Budapest quite often gets to be the second best something- its coffee is second best to London, it’s the second best Central European destination after Prague, its Italian restaurants are second best to generally anything in Italy, overall it’s a second best Vienna and its clubs are second best to Berlin.
It’s this ‘second best Berlin’ wave that the organizers of the Electronic Beats festival tried to ride with their new endeavour of making the usual one evening/four act show a proper festival-y four days spread over different locations. The two main hubs were the city’s arguably most popular indoor concert venues, A38 and Akvárium, with the bulk of the action in A38, to be then continued with late night to early morning shows in Akvárium. Which makes a lot of sense, since this is one of the essential night time routes for the party people of Budapest- A38 simply becomes too remote come the dead of night, with no proper places nearby to tank up on döners and pizza slices or to crash for a final cheap beer- or three.
Now I must admit that I usually get stuck at the A38 part- clubbing has never been my cup of tea, partly because I am too fond of a proper pint of beer to risk any of the beverages being sold as lagers or something in clubs and partly because I find dancing to random beats quite boring after 10 minutes or so. So in tune with this preference, I chose the A38 evening with the more appealing acts, namely Omar Souleyman and Hercules and Love Affair.
Before I launch into the thick of the action, I must confess, that yet again, to my shame, I paid little to no attention to the acts going on before the, so to speak, headliners of the evening, but I can safely say they did not seem electronic in the least. Which is something quite typical for Electronic Beats events: the definition of the genre is generously widened to include more exotic nuggets of entertainment. I informed myself in the meantime, and the act I was blissfully ignoring were Fatima and the Eglo Live Band- they seem a pretty safe background music option for a drink, but I am afraid nothing about the sounds seeping out from the stage area would want to make me take more interest in their undertakings.
The bulk of the crowd was therefore rambling around quite liberally before 11 PM, with many revelers deciding that the relatively less frequented Nose Bar is a great choice for quick drink purchases. The situation changed with the arrival of Omar Souleyman- who is an absolute hipster magnet if there ever was one. The man hails from Syria and was a festival staple long before his country became a decidedly (un)cool topic of all Western press. He started off his career as a traditional wedding singer, but once his music was (excuse the horrible pun) married to the here oft mentioned electronic beats, the sky is the limit.
Taking into account the drastic reaction of our lazy co-photographer, who ditched the scene of the crime claiming this is random and soul crushing wedding music he’d oft hear in Turkey, and the suspicion that I might also recoil if certain sonic elements of Romanian weddings ever hit the mainstream under any form, I can conclude that Omar belongs to that typical category of things that are so superbly uncool that they either disappear into a black whole of oblivion, or go stratospheric with a certain crowd.
This particular audience also loved Omar and his deadpan Yasser Arafat meets Italian godfather look, plus, say what you want, he makes music one can dance to while also feeling somewhat intrigued by the exotic vibes and utter quirkiness of it all.
The evening continued under the sign of quirky, with Hercules and Love Affair coming complete with an apparently Parisian singer, who undertook an exciting wardrobe change, from an orange garbageman onesie to a, well, insufficient swimsuit plus transparent cape with peace signs and faintly tropical patterns. And I do know it has nothing to do with the music, but I kind of love it when an act makes sartorial choices that are hard to describe- they at least ticked the box for visually interesting. The tunes themselves were not groundbreaking, pretty straightforward dance floor oriented electro, but the delivery was nothing if not energetic, and the crowd responded with the same measure.
Once the concert was over, it was time for final conclusions in the social hub that is the A38 wardrobe queue (autumn and winter offer such lovely opportunities, besides all their other joys of, erm, rain and reindeer themed sweaters) and then out we were into the bloodstream of late night pizza slice bars. Overall, it’s a great idea to have Electronic Beats spread over several evenings and we look forward to what musical UFOs they will bring us next time.
And while out in the wilderness of the night, we can also safely conclude, energized by oriental sounds and well fed with delicious Italian pizza, that by being so many second best somethings, Budapest might just slowly become the very best city which has a bit of top notch everything.