The trend among this year’s Sziget headliners is definitely one of going it alone – the sprawling, seven-day, semi-magical festival kicked off last Wednesday with Ed Sheeran doing his one man band thing. On Friday, it was DJ Martin Garrix. And tonight (Sunday August 11), appearing on stage completely alone, mostly with nothing but his microphone and the odd blast of pyro for company, with no visuals to speak of, no back-up musicians and no guests – Post Malone played the ultimate on-your-todd show – one which, despite the lack of frills, was totally commanding.
Towards the end of the show, Post goes off on one talking about his ‘struggle’, how he moved to LA, had a “tough time trying to find money for smokes and beer”, then everything went crazy, but people were “calling me a one hit wonder and every name under the sun… Now I’m in fucking Hungary in front of tens of thousands of people.”
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The meteoric rise of this 24-year-old singer and rapper, whose second album, 2018’s ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’ propelled him to international fame, does seem a little hard to understand on the (tattooed) face of it. He wears an all-white outfit with his own name on it, he sings trap-rock songs about heartbreak and, as he puts it, “getting fucked up with your friends and having a good-ass time”, he drinks from a red beer pong cup like he’s at a frat party and even stops for the odd ciggie on stage. In the age of the everyman pop star (see also: Lewis Capaldi), he’s perhaps the ultimate one, and that’s a big part of his appeal. He’s endearingly warm on stage, at one point restarting a song cos “I got a tick on me”, which he freaks out about a little too much to be considered cool. When the crowd keep throwing offerings onto the catwalk part of the stage, from which he performs much of his set, he says, “Stop throwing goodies on stage unless it’s money. You’re only allowed to throw money on stage.”
Sometimes Post Malone plays the guitar too and, during his hit ‘Rockstar’, the penultimate track, he smashes it to smithereens. You presume he’s doing it ironically, given the lyrics of the song, but seeing as he does it at pretty much every show, you do wonder. At least it saves on luggage fees on the way home: he could pretty much tour with everything else in a bum-bag.
“You all kick ass in your own special way,” he says, at the very end, clearly quite moved by the response to his show. “And nobody can fucking stop you. Words cannot explain how blessed I am to be able to come out and sing these songs for you. A night with no hate. No violence. My name is Austin Richard Post and I love you fuckers more than life itself.” To be headlining one of Europe’s biggest festivals with just two albums to his name is no mean feat. Next stop: Reading and Leeds.
Earlier in the day there was another minimal show from an artist incorporating other genres with trap beats – Manchester’s IAMDDB who, despite keeping the audience waiting a little too long by sending her DJ out to play for 15 minutes first, proved why she’s making a name for herself as one of the UK’s most exciting new prospects. IAMDDB’s set, semi-improvised between her and her DJ, was one of thundering trap beats, jazzy vocals, plenty of – in her words – vibing and some straight-to-the-point stage banter. “Give me a show of hands if you’ve got a pussy,” she says at one point. “Hey girl! What’s good? OK, this song is dedicated to all the females in the tent.” Later, she gets in the pit to perform her hit ‘Shade’, which sends the Mastercard/A38 tent into a frenzy. While there, she collects a fan-made banner with a love heart and her name on it, which she wraps around herself back on stage. You suspect she acquired plenty of new fans, too.
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Before Post Malone played, Years And Years performed a brilliant set on the main stage, bringing a full stage production and more energy than the rest of the week’s line-up put together. The joy of watching Years & Years is seeing how much fun frontman Olly Alexander is having at all times as he struts, dances, jumps and beams his way through the entire set. He never takes himself too seriously, even commenting “Oops, I nearly fell over” midway through one song. Later he tells the crowd “Your spirit and your energy fuels me. And we want to make sure you leave the festival feeling energised. Hydrated. Skin feels smooth. Hair feels nice… I don’t know what I’m talking about.” He attempts to say “thanks” in Hungarian at one point, and instantly looks embarrassed.
The centrepiece of the show is, undoubtedly, the song Palo Santo, in which Alexander sings before a projection of the moon in a gown on a riser – he keeps ascending and the gown keeps growing, until he’s towering over the stage. And that, really, is where a frontman so great belongs.
Their booking, with rainbow flags flying, is apt for a festival that this year has a strong theme of tolerance, unity and LGBTQ rights, which the festival are calling the ‘Love Revolution’. Before Years & Years play, a male duo perform a balletic circus act on the stage; over at the Magic Mirror tent there’s a program of LGBTQ events that today involves a Vogueing class. It’s all par for the course at a festival that – like Glastonbury – promotes what’s right and gives its ‘Szitizens’ far more than music to enjoy. Long may it continue.