Sziget freedom

Sziget, as you might already know, is the island of freedom. The entry, of course, is not free. The food is not free. Drinks are not free. And no free beer. All of these things are pretty expensive for the average Eastern European actually. What sort of freedom does Sziget offer then? For example you are free to be animals like these:

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Or pumpkin head, a Chinese, an admiral or a Catholic revolutionary  (image source)

Many expressed concerns about the line-up. Two main stage performers were announced only a few days before the start of the festival and these two didn’t live up to the expectations. As Károly Gerendai (founder of Sziget Festival) explained at the press conference on Saturday, the current timing of the festival is not ideal and Sziget might be moved by a week or two in the future. The other reason for the poor line-up is financial. Back in the 90s when Sziget started there was little competition. This year there are almost 5 times as many festivals than back then, which allows the performers to ask for higher prices. As confirmed by the Sziget management, investing money in visuals instead of the line-up will continue because this is what makes Sziget stand out. In my experience, foreigners were less interested in the line-up, while Hungarians weremore interested in the music.  Another indicator of this is that 90% of the passes are bought by non-Hungarians but 80% of the daily tickets are bought by locals. Of course another reason for this might be that Hungarians simply can’t afford the weekly passes.

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The audience disguised as a forest (image source)

Gerendai  assured that the immigration theme of the festival has no political message whatsoever, it is only for distinguishing Sziget from other festivals. The whole thing is designed to “provide a lifetime experience of all its Szitizens” and it’s basically a holiday for the foreigners. As the saying goes “Sziget is not just about music”: there are 54 program venues in an area of 76 hectares that include a circus, street theaters, a beach, an ability park, a ferris wheel and all the things we have already written about. All in all the whole Sziget reminded me of an Eastern European funfair (there is actually a venue for that too). A more international, lot bigger and better version of course.

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Gypsy performers from India at the Yeni Raki Roma Tent

There were performers from 52 countries and Szitizens from 69 countries, including faraway places like Australia, Ethiopia, India, South Africa, Zimbawe, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela. This leads to the problem of having no common language. The audience always appreciates if the artists learn a couple of phrases like “Thank you” in their language. Well, what do they do at Sziget? Most performers acknowledged that there are people here from all over the world and they spoke today’s lingua franca, English. But Die Ärzte, for example, just spoke German. It was also funny seeing Enter Shikari trying to communicate with the Hungarian minority of Sziget. They went through all their previous Hungarian concerts and asked who was there at VOLT, etc. Between the songs they said “Köszönöm” and “Jól érzitek magatokat?”. All the foreigners just looked at each other puzzled and laughed.

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At Sziget you’re free to be your own fan! (image source)

And what about the Sziget magic? Due to a sore throat my involvement and enjoyment this year was very limited, but I still managed to see the Sziget magic at work during an amazing concert. I almost missed it because I forgot about it, but after Blur I went through the program booklet and noticed Doors Emlékzenekar, the Hungarian Doors cover band. Their singer usually makes some anti-establishment or anti-consumerism talks during the concerts, and I realized that Sziget being what it is, this concert could be the cover band’s Ed Sullivan show or even the Miami concert. At the start, the singer was not present, the first one was a long intro based on one of the tracks from An American Prayer. When the singer came on stage he seemed phlegmatic and bored. The band refused to speak in English, saying a few Hungarian thank-yous without really meaning it apparently. But after a couple of songs, the magic started.  The most important ingredient was the audience: the people who gathered here were from all over Europe and they were massive The Doors fans. Everyone around me knew these classic songs and many of us knew all the lyrics. I’ve been to a couple of Doors Emlékzenekar concerts before, but they were nothing like this: at Sziget there was a huge audience, everybody danced and shouted with the singer. It was an overwhelming experience and had a visible effect on the band members: they exchanged glances of surprise and joy, started speaking in English to the audience and the singer accepted drinks offered by the girls standing in the front. Roadhouse Blues, The Crystal Ship, I looked at you, Light my fire, Alabama song…then another ingredient entered: the storm. In the first few days of the Sziget there was extreme heat. The soothing “summer rain” happened to come on the day of this concert. It meant only a few drops and more importantly: an air full of electricity and stormy winds which enhanced the experience immensely. The definite high point of the concert for me was the Not to touch the earth. Riders on the storm, People are strange and many other songs also fit in the stormy/rainy atmosphere with their lyrics. The encore’s The End, played in its entirety and involving a communal sit-down until the mother part was a real catharsis. I guess this is the closest to the original Doors experience one could get, made possible by the of the diverse Szitizen audience and truly unique by the looming storm.

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I bet these guys were there…

Of course, I attended other concerts as well, some good (Calexico, Enter Shikari, Skunk Anansie), some not so good (Good Time Boys), but you can find lots of articles on each of the concerts. If you want to know what it feels like to be at Sziget I suggest joining Marko by reading his lively report. Although officially implemented only this year, Szitizenship is real thing. Despite the daunting medley of different nationalities there is a sense of community. All the circus, theater, opera etc. events ensure that there is always something to see when there is no music that is interesting to you. Sziget will try to have a better line-up next year, but due to the financial reasons discussed above, this may or may not pan out. The question is: will the visuals be enough to attract enough visitors? Compared to last year, there were fewer people at Sziget and it was a loss financially but the other festivals (VOLT and Balaton Sound) saved the Sziget company. People who look at Sziget as a holiday may continue to come due to the amazing atmosphere, but those mainly interested in music may find better value for money (although it’s all up to personal taste) in the region – VOLT, for example, which offers a similar atmosphere as well.

About the author

János Gömöri

János lives in Budapest. He is interested in music, history, coding and linguistics.

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