Last week, amidst pre-Easter frenzy and other springtime fun, Sziget quietly dropped a big bunch of Europe Stage names, and the information that five day tickets are sold out-those who do not want to miss out still have the seven and three day options available, and of course daily tickets, but prices will hike once more on the 11th of April, so perhaps now (and here) is the time for some targeted shopping.
While, before or after you do that you might also be interested in those Europe Stage names. For a few years now, this has been the stage with the highest potential of surprise packages, in 2017 our list of best shows included Oligarkh from this venue and in 2016, Ceza. Speaking of 2016, it also had a great Mexican food stand right next to the stage, thus being probably the best food+music combo of the island- in 2017 they had another caterer doing the Mexican, and the quality was somewhat diminished, but this is of course a classical complaint of old whiny Sziget-goers.
There is a certain Eurovision whiff about the stage too, which I love, because Eurovision is one of my great idiosyncratic (and absolutely not guilty) musical pleasures, and in previous years some slots were indeed allocated based on country specific qualifier shows. This approach was sadly discontinued this year (guess someone in the marketing department felt it was less lucrative than hoped for) so the acts might, should, must have been selected based on experts of local hype and I will therefore engage in two bouts of frantically stimulating guinea pigging to find out just how competent they are.
We start off in great style with Estonian rapper and conceptual artist Tommy Cash, hovering somewhere at the border of gopnik and zef- if you did not know that gopnik and zef have a border, there, they do, and Tommy sits atop it in ill fitting tracksuits. There is an abundance of Tommy Cash online gems, among them this video for his single Winaloto, and a ten hour loop of another track, aptly named Volkswagen Passat.
Difficult as it is, we need to bid farewell to Tommy and sail on the Baltic sea towards Hamburg, where we find (indie) rockers Kettcar, who are very much akin to the generic acts the ‘big countries’ occasionally send to Eurovision to make sure they don’t win. A firmer understanding of their lyrics might open secret doors towards their art (actually I am not so sure, one song goes on about crying in a taxi, and I don’t know if I want to explore that more) but as things stand they will probably cater to Szitizens hailing from Hamburg and the neighbouring Bundeslands of Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.
Blaudzun for his part is a rare sight, not unlike an albino lion spotted in the thicket: a person of Dutch origin who is not a speed skater or a DJ, but a singer-songwriter, named after an obscure Danish cyclist, who incidentally hails from the region of Syddanmark, bordering, you guessed right if you bothered, the German region of Schleswig-Holstein. This is also the most interesting thing about him, though we might have noticed slight Mumford and Son-ish vibes on something like Promises of No Man’s Land. On to another Dutch UFO, Fresku, who raps in Dutch and I will save you any remarks on the nature of that language, because ever since Die Antwoord made rapping in Afrikaans cool that totally rubbed off to its Dutch sister as well. I also felt smug of my great language skills when I suspected Twijfel might mean devil, as in German Teufel, but it’s actually the Dutch word for doubt.
With the one Dutch word a day section (very useful on Sziget) over, time to move on to France, with Smokey Joe and the Kid, who are into the kind of somewhat groovy hip-hop which I can only greet with a polite thank you, but I’d rather pass. Belgian Témé Tan is a more promising prospect- the groove stays, but it is mixed with plentiful African influences and in one of those twists which can propel any artist out of obscurity, his track Ça Va Pas La Tête? has been featured on the Fifa 18 soundtrack.
Meute, from Germany, in a very German way, are a techno marching band, because that is obviously what was missing from all our lives, though in an odd way not quite as scary as the concept sounds when written down- here they are with a take on Trentemøller. Chefboss from Hamburg (again) are a duo with a democratic work split: one half sings, the other dances in an eighties turning into nineties vibe which could be the background music of an edgier barbecue, but little more. Klub des Loosers is a French rap project gravitating around one gentleman very Frenchly sporting a mask when performing, Fuzati (as per Wikipedia, his sad and cynical lyrics are heavily influenced by Michel Houellebecq, now I am really scared), occasionally joined by others with equally intriguing names, such as Orgasmic or DJ Detect.
5’nizza, which you instinctively know you’re supposed to pronounce as pjatnitsa, meaning Friday, if you’re Ukrainian, are two slightly depressed looking young men from Kharkhiv who play minimalist acoustic pop, which might not provide the biggest blast of the stage, whereas the presence of Bostich+Fussible from Nortec Collective is made awkward by them being Mexican, their exhaustingly long name and the fact that they are basically knob fiddlers.
I would really love to say articulate and/or amusing things about Swedish band Francobollo, but I can’t, because all I can think of is that they made a video about pubic hair coming alive as a tiny furry monster. Really, they did. La Sra. Tomasa, of Spain, play that kind of dancey latino that makes me just as confused and irritated as trying, for the umpteenth time, to read Don Quixote, though that is where the similarities end, thankfully for both parties, though not for me. They will however surely attract that Sziget crowd which dances itself into oblivion to anything vaguely world music sounding, so if you are one of them, by all means, knock yourself out.
After French angry sad, and Ukrainian minimal sad, Motta provides us with Italian melodic happy sad, because when you are from a land of blue seas, blue skies, fabulous coffee and fabulous pasta it’s hard to be convincingly sad except perhaps when it dawns on you that the Squadra Azzura is not going to the World Cup, but then you remember that Russia is cold and dangerous, and you have blue seas, blue skies, fabulous coffee and fabulous pasta. Googling senbei, you will primarily discover that they are Japanese rice crackers, and only upon a more thorough investigation will you uncover the French producer and turntablist of the same name, well actually he is Senbeï, but google never care much for special characters. He is unsurprisingly fond of all things Japanese and pretty enjoyable in a glitchy electro way.
We are back in Italy with Willie Peyote, and the start is promising, with a song enticingly title C’era una vodka, though it turns out to be less about literal alcohol consumption than about social and political criticism, yes, they rap it, and it is partly enjoyable though probably a bit monotonous for those who don’t understand what is being said, which is an observation that can be applied to the entirety of their work.
I could say that I have kept the best for last for today’s installment, though actually I was progressing along the list as it is published on Sziget’s website. Lea Santee come from Vienna and are into moody electronica as opposed to say strudels and whipped cream or perhaps bearded women, and show some promise in terms of their music’s visual representation as well. In case you do prefer bearded women, why not, after all, you might also be interested in the fact that Conchita Wurst will be playing in Budapest Park on July 7th as part of the Budapest Pride Rainbow Party.
PS: The photo material below covers some bands we checked out on the Europe Stage in 2017: Next Ex (Romania), Oligarkh (Russia), Rein (Sweden), Nemo (Austria), Lola Marsh (Israel), Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti and Cosmo (Italy).