The security guard stared grimly at the girl in front of me and barked a mildly irritated how old are you, to which she sheepishly responded sixteen, which seemed to please him and he thus let her through. I prompted no question but he proceeded to attentively inspect my lens, which could have been used as an alcohol smuggling container, you have no idea what people are up to these days, he said. I nodded in consent, as by that time my mind had been processing the fact that in the year that girl was born, I was already on Sziget- for the first time, of which I frankly don’t remember all that much, which makes it even scarier. It was called Pepsi Sziget, still, and obviously the only available soda was the main sponsor’s, I know I complained about it, since I am a Coca Cola fiend, another of those either/or choices which define our modern lives, or must have complained, for sure. I remember Shane McGowan being plastered, I remember running from the World Music Stage where we’d seen a Goran Bregović still functioning as something new and exciting, I remember Massive Attack being late, and people grumbling about it amid an ever thicker fog of smoke of all sorts. And dust, there was a lot of dust.
The dust of course hasn’t changed, quite to the contrary, this year is one of the hottest on record and since rain, now predicted for Saturday, hasn’t fallen for a week, it raises above the ground into compact clouds, mingled with glitter and sunscreen and the occasional spray of a water pistol, which gets immediately lost, not like a tear in the rain, but a tear in dust. The soda has changed though. Shane McGowan has teeth, I have seen Goran Bregović more often that I do some of my acquaintances. Massive Attack are not here, but Kendrick Lamar is, he’s political too and late, also, for technical reasons seemingly, and whilst I feel that is so impolite of him, I realize I’d surely find an excuse for Massive (I mean I actually did), because I like them, and they can do little wrong, and most certainly Kendrick’s fans must have felt the same way too.
The point to all of this would be that sixteen years in I still feel a pleasant tingle in the pit of my stomach when I cross the K-bridge, I still call it coming home, though I have always known an eighth full day on the island would probably kill me (the festiflu, or szikness usually tries to), and these seven days are just reality suspended for a week in which your worst nightmare is a clash of two bands you like, a muddy Frenchman, now in a blue shirt with two stars instead of one, trying to hug you or, well, I now complain about the beer and not the soda, and will thus dispense the most important advice in here: wear sunscreen and drink spritzer.
These sixteen years haven’t meant much learning, either, except maybe the fact that during Lykke Li’s set, who ominously has a song called I Never Learn, I figured I could put chamomile patches over my eyes to clean the dust and assumed this so be so grown up (almost old), and then this morning I clearly remembered how I’d made chamomile tea with the same purpose in my first flat in Budapest right after having inspected the film of thick dust which had formed on my sneakers, and tried to figure the physics and mechanics of how that could happen.
So here comes fresh advice: wear your worst shoes to Sziget, those you won’t regret being ruined when somebody bounces on your foot while kicking up a storm to Stormzy, whose set I landed into midway, because I had been stuck in the day one queue, which is another thing that is as sure as death and taxes and I still haven’t properly internalized. I thus can’t say all that much of the concert, it seemed very tightly packed given the early-ish hour, as oft mentioned in the press these days, the UK has now become the top exporter of szitizens to the island, and they duly came out for some grime. The crowd dispelled somewhat for Lykke Li, who I must immediately commend on her bravery of wearing a lacquered outfit which included a jacket. The fact that I was thinking about hot pots of tea during her set is not surprising, it was somehow tedious in a pleasant way, she herself admitted that we looked a bit bored, like we were trying to figure out the how to accomplish the second part of her lyric so sad so sexy when drenched in sweat and covered in dust. She’s perhaps simply come up with a new genre, let’s call it the lykewarm festival set, abruptly ruined by her playing I Follow Rivers to end it, which prompted the appearance of hordes of that special breed of festival goer who sits under a tree sipping watered down mojitos from a bucket only to jump up to an act’s hit and run toward the stage like a wild horse screaming ‘I bloody love this song!’
Of Kendrick I shall speak no more, there are people in a much better position to do so than someone who moans that his voice is too shrill in some unfathomable way, and thus focuses on some minor detail that completely obliterates the rest of his accomplishments. I thus moved on to the Europe Stage, that home of quirky delights where day one was closed by a turinese rapper, Willie Peyote, who was also unimpressed with Kendrick and pissed with his politicians, so despite his rooting for the wrong turinese team, I felt him as a kindred spirit.
Day two began with our approaching the island, wisely, by boat, or so we thought until we got stuck in its front bit (it probably has a fancy nautical name I am completely unfamiliar with), which was poorly ventilated, hot as hell, and then the thing started rocking wildly on the not so gentle waves of the Danube and we noticed there is a super appropriate painting of the Titanic on one of the walls. We did however arrive safely to the island, and for someone who’d been complaining that this line up isn’t so great after all, I made it to quite a few enjoyable concerts- actually, all of them were.
We began with Oscar and the Wolf who had been a very pleasant surprise during Sziget 2016. He graduated well to the main stage, onto which he sashayed in a glorified pyjama (glorified pyjamas are good things, by the way, comfy and a bit wacky) and then made intensive love to both the microphone stand and the crowd, who adored him, the front rows with eyes glued to his dancing, the back rows chasing a water truck that brought some temporary relief to the revelers. Trotting over to Unknown Mortal Orchestra in A38 felt like a strange interlude between Oscar and the next main stage act, Bonobo, and complaints were again leveled against the sound system (for once, not by me, because as I’ve mentioned before I tend to glide over the sound quality glitches if they are not blatantly horrid). The tent itself was, as expected, sweltering, so renewed respect for someone sticking to their show gear in such adverse conditions, with lead singer Ruban Nielsen showing up in a daring double layer of lycra.
Bonobo for their part put on the regular feel good let’s dance together performance- which is much harder than it initially sounds, as, besides their obvious ear worm nature, their songs have a depth of composition totally lacking from the world of knob fiddling crowd-pleasers. Speaking of feel good performances, I might be a bit of a heretic in the world of Damon Albarn worshipers by not being totally sold on Gorillaz. Not that I do not enjoy them, I do, to a temperate level, it’s just that they will forever seem to me a brilliant little project Damon dreamt up with a good many of his friends and associates (all almost as brilliant as he is), and they’re evidently having a blast doing it, and besides having fun they’re also being ridiculously professional about it-yes, that’s a stab at Kendrick, couldn’t help it, since Gorillaz actually started ten minutes early to be able to run their full show.
In between Bonobo and Gorillaz I’d returned to A38, which has now been de-fenced, and people can enter it from all sides, which is both practical and perhaps a bit more hazard free but causes a pile up of people up front. This lead to Cigarettes after Sex and their world of cool lust in darkened lunges sounding just a bit off in the overheated tent zig-zagged by people fussing to get ahead, but that’s perhaps the one thing I did learn in this sixteen years: a festival set has rules of its own, which can include gaucheness and oddity, and purists of what a certain band must be should spare themselves a dose of dust and stay away.