Sziget Festival | 08.12 - 08.17 | Budapest

Words by: Lindsay Colip | Images by: Steven Walter

Sziget Festival :: 08.12.09 - 08.17.09 :: Obuda Island :: Budapest, Hungary

fes·ti·val (fst-vl) n.
an often regularly recurring program of cultural performances, exhibitions, or competitions

Sziget Festival 2009
We've been to several music festivals this summer, but none really take the literal meaning of "festival" to heart like Sziget. Set on Obuda Island in the middle of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, Sziget is the festival of all festivals. Music is just one chunk of the spectacle, with 13 main stages and headliners such as The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Klaxons, Lily Allen, Faith No More, Snow Patrol, Editors, The Ting Tings, The Offspring and Placebo. Other parts of the festival include a jazz club, BURN (Red Bull on crack) Party Arena, a Theatre & Dance Area, Afro-Latin & Reggae Stage, Ambient Tent Garden, Film Tent, Magic Mirror Area, Sculpture Park, Sports Terrace, Games Area, Labyrinth Site, Museum Quarter, Traveling Fun Fair (for kids), Wedding Tent, Circus, Library and the Hungaricum Village (local foods, dance, crafts). I mean, crazy, right? 500,000 people came to this island over August 12-17, and unlike almost any other festival, they were allowed to set up their tents wherever they wanted. No rules. And, to top it off, it's known for its friendliness and safeness, not to mention affordability. Beers are $2. Pizza slices are $1. And variety... there are hundreds of artists from 41 different countries. All in all, this is set up to be a most varied and entertaining spectacle.

Wednesday, August 12

Because the festival covers a whopping 76 acres, it was clear the best way to begin was to get the lay of the land. From a quick walkabout, my first impression was that this was an incredibly diverse crowd and the variety of foods, activities and atmospheres was fantastic. People of all ages, shapes, flavors, styles, with no discernible fashion trend, except perhaps the preponderance of Burning Man type clothing, but that was a very specific group of people. And of course costumes. Always costumes. There was food to make everyone happy, from mini donuts to beautiful fruit stands, gyros to Indian cuisine, and pizza to enormous hot dogs. Plenty of Dreher Beer to whet your whistle, tons of breathing room (even though the crowd is massive, you can breathe and walk around without claustrophobia), any game you'd like to play (our photographer Walt kicked ass at the brain game tent), and any activity you'd like to try (bungee, dance lessons, crafts, tarot cards, museum strolls, African hair braiding, tea sipping, talking to a Rabbi, getting your photo with a cardboard Obama, playing Rock Band in the America Tent, getting info on women's issues, gay rights, health problems, psychiatric help, yoga, world peace). You name it and they have it. So, before the music even began, we had already been exposed to a variety of wonderful performances, speeches, advice, games, crafts and Mate tea. And that was day one. Now, bring on the music.

Sziget Festival 2009
IAMX, the side project of Sneaker Pimps' Chris Corner, started off the festival on the Main Stage. If you remember, Sneaker Pimps brought us really dirty, erotic, need-a-cigarette music like "Spin Spin Sugar" and "Underground." Well, Corner's new band sounds a lot like his former work, so fans should not be disappointed. Complete with crazy futuristic/military outfits, lots of synth and real aggressive head banging, the live act is Corner on vocals/guitars, Dean Rosenzweig on guitars/bass, Tom Marsh on drums and Janine Gezang on keyboards/synths/vocals/bass. They've been around since 2004 and played singles such as "Spit It Out," "My Secret Friend," "Nature of Inviting" and "Kiss and Swallow." Very cool dirty electro. I hadn't heard them before and will most certainly be purchasing their music, right after I pick up chain smoking.

After these guys came Snow Patrol, a band I'd never seen live. The crowd tripled in size and so did the energy. They were outstanding performers. Besides the fact that they played all of their hits AND sleeper album cuts like opener "Chocolate," "Eyes Open," "Spitting Games," "How to be Dead," "Run," "Make This Go On Forever" and closing jam "Chasing Cars," they also treated us to songs off their latest album, A Hundred Million Suns. They played a snippet of "a very, very, very long song" as passionate frontman Gary Lightbody said, called "The Lightning Strike," and it was fantastic. On the large video screens on both sides of the stage, we were treated to crazy, colorful animations as well. Remember the cover of the band's Final Straw album, with the people in really cool space suits? Imagine them animated. The swirling flowers from the cover of their newest album? They were animated, too, bursting into a million colors. It was all very trippy and a really nice compliment to the music. The thing about Lightbody and the rest of this U.K. band is they just don't seem to make bad music. And, if I may go one step further, they seem ridiculously in love with life and it's infectious. Their music is full of grand sweeps, builds and powerful lyrics, and dang it, it just feels important. People around me were belting out lyric after lyric with such passion at this great, great performance.

Sziget Festival 2009
Headlining was Lily Allen, a performance I was excited to loathe. And for 75-percent of the show, I did. Allen walked around lazily onstage, smoking cigarette after cigarette, wearing ridiculous powder blue Old Navy type shorts that were so unflattering it was shocking. I mean, she had the see-through top, the sexy black heels, her face painted with glitter, so why the cargo shorts? As she was sauntering about I couldn't help but think, "Lily Allen really likes being Lily Allen." The big block letters behind her that read "L-I-L-Y" was my first clue. Which is fine, but if you love yourself, own it! Come out with energy and pizazz! But no, she sang with indifference. It seemed like we were bothering her by making her perform... and then BOOM! I was totally caught off guard. She started smiling and jumping about and even told the crowd, after a nice rendition of "Smile" that we were, in fact, "the best crowd she had ever played for!" What? She busted into Britney Spear's "Womanizer" and had the audience going nuts. She also played her new single, "22," along with "Fear," "Fuck You" (her ode to George W. Bush), "Back to the Start" and "Who'd Have Known." Her feminine and sugary voice sounded great live and to my surprise her library of songs was actually more pleasing than I anticipated. They were definitely more ambient, more electronic and more danceable than the bubble gum pop that is "Smile" (see JamBase's review of Allen's latest album here). So, here I was determined to hate this performance and actually ended up buying into it. Shit. Bravo, Lily.

I caught a little of Calexico, an alternative rock/country/mariachi/indie band from Tucson, AZ over at the World Music Stage. Led by Joey Burns and John Convertino, they drew a huge crowd. Having released their sixth album, Carried to Dust, last year with collaborator Sam Beam from Iron & Wine among others, Calexico is enjoying a surge in popularity. Strangely, I think that the European crowd has caught on more so than the hometown crowd, but hopefully that will change soon. These guys are great live performers. By this point at the festival fire dancers were out in full effect, costumes were starting to show up, the party was just getting started and Calexico seemed to summon the magic.

White Lies :: Sziget Festival 2009
Next, we headed to White Lies, in the A38-wan2 Tent (whatever the hell that stands for). Like at Roskilde Festival (JamBase review here), these U.K. boys absolutely slaughtered the audience, which is appropriate since they've been playing under "The Summer of Death" banner all season. They are moody, dark and wonderfully dramatic - cue the smoke. The sound is Franz Ferdinand meets Interpol meets Editors meets The Cure. Lead singer Harry McVeigh is a joy to watch, pouring his soul into each note he belts out. And he really belts it. They played mainly songs from their first and only album, To Lose My Life. Crowd favorites included "Farewell to the Fairground," "A Place to Hide" and "E.S.T." Because there will be no new material to cling to until 2010, pick up this album immediately and get swept into the darkness.

We finished the night dancing to house and electronica DJ powerhouse Pete Tong (U.K.) in the Burn Tent. One of the most sought after DJs in the '90s, and approaching age, he still has the gift and kept the party going well into the morning. His jams can be found on all of those Ibiza and dance mix compilations that Walmart loves to sell. My only complaint would be ventilation in the tent. It was so hot and smoky that people had to bail for air. A great first day, and only four more to go...

Continue reading for Thursday's coverage...

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