After two days of missing out on the ritual, I finally pulled myself together and had the classic pre-Sziget meal in Szeráj, the veteran of Budapest’s ever expanding and changing Turkish fast food scene. As I was sitting there and munching exactly the same dish as ever in the past thirteen Sziget years, it dawned on me how the cashier looked just a tad older than he used to. Then on the tram I got to explain several times to wide eyed first time Sziget goers how to reach the island, where do we get off?!, oh god, what a strange name, feee-ah-to-ree-gaaht. Don’t worry about it, I shouldn’t have either back then, you just follow the crowd and you’ll be fine.
So this got me in a pretty nostalgic mood by the time I made it to the main stage at four, where, as it has been for all the previous days, people were huddled together matching the exact outline of the shade. I remembered with a sigh how we would be those kids hanging on to the fence for dear life, suffering valiantly through any act the whim of the festival organizers threw at them, just to be able to get a front row view of their beloved headliners. Things could have escalated in the wrong direction from here, but then life often sends you the best answers when you least expect them: here comes Eugene Hutz, skinny devil with the eternal wine bottle in hand, belting out over the dust and heat: there was never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow.
To every Eastern European sitting in a bar staring depressively into their beer and complaining that life is elsewhere, there is one running straight into it, wherever that might be, screaming at the top of their lungs, life is here, life is now. There is nothing essentially game changing in Gogol Bordello‘s music- if not the sheer lust and energy with which they steal bits and pieces from everywhere and make it into the whole of a sublime and zany wandering circus. It was their fourth time on Sziget and when we thought that, spectacular as it might be, we have seen it all before, Eugene, ever the trickster, pulls an ace out of his sleeve: he starts singing in Hungarian- not the one or two lines anyone could pull of, but two tracks with an absolutely passable accent, no mean feat, as anyone even slightly familiar with the language will understand.
By the end of the concert even the main stage helpers are doing a crazy dance, and the most stern of security guards has started to twitch his foot to the rhythm, which by his standards is full blown insanity and enjoyment and might be one of the signs of the second coming.Eugene’s profuse consumption of red wine has also convinced me once and for all, that as far as Sziget goes, veritas is indeed in vino. So I raise my glass, ahem, plastic cup of red life giving liquid, to the might of Gogol Bordello, or, as our gypsy troubadour would say, respectus maximus.
Having The Horrors coming up straight after Gogol Bordello was bound to be as odd a programming choice as one could ever imagine- and well, it was. Where Eugene is every bit the seasoned entertainer, Faris Badwan always looks slightly bemused on stage, even more so when dancing: who am I, why am I here, why is this happening to me, I’d rather be in a quiet room doing an abstract sketch, or something. There’s a basic gaucheness to everything they ever did that could easily topple over into an artsy kids trying to be interesting gimmick, except it doesn’t. It’s just simply that, in a musical scene chock full of similar acts, Horrors have always been doing something different, and well, actually and genuinely interesting.
6 PM in sweltering heat might not be their natural habitat, and there were quite a few people in the audience who were as bemused by 7 minute walls of sound as Faris is about life in general, but as it always does with the Horrors, the whole thing strangely worked out. Having a song as perfect as Still Life does help a little, as the crowd comes to a charmed halt, as the hot air stands still over the island, things are indeed as they have to be. And then at the end, to break the spell, Faris takes a dive into the crowd- not one of those I gently let myself into the loving arms of my minions dive, but a full swing header into the pool dive, and then, just like that, he disappears.
We then got to swing flags, which is of course utter fun- a bit dangerous in the long run though, as people run around the whole evening with flagpoles sticking out of their bags. None of the early evening acts seemed over exciting, especially after the onslaught of the afternoon, but such breaks are more than welcome every now and then, so we headed out in the yet again tantalizingly honey tinted sunset to the trustworthy beach for some lounging, accompanied by people flinging fire, because such is life on the island.
Next up on the main stage- Alt-J, or the programme responsible’s ill disguised ploy to put as many art school dropouts on the main stage in one day as they can. As one of the crowd’s on duty wisecracks kindly explained to us, Alt-J are hipsters (surprising to us, given how their name is actually a triangle, pardon, delta sign and all), they never wanted to be famous, ahem, mainstream, and are now horrified stiff by their success. The wisecrack, for his part, obviously listened to them way before they were cool and reveled in oft pronouncing some of their more exotic track titles, such as Fitzpleasure or Breezeblocks. To be frank, they did seem a bit ill at ease on stage, lining up mathematically like birds on a wire, but they also sounded, well, wonderful, clean and melodic, soothing to the ear and mind- a chamomile tea of a headliner in the best sense of the expression.
Enter Shikari are no chamomile tea- as a matter of fact, I can’t really think of a drink that correctly describes their fusion of energy and anger, maybe a yet to be discovered chili cocktail that occasionally blows up in your face. They are a well known Sziget darlings, and darlings of the city in general, as right before the gig they announced an autumn club date, to follow up last year’s absolutely literally boat rocking mayhem of A38. The crowd wasn’t as numerous as on some previous occasions- it seems that the enlarged main stage area draws away people from the A38 tent no matter which acts are going head to head. The decreased numbers were compensated for in intensity, both on and off stage. These are very angry young men, and in a world where so many people think and feel too little, we need them.