There’s always that one Sziget day you have to grind your teeth and accept that someone apparently larger than life is gracing the main stage for your own good and the happiness of others. I say your own good because it’s clear as daylight that the festival needs big days to pull it along, make it profitable and allow it’s overall awesomeness to exist from the circus tent to Sziget beach. The fact that on that particular day the island is overrun with too many people who have no clue as to what a festival actually is and spend their three plus hours glued to the palinka stands around the main stage is just a sad side effect you learn to live with. You do however harbour a hope that whatever the someone larger than life delivers is at least acceptable by it’s own standards, and then sometimes you are painfully disappointed and wonder why you had to put up with the Barbarian hordes in the first place.
But before we arrive to the piece of dubious entertainment which crowned the day, let us talk about really nice things. Like how the organizers moved the Europe Stage to a place where a) even I can find it b) pretty much anyone can very easily find it, so supporting upcoming European acts feels not just like a PR stunt exiled to festival backwaters, but a genuine effort to highlight bands you might not have known otherwise. The crowd was sizable for each act we checked out (Gray Matters from Romania, Snoir from Austria and Sattas from Turkey) with a large group of people from said countries being complemented by a mixed lot of curious onlookers keen to join in whatever was happening- which in the case of Gray Matters was a young lady screaming a lot, Snoir did some guitar pop yodels (being from, ahem, Austria) while Sattas are playing reggae-or so they say on their official website, to me it sounded more like ska, which reggae sometimes does, plus like that I could tick off the ‘found random ska band’ in the yearly Sziget bingo.
I’ll linger a bit longer over Gray Matters, as they are the winners of Romania’s Sziget talent competition. I’ll also be honest: you’d be hard pressed to find a genre further off my musical radar, improvisational jazz, perhaps. I just now imagined the band’s otherwise totally charming lead singer scream out her soul over minimal jazz, and am still contemplating the scariness of the prospect. Coming back to the real world, I have to admit that, although Sziget’s metal loving audience has steadily diminished over the years, Gray Matters put on a show that didn’t feel out of place, and kept it’s pace up to the end, when the band made a poignant tribute to their friend Claudiu Petre, who died in the Colectiv club fire last October, and who was a great Sziget lover and regular.
Next up was the Lightstage, which besides being a lovely wooden contraption bedecked with, yes, lights, is also situated in an oasis of Italian restaurants, which generally helps boost popularity. Although when I arrived my mind seemed more focused on which panino to get (it ended up rather conventionally being ham and cheese), I was absolutely delighted to discover Teapot Industries, who hail from Rome, play on strange instruments and whose wiki on the content of their lyrics I must quote, because it’s just too good to glide over: “Like to Be Alone, Pt.2 is about multiverse travels. If we could travel enough far, we could discover an entire universe identical to ours.In particular Like to Be Alone, Pt.2 is about having sex with your doppelgänger.”
Totally energized by the discovery, we headed to the main stage with a pit stop in A38, where Rico & Sticks were playing and of whom we can say, paraphrasing Woody Allen, that it involved the Netherlands. Jake Bugg’s set felt more mature that his previous, rather tentative Sziget showing- it always helps when the first song turns out right, and On My One is definitely a fine opener. His rather basic guitar tunes might sound a bit too monotone to some, but they work wonders at setting a very definite and recognizable mood. So it was with a heavy heart that I left the second part to check out MO, but her concert from last year seemed to justify the desertion.
This year was different though- for some reason the Rihanna loving crowd also turned out to be a MO loving crowd (damn you Diplo) and invaded the A38 tent in spite of the strangely early time slot. There was therefore much pushing and shoving, which is of course not MO’s fault at any level, and she was as charming as could be, turned up in the compulsory quirky outfit and delivered her songs with great confidence. But somehow the raw magic of her early days is gone- just like her new tracks, which sound more like something dreamed up by her producer (double damn you Diplo) than herself, it all seems to have lost the fairy dust to a degree. This does of course sound like the age old hipster lament over how things were better before they went mainstream, but the truth is, they sometimes were.
At this point the day turned into a lull before the grand show, with Parov Stelar providing background music from the main stage (just how on Earth did they get there?!) for sipping spritzers and mojitos. By nine a clock the island was almost at full capacity, with all arteries leading to the main stage clogged with people figuring out how to bend the rules of physics and squeeze into non-existing gaps in the crowd. Thus they waited. And waited. And then waited some more. For Rihanna decided all these people squashed into festivaly pulp on a chilly August night are really not worth her efforts, majesty and full attention. She therefore sashayed onto stage at 10, knowing full well that Sziget has an 11 PM curfew, played and copiously lip synced to a barely recognizable medley of her songs, then departed just as superbly carefree as she had arrived. If you want a clearer picture of just how bad the whole thing was, let me elaborate on the moment I was thinking how some fireworks with Avicii would be the thing to light up my mood, and yes, there was that low point when I wished Robbie Williams was there to swing for me. Experience does put things into perspective, doesn’t it? I therefore warmly recommend the teachings of the mighty Coen brothers to Sziget’s organizers, whom I otherwise love so much: What have we learned from this? Not to do it again.