On the 9th August the four millionth visitor ever entered the Sziget festival of Hungary, which was surely not the result a couple of enthusiastic music fans had expected when 15 years ago they spontaneously decided to organize a music festival on Old-Buda-Island.

Sziget (coming from the Hungarian word island) is now one of Europe’s largest music and cultural festivals but while it amateurism has long gone its alternative and multicultural spirit remains as a heritage. It features musical acts in lots of different styles (mainstream, hard rock, world music, electric dance music, alternative styles, blues and jazz) and also prosaic, dance and motion theatre performances, not to mention art exhibitions, literary events and classical music concerts to make sure that everyone can have their fun. Nowadays around 50% of its visitors come from outside Hungary (mostly from Germany, the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands) but due to the festival’s past it is essential for the Hungarian young to "be out there” and that’s why I didn’t want to miss this year's Sziget.

I have to say I had problems with the line-up. It is a way too much multicultural when gipsy-punks Gogol Bordello, French techno-hero Laurent Garnier, Pink and Madness are all booked to perform on the same stage one after another. I also disliked the fact that Hungarian rock dinosaurs were over-exposed, while some of the most interesting new acts were hidden away on the smallest stages.

The first day’s main stage line-up focused on alternative rock groups, but for me none of them saved the world - Scandinavian alt rock Mando Diao, Hungarian cult-alternative band Quimby, and ethno-punk French superstar Manu Chao performed some nice dance music but nothing more.

The second day was "hardcore day”. Being a huge fan I couldn’t miss Hungarian metalcore band Bridge to Solace who have been on almost constant European tour since their debut album came out in 2003 and are really hard to see in Hungary. It’s a shame that they were put on the smaller rock stage of the two available and they had to play at the same time as Soulfly, who performing on the big stage, were apparently the biggest hard rock name of this festival.

Even if no more than a couple of hundred people preferred them to Soulfly, Bridge to Solace played their mixture of fast paced hardcore and melodic metal with an overwhelming power and rage, saying thanks between nearly every two songs to everyone who chose them over Soulfly.

I went back to the main stage to see the Good, the Bad and the Queen. They are an amazingly boring band no matter how good musicisan is Damon Albarn otherwise. At least Albarn was there, not like Josh Homme who didn’t come with his side project Eagles of Death Metal (another really bad band). What did they think ? Was everybody interested in their music?

The next day's only good performance came from Gogol Bordello whom at least managed to give an entertaining concert (thanks to their punch-drunk frontman Eugene Hutz, who, after they finished the concert, ran out into the crowd shouting "Where are the GIRLS?” and managed to collect one in 5 seconds).

The Hives were the band I had waited to see the most. Pelle (aka idiot) Almqvist and his group always give a great live show but they disappointed me this time. They seemed as tired as hell and you could tell that they weren’t enjoying the concert which was sad to see from such an incredibly good live band.

Now I have to introduce another great Hungarian band, the Idoru. Formed by ex-members of Newborn, they play really special sounding emocore music. They are a band gaining much popularity in foreign countries. After Sziget they wwere going on a Japanese tour with Ignite and a European tour with The Misfits, so I don't know how they ended up playing on the small rock stage. They didn’t show themselves at their best, lacking dynamism but they still put on a good live performance.

The last day’s closer the Killers provided instant stadium rock by playing the most important songs of the two albums and having an amazing stage design, with light bulbs on their instruments resembling a Christmas atmosphere and a gigantic 'Sam’s Town' sign in the background. The sound was attached to the design. It was quiet and neat. It was all somewhat weird for a festival close but it provided an exciting atmosphere.

I have to confess that with all my reservations it was still Sziget after all (a must have), but hope next year there will be more place for more consistency, and less for dull side projects with stars choosing to stay at home.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Tom Fejer

















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