A Matter of Energy: Best Concerts of Sziget 2018 Part One

This is somewhat of a novelty list for me: for the first time ever, I have managed to keep it down to an actual ten acts, and not go for some esoteric number like 12 or 17. I haven’t landed one of my favourite bands at number one, a crime to which I plead guilty as charged for all previous years.  Several of the acts are ones I listen to less frequently, so it wasn’t so much the magic of songs I already know that kept me there but the atmosphere of the show itself. Although I did manage to vent negative feelings about it, the move away from the past evident in this year’s lineup saved me from myself and from having Interpol at number one again, which would have felt like that stretch of the 90s when Tom Hanks got an Oscar year in year out and the entire universe got sick and tired of seeing him in any movie of some interest ever, in spite of the poor man actually being quite good at what he does.

#10 Baba Zula

At number 10 we find Baba Zula, sole (and first ever) representative of the World Music Stage. This does of course reflect very badly on the narrowness of my tastes, to my defense, I actually do physically show up at the World Music Stage often-ish, but generally intent to dance onto something somewhat Balkan in nature, particularly if that is Goran Bregović playing the same tunes for the 27th time. Okay, so I have made this considerably worse on me and you may say that Baba Zula are also something somewhat Balkan in nature, since they hail from Turkey, and you may be right, too. They are a bit more genre defying though- looking at how different acts are labelled is one of my pointless little hobbies, and Baba Zula often elicit the obscure ‘alternative’ moniker, as if the classifiers gave up on trying to put their finger on them. The closest definition would probably be psychedelic folk(with a hint of electronica for good measure) and the first image they always conjure in me is related more to the Turkic people’s shamanic past than to their actual position on the map these days. Fittingly then, when we arrived at the World Music stage close to midnight, the band were engaged in a jam session in the middle of the crowd. It actually took me a while to realize where they were, as the audience seemed to heave around to the sound oblivious to its source, it all had the feeling of an ancient ritual somehow, of which I was on the margins, connecting to the cosmos has never really been my thing after all, yet I could still feel some elemental draw moving me towards a perceived centre.

#9 MØ

I have basically exhausted all my spiritual powers on trying to explain what I felt about Baba Zula, so luckily at number 9 I have MØ, about whom I will be spectacularly articulate and mention that she was great fun. Come to think of it, though, the two concerts do share a trait which is probably fundamental for a positive musical experience: energy. As opposed to many acts for whom grinding through concert after concert on the festival circuit ends up looking like a boring chore, MØ came through as being genuinely delighted to share an hour or so with us, running around the stage like a pixie in a tracksuit and a leopard print bra, which you need to know because a)I cannot resist a good outfit detail and b) I am constantly in awe of people who have random looking but perfectly assembled kits, as if they rolled out of bed in the morning straight into their cupboard where they just picked up a blouse, some pants and disparate jewelry while still casually rolling towards the bathroom. Which thus implies she came off as cool too, with a satisfied grin settling under her sunglasses when the crown belted out the lyrics to her songs- my love for her early work and mixed feelings about her recent output are well documented, but I could hold nothing against her when she was emanating such giddy festival perfect joy onto the audience.

#8 Bonobo

Bonobo are (is, I never really know what verb to use with people’s musical projects) heavily featured on one of my cherished playlists called Music to Work To, which generally encompasses pleasant but unobtrusive instrumental music, the nature of which I have already touched upon last year, when describing Tycho’s Sziget gig. If you’re afraid I will swoon in the same direction this time, though, think again. The thing with Bonobo is that while listened off the record it might sound as nigh elevator music, it takes on a completely different dimension when played live. First things first, Simon Greene comes accompanied by an actual band, which of course does wonders to the quality of concert performances- but is not an inherent indicator of success, see the sheer horror that is Parov Stelar these days. Secondly, he has a gift for building up a set which, from starting off as mostly dreamy and atmospheric reaches a point when it can be called almost raucous. It also works its magic in that it doesn’t need the night, necessarily. While it might seem a minor detail, I have always felt that some bands, good as they are simply cannot function in daylight, and will always remain slightly disappointing at a festival if not given the evening headline slot. Bonobo seemed completely oblivious to any constraint- they were just as into the groove on Sziget at 7:30 as they had been later in the evening in Budapest Park.

#7 Tommy Cash

I am usually quite fond of eating close to the Europe Stage, they somehow always manage to set up a couple of reliable food stands in the area, so as I was casually walking back from a rather mediocre Bastille set I was considering whether to get the cheese or the Nutella pancake when I met a photographer friend who informed me that ‘Tommy is a massacre!’. Turns out I was about three minutes late to Tommy, and the space in front of the Europe Stage was packed to what must be historic levels, and all five Estonian flags present of the island were parked in the front rows and generally it looked like the Soviet Union was about to be re-formed in some post-modern and post-Apocalyptic way, with a stern looking hawkish Estonian man for a leader, clad in a mind-bending mix of a military coat and an Adidas tracksuit and with a Slavic intensity of gaze henceforth only seen in Zlatan when he is particularly miffed. Whenever I listen to Tommy (real name Tomas Tammemets, because I am delighted to be able to spell it off the top of my head) rap in his Slavicized drone about the essentials of life, sometimes all of them at once such as on Pussy, Money, Weed I have this a strong feeling that this is implausible, and I really shouldn’t enjoy this quite as much as I do, but then Winaloto comes and and when he belts out can you believe me all I can say is yes brother, I can. (I can believe him even when he leaves the stage mid-set for about five minutes and unleashes some hard bass on the audience, because that is the time I can go for my pancake. For real.)

#6 Oscar and The Wolf

I spent my 2016 coverage of Oscar and The Wolf on Sziget (yes, there is such a thing) by making a salvo of Eurovision related jokes, though that is not necessarily disparaging, since I am a confessed fan of Eurovision and feel absolutely no form of guilt about it. Although intending to explore his music further, I somehow forgot about it in the longer run (Sziget resolutions often tend to be just efficient as New Year’s ones) and was therefore slightly surprised that in a year when, to my chagrin. Belgiannes and Dutchness seem to have been superseded by Britishness on the island, he still got a Main Stage slot, albeit one in the afternoon. Which wasn’t a problem, because Max Colombie is fabulous anytime anywhere and rocked a splendid olive-green silk shirt (gown?), which looked like the kind of thing you wear reclining on a sunbed with a margarita, and that is what he may have been doing pre or post set. There was a sultry electricity in the air which quickly spread from the first rows containing plenty of Oscar and the Wolf aficionados of all shapes and sizes to the back of the crowd and there was much dancing and merriment. We’re back to talking about a sort of energy then, this one the sexy, flirty type and also to how certain artists draw you in from the moment they walk on stage until the last song, a talent you can’t learn of fake, you either have it or you don’t. In case you still had any doubts, Max Colombie does.

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