For one week every year in August a modestly sized Hungarian island on the Danube river becomes a living, breathing almost continuous party which brings various nationalities, musical genres, and even performance art from all over the world to celebrate ‘freedom’, whilst having a bloody good time in the process.
Sziget festival is no stranger to Clash itself however this would be the first time I had the chance to see what all the fuss was about, to find out why this event remains one of Europe’s biggest and most popular music gatherings. Before arriving I was told that this place attracts approximately 500,000 visitors every year, and even though Clash joins in on the Friday, two days after things kick off, its clear from the start the sheer volume of people this ‘Island of Freedom’ brings together, and eventually, why.
Arriving after things started meant Clash was unable to witness the likes of Pink (hmm), Biffy Clyro (seen 'em) and Jamie Cullum (I’ll survive), however I did get there in time to put some travel sickness to one side, and catch the tail end of an unsurprisingly commanding PJ Harvey set over on the sites main stage. There was then time for a quick wander around in the gathering Danube dusk before seeing another UK artist well known to our ensemble of journalists from the UK. One knows exactly what to expect with Kasabian and true enough, their swagger, bounce and plethora of electric anthems, old and new, stood out for those of us with a taste for indie guitar rock.
The great success of this festival for the punter is that nothing is crammed; there’s so much going on over the course of the week that one can quite happily pin point their own personal favs, and in the meantime stumble across any number of random performances. These kind of discoveries could be had in particular over on the Classical, Opera and Jazz stage which brought together types of entertainment rarely found on many other main stream music festivals. One minute we were experiencing the legacy of Hungarian composers such as Kodály Zoltán, and the next we were back to reacquaint ourselves with Manchester veterans The Courteeners, who were majestic in reminding us that we’re "not 19 forever".
The theme of ‘whatever takes your fancy’ continued throughout weekend with the stark contrast of US punk old boys Bad Religion and then Iggy Azalea, in place for the late cancellation of Rita Ora. I'm no expert on the latter but judging by the waves of people who gathered for the energetic set it appeared there was indeed "mo bounce in the muthafuckin house".
Back on more familiar territory, on Sunday it was the turn of White Lies to get us going again after one two many buckets (of booze) the previous night. Energy laden electro pop numbers like 'Take it out on me' had me feeling human again before retiring for a needed seat in the VIP area to recollect some thoughts of all that had passed before we had the chance to take in more synth with the arrival of'Hurts' who did their best in soothing some of the Saturday night casualties among the group. Or though maybe they were just nice to look at.
Through into Monday it was another case of 'The Brits are coming' with the likes of George Erza, Glass Animals and Two Door Cinema Club taking centre stage however it would be a Canadian who surprisingly, for me at least, would be one of the festival highlights. Mac DeMarco may come across slightly safe for some tastes, at times straying into Jack Johnson territory, however his set on the smaller OTP Bank stage was exactly what we needed; a bright and upbeat set which recalled images of Daniel Johnson on one of his more lucid days.
As the festival nearer ever closer to the end it was soon time for alt-J, who with their breezy, bluesy beats provided ideal visuals and sounds against the late afternoon sun. There was just time to sample some remixes of Snoop Dogg and 'Wonderwall' with the official 'end show' extravaganza, led by Belgian/ Greek DJ due Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, who performed against a firework backdrop that would put a North Korean leader worship exercise to shame.
For me, though, the excitement had been slowly bubbling with the prospect of revisiting one of finest bands of our generation. Interpol recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of their debut album 'Turn on the bright lights' and signed off Szignet 2017 with a blistering set of classics which made us almost forgive them for their last few middling albums.
With a mixture of fan favourites from their classic debut, as well songs from 'Antics' and 'Our Love To Admire', Interpol brought Sziget 2017 to a tremendous end and offered another dimension to a festival which was already chock full. Sziget 2018? Lets see what else they can pull out the hat.
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Words: Ray Jackson