Why you need to check out Sziget in 2013

We never thought we’d enjoy an LMFAO show. It seems implausible, like having a really fun colonoscopy, but it happened. It must have been something to do with watching them while taking a trip on a Ferris wheel high above one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe as the neon crowd ebbed and flowed below us. From that vantage point, even “Sorry For Party Rocking” has a sort of undeniable charm to it.

Sziget, a dreamlike music festival in Budapest, is the sort of place where implausible things become commonplace. Each day 75,000 sun-tanned people from all over Europe drift and flirt their way around an island in the Danube. They visit mock Communist fun fairs, where Hungary’s oppressive history becomes a chance to kick a mannequin from behind to see how far his hat flies off. They strap themselves into sky-bars which lift them 150ft into the airwhere they can sip rum cocktails with a man dressed in a novelty pirate costume. They slip away into the city to soak themselves in the ancient heated spring baths. At night they flit between banging house raves, gypsy parties, burlesque shows and surreal theatre performances. The organisers say that a full 30 per cent of the programme isn’t even music – we think they’re talking about the theatrical sideshows and not just offering a critical opinion of RizzleKicks.

But if it’s music you want, Sziget has something for every palette. In the daytime we see the likes of Wild Beasts serving up their lush harmonies and dance with somebody to Mando Diao. As night falls the xx demonstrate how being coolly understated doesn’t necessarily preclude you playing epic festival shows and The Stone Roses prove that you don’t need a Delorean to travel back in time as long as you have a little bit of goodwill and a whole lot of classic tunes. Snoop Dogg steals the show. “No one throws a Eastside party like we do,” he proclaims at one point, and that goes for the former Eastern bloc too. He’s a natural showman, but even his crowd-pleasing, hit-packed set takes a turn for the bizarre when he’s joined onstage by “Nasty Dogg”, a mascot-style avatar of himself with a huge novelty spliff and a long furry penis that he unrolls from his shorts and whips around.

If there were any doubting Sziget’s claims to greatness, it’s surely dispelled by the presence of the Festival King himself. In Glastonbury’s fallow year, Michael Eavis took the chance to visit Sziget and was fulsome with praise. “It’s been a real delight,” he told us. “We’ve seen all the best bands and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s also cleaner than we are. Maybe that’s a Continental thing. We’re messier in Britain, slightly more philistine in nature.”

It’s not just the cleanliness that makes Sziget feel unique. The festival seems to stands at a confluence of history, where all the best ideas, art and music meet. It’s no longer implausible that The Killers, a band from Las Vegas, can stand onstage in Budapest singing: “Are you going to drop the bomb or not?” from “Forever Young”, a German synthpop song released by Alphaville when Hungary was still living under Communism. In a time of economic gloom and despondency, Sziget represents a more optimistic Europe. Afterwards we skip the traditional rooster testicle stew and head for the all-American hot dog stand. Francis Fukuyama should have come dancing here. This is what the party at the end of history looks like.

Originally published by British GQ.

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