Like Never-Never Land with music
Woodstock. This is Woodstock again and again. Those who want to conjure up the indescribable spirit, which wafts through a music festival, almost reflexively bestir the mother of all major cultural events. At the same time, the present itself has long since given birth to legends; for example, the Sziget Festival in Budapest.
It was 1992. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the spirit of optimism prevailed in the former East Block. Some students from Budapest University wanted to live out their new freedom, make music together, go camping and simply have fun. Their meeting planned as a private picnic on Óbuda Island in the centre of the city pierced the heart of the spirit of the age in such a way that the small group increased to 9000 peacefully celebrating people. Károly Gerendai, a streetwise concert promoter, and Péter Sziámi Müller, a cultural Jack of all trades, immediately anticipated the beginning of something extraordinary. They got together to direct the potential of place and event. In the following year they organised „Diáksziget“: Student Island. Over 40,000 guests enjoyed 200 concerts on two stages and a supporting programme which was really varied at the time.
Then a timely coincidence played into the organisers‘ hands. In 1994, the festival model, which, on the one hand, was unrivalled, and on the other hand, transfigured, celebrated its 25th birthday. Woodstock. The dynamic duo almost suicidally blew the horn for „Eurowoodstock“ and did not only invite Hungarian artists, but contacted the big numbers without hesitation. Acts such as Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Frank Zappa’s Grandmothers of Invention, the Birds, Blood Sweat and Tears or Eric Burdon responded to the call and attracted in tow more than 100,000 people. In the following years, the former private picnic advanced to a new galaxy in festival heaven with the latest arrival of Pepsi as the main sponsor.
Leap in time: In 2013, almost 400,000 visitors walked across the rusty steel bridge which constitutes the only entrance to the „Sziget – Island of Freedom“. Of course, this no longer includes Hungary. The one-week festival that now takes place every August was distinguished as the best of its kind in Europe in 2011. Germans, French people, English people and Finns pilgrimage to Budapest to breathe the spirit of Sziget. A spirit that is still alive despite all the inevitable commercialisation. The seven times ten kilometre island is still regarded as a kind of independent republic during the festival week, without police, without reprisals, but with a lot of trust in the reasoning of the „Sziticens“ (at least with regards to placidity). Festival manager Gábor Takács explains this very simply: „No rules and laws prevail here. We enable people to experience an unknown freedom. And because everybody wants to be part of this miracle, the people simply socialise themselves. Strange: there are no designated camping sites. You simply roam through the island and hammer your tent pegs in the ground where you find the vicinity nice or the proximity to the nearest sanitary facilities perfect. International understanding made easy. The scene is confirmed by documents: how a group of Bavarian festival visitors teach the neighbouring tent from Israel the „Schuhplattln“ [a traditional dance] in order to practise afterwards „Hora“, the national dance of Israel. Later, everybody shakes their heads in synch to the riffs of a heavy metal band.
You may surely refer to the Sziget musically as one of the best occupied festivals in Europe. Famous names of this year include Queens of the Stone Age, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Placebo, The Prodigy, Korn, Stromae, Calvin Harris, Imagine Dragons or Bastille. Even today, the memory of the two and a half long Prince concert in 2011 brings tears of rapture to the eyes of those who could attend. Quite a few think it was a historic moment of music. The biggest world stars play on around 60 stages next to newcomers and regional representatives of all – really all genres: the sounds of metal, folk, jazz, blues, alternative and world music, and even classical music. Where else can you listen to authentic Romany music and then attend the colourful hustle and bustle on the stages reserved for homosexual artists? And if the booked acts then have a break late in the night, a visitor (who is sometimes unknown) sets up a self-made DJ booth somewhere in the middle of the tent landscape.
If it were not the music, you might think that you got lost in a fairytale world, in Peter Pan’s Never Never Land. Labyrinths, adventure parks, theatres, cinemas, catering from all over the world hide in enchanted woods. Forest paths gently illuminated by Chinese lanterns point the way to open air workshops and entire artists‘ quarters. Participation is the first commandment. Participation and immersion into this indescribable experience. The Sziget has perfected those principles so to speak that make rock festivals so popular among young people: escaping from regimented daily life, the differentiating from authorities, exploring one’s own limits, trying out foreign cultures, getting to know the opposite sex without remorse – the island is considered by many as an initiation ceremony into pure culture.
By the way: Those who are concerned about enduring cabin fever during seven days of festival life simply undertake a flying visit to Budapest. This is a city that is worth seeing and steeped in history, full of living culture, historical buildings, venerable Turkish baths and casual „ruin pubs“.
• Date: 10. – 17. August 2015
• Place: Óbuda Island, Budapest, Hungary
• Expected visitors: 400,000
• Festival passes are available from 169 Euros (actual price is independent from different
ticket options and the date of acquisition)
• Programme, tickets, journey, see: www.szigetfest.de