tongue out like Miley Cyrus’ long-lost brother. Introducing ‘Fire’, he shouts: “All you fuckers hang onto your fucking arseholes, this one is called ‘Fire’,” and – arseholes secured – the crowd go suitably nuts. Serge Pizzorno – wearing a T-shirt reading “stripe” – isn’t going to play the straight man either, visibly relishing the now well-practised segue from ‘Re-Wired’ into a funky-as-hell cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’, which he spits out with admirable gusto. “It’s Friday and I’ve got that Friday feeling,” he announces after. “I’m gonna get a few cocktails, go out into the woods and drive around in a Mini Metro.”
Kasabian aren’t headlining – that honour goes to Avicii – but you’d never think it. The setlist is crammed with hits, opening with a bombastic ‘Shoot The Runner’, a psyched-up ‘Underdog’ and an epic ‘Days Are Forgotten’. From the manic strut of ‘Eez-Eh’ to the glam stomp of ‘Empire’, the pace never lets up. Towards the end, descending into chaos, ‘Vlad The Impaler’ sees Tom and Serge chanting, in unison, “rock’n’roll will never die”, like a mantra. As they do so, a crowdsurfer riding a scooter – an actual motor scooter – hurtles towards the stage. “Holy shit,” says Serge, pointing at him. “This song is for you, brother. Fuck it, this whole set is for you.”
As they walk down the catwalk, you’re left with the feeling you might have just witnessed a band at their absolute peak. V should be special indeed.
If there’s a sense that Avicii can’t possibly follow a show like that, nobody told the audience, which doubles in size for the Swedish producer’s set, a riot of gut-troubling bass and psychedelic visuals. It seems like it’s impossible for anyone to get a bad crowd here; the live music programme concludes with Dropkick Murphys plying their Celtic Green Day schtick to an arena-sized crowd in the A38 tent, named for a local floating superclub. If there was this much moshing on board, it’d sink.
A sprawling, week-long festival that’s already seen headline slots from acts as varied as Robbie Williams and Alt-J, the next day belongs to another pairing of band plus electronic act. Diplo’s Major Lazer, in the afternoon slot, fill the latter role. Their travelling carnival feels a bit forced with its mish-mash of song snippets, saluting dancers and relentless calls for the audience to put their hands in the air. Still, it’s a winner for anyone keen to gaze upon Diplo’s pecs and those who love confetti cannons which, let’s face it, is all of us.
Providing earthier thrills are Kings Of Leon, whose relaxed set returns them – for the first part, at least – to their country-rocking roots, and features a rousing ‘Red Morning Light’, a ragged ‘Bucket’ and a rollicking ‘King Of The Rodeo’. Frontman Caleb Followill, who in his slobby shirt looks less the preened rock star and more like a man whose golfing holiday has been interrupted, seems overwhelmed by the crowd’s reaction, having somehow managed to leave Budapest off their touring itineraries for the last decade. “This is the most fun I’ve had onstage in quite a while, actually,” he says, in his low-key way. “I love the energy from you guys. You’re putting me in a good mood.” He later asks the crowd to hold up their lighters and phones because “it looks awesome from up here” and the band load the back end of the set with those big mega-hits from KOL2.0 – ‘On Call’, ‘Use Somebody’ and, of course, ‘Sex On Fire’.
In the late-night set on the A38 stage, Paloma Faith seems similarly enamoured with the city and its people, even if she doesn’t quite get the name of the place right. “I’ve fallen in love with your beautiful country,” she says, in her chirpy way. “I now want to move to Hungaria.” The crowd don’t seem bothered, and instead happily bop along to early single ‘Stone Cold Sober’, recent hit ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’, which she says is the song that inspired her new album.
You’ll have gathered by now that Sziget’s line-up is of the something-for-everybody variety, but frankly, you could go to the festival, not see a single act and have a great time anyway. Taking place on Obudai, an island in the Danube, the vibe is that of a mini-Glastonbury: there’s a Luminarium, essentially a multi-chambered adult bouncy castle in which you can meditate in different coloured lights (so long as the smell of five-day-old festival socks doesn’t throw you off balance), a beach area playing chill-out music, a labyrinth, a Communist-style funfair, a museum area and even a work-out zone. New for this year is a tent dedicated to Fuerza Bruta, the Argentine circus famed for innovative aerial displays; their hit on-site installation saw the crowd engulfed in a moveable canopy with dancers performing above, like being in a snow globe.
On Sunday – the seventh day of the festival – Rudimental win a new batch of European fans with a high-energy set that has the feeling of a thumpingly good party – trumpets blare, saxophones parp and amid all the movement it seems like a coach party’s worth of band members are onstage. Via a volley of hits – the euphoric ‘Free’, ‘Bloodstream’ and ‘Waiting All Night’, which sees singer Anne Marie doing a run of high-fives in the pit – the set reaches a crescendo with the hyperactive single ‘Feel The Love’, and the band and crowd make heart shapes with their fingers.
In another great Sziget non-sequitur, Limp Bizkit follow, opening with their best-loved hit, ‘Rollin’’, but somehow managing to keep vaguely familiar songs flowing for over an hour. They’re quite a sight these days – Fred Durst is starting to look like he could be the black sheep of the Bush dynasty, and Wes Borland, in his body paint and costume, is a sadder clown than Pierrot. But there’s an earnest charm to Durst that reminds you why his band got so big in the first place, whether covering RATM’s ‘Killing In The Name’, appealing to the crowd to look after each other in the circle pit or singing in fans’ faces down the front. He’s also got some mad stage banter. “Now that we’ve moved through that stargate, how about we transition to another one?” he says, between a cover of DMX’s ‘Party Up’ and a cut from new Bizkit album ‘Stampede Of The Disco Elephants’. Later, after promising to call up peoples’ bosses in the morning and tell them to “fuck off”, he takes a moment to assess the range of flags and sights to behold in the huge crowd. “I see your bananas and your penises. Your flags and your signs. Your caps. Your breasts. I see them all.” The all-seeing eye of the Durst is a powerful thing indeed.
The weekend concludes – oddly – with a headline set by 17-year-old Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, and a fireworks display topped only by that of good old mother nature. After a week in the high 30s, at the stroke of midnight lightning forks, thunder claps and the heavens open. A magical end.