Let’s cut to the chase since the numbers are in – 496,000 people from 102 countries visited this year’s edition of Sziget Festival in Budapest, which (kind of) concluded on Tuesday night after a whole week of spectacular arts and entertainment. Having people from literally more than half of all world nations visit your event is mind-blowing stuff, and Hungary Today reporters note that some of the nations represented at this year’s event were Nigeria, Qatar, the Marshall Islands even. Although we all hoped to round the digits up at half a million, this year’s numbers exceed those from 2015 by some 50,000 people, confirming festival’s exponential growth and cementing its reputation as the world’s biggest biggest cultural event. Not to mention the foreshadowing of what will definitely a ludicrous 25-year anniversary in 2017; the organizers have already confirmed the event will be held August 9 to 16, with tickets going on sale as early as September 25.
The last two days of the seven-day event, saw no decline in the number of visitors, despite being held on Monday and Tuesday. This was another sly maneuver on behalf of the organizers – until this year, the festival was held Monday-Sunday; from this year on, it is held Wednesday-Tuesday. In the words of Károly Gerendai, Sziget founder, apparently this measure helped in keeping the number of visitors steady throughout the week: “The number of festival visitors is getting more balanced. While previously generally the weekend of the festival was sold out, now the number of visitors are pretty much the same each day.”
Monday was a particularly “poppy” day at the festival. The first to take the stage were Years & Years, the young British pop superstar hopefuls. Olly Alexander’s band is a vivid electropop manifestation, greatly helped by several smash hits. Moreover, it was a refreshing pleasure to see many LGBT couples freely occupying the front rows and enjoying the performance – surely another testament to the “Island of Freedom” slogan. The hour-long performance reached a high during “Dark Horse Bling”, a mashup of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, but the biggest singalong was surely saved for the end, when a growing audience rushed to the front to sing along and dance to “King”.
Unlike clearly enthusiastic Years & Years, personal childhood favorites, Ricky Wilson’s Kaiser Chiefs, showed little of the bombastic pop energy that had some 12 years ago given them the status of British pop rock darlings. As their fame wore out, apparently so did the crowd’s interest – the show was considerably less dynamic and appealing than the one in 2011, and especially the on in 2008. Nevertheless, the Leeds quartet are an experienced bunch and while I would prefer not to comment on the quality of their recent material, or the lack of reaction to the songs from the upcoming album, Stay Together, their older singles, namely “Everyday I Love You Less and Less”, “I Predict a Riot”, and “Ruby”, managed to salvage the show and provide some value to the onlookers who were coming and going in very large quantities.
By the time the better half of the infamous Mancunian sibling duo materialized onstage, it appeared as though 20,000 fevered fans came to the Island just to get within an earshot of Oasis’ “The Masterplan”. And why the bloody hell not. The 20-song setlist featured no less than 10 Oasis songs, and it seemed like N. Gallagher had waited a long time to be able to actually sing the delicious tunes he wrote himself some decade or two ago. In reality, Noel Gallagher is irreverent, eternally agitated and just somewhat less irritating than his nasal younger brother, but he is also articulate and an actual musician, genuinely enamored with his music. He also sounds more like Willie Nelson when he sings than like Liam – a welcome departure from his brother’s toxic twang. After kicking off with a handful of his solo songs, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, his solo moniker, launched into a string of Oasis tunes, much to the delight of tens of thousands of fans. “Champagne Supernova” and “The Masterplan” appear to be the melodies that many of those in attendance waited their entire lives for – it has to be said that most of them were too young to be present at the Oasis show here in 2000. They didn’t even play “The Masterplan” back then. While the singalong to “Wonderwall” was somewhat hushed due to Noel’s distinct vocal delivery of the timeless tune (again, some might say, as far away from Liam’s as possible), everyone was ecstatic about his solo single “AKA… What a Life”, and especially the closing “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, a song originally sung by Noel and admittedly one of his favorite Oasis songs.
The evening ended with what I heard was a great performance by the beloved Australian chanteuse, Sia; unfortunately, I had to leave the festival a bit early to go back home and swing from my office’s chandelier.
The seventh and last day of the festival featured performances by the Last Shadow Puppets on Main Stage and Crystal Castles at the A38 tent. I’ve been told Alex Turner and Miles Kane elevated their boho chic to another level, while the teenagers reveled one last time on the Island this year during the end show with the Dutch electro-house sensation, Hardwell. Just as the Main Stage was about to fall silent for another 358 days, literal fireworks ensued.
After the festival had closed its doors on Wednesday morning, one last touch of staff’s care for the often careless visitors was shifting tabs on the official website, creating a page for “Lost and Found” and placing it conveniently right beside the “Photos and Videos” section. I hope nobody’s misplaced anything valuable, except for some overjoyed folks who may have lost their dignity. Oh, well, c’est la vie.
And if you remember the “kind of” I’ve put in parenthesis in the very first paragraph, that’s because this year, for the first time, the festival offered even more enjoyment in the form of an “extra day” afterparty, located in the Budapest Park, with Foals as headliners and Crystal Fighters + Slaves as supporting acts. Alas, some of us have day jobs to return to and I wasn’t there to tell you all about how Yannis Philippakis slithered and gave another scintillating performance much to the satisfaction of a large crowd who wanted to keep on rocking even after the official event was done. He surely did, though. After the majestic sensory blowout that was Sziget 2016, we will be waiting with bated breath for any information on next year’s anniversary event.
One thing’s for sure – the force is sztrong with this one.