One of Europe’s (and the world’s) biggest festivals made a return to Hungary’s capital this year. Sziget Festival, held on an island in the middle of Budapest, attracts up to 400-600K people every year over the course of 6 days (typically 7). Full week, 3-day, and day tickets all add up to this enormous number. Due to its very unique location, the majority of festival-goers actually stay in town in AirBnBs, hotels, or hostels that are usually completely sold out for the period every August, while around 40K people camp on the island for the entire duration of the festival.
First, Sziget isn’t just a music festival, it’s a celebration of art in all its forms, with acts from all genres distributed between the main stage and a tent stage, a newcomer stage close by, and two electronic music venues along countless little stages for performances of all kinds. It’s hard to describe what it really is in just a few words, especially with the recent changes – but it has been known as this magical island of freedom that breathes art around every corner and where the focus has never been on money making … typically.
Image above: Role Model
This year sadly brought some drastic changes to the event. Due to the pandemic and two canceled editions, the organizers faced no support from the government and huge budget cuts as a result. While this is understandable, the cuts were sadly handled in the most unfortunate way and killed the vibe that made this place so extraordinary. In the past, most of the island was free to camp wherever you want. The majority of the campgrounds were under the trees close to the beach with country-related paid campsites and VIP camping including a swimming pool, this now got reversed. Only a tiny part of an undesired part of the island remained free while the paid part got extended enormously and changed location to the area that used to be free. With names like `chill` or `relaxed` people expected peace there but quickly learned their campsites were directly situated next to the party venues that were going on until 5 and 6 AM.
The VIP camp, now called ‘Superstar,’ faced similar issues with its unfortunate loud location and swimming pool people paid for but couldn’t use due to a construction issue the organizers only got notice of 4 weeks prior to the festival. All the decorations have disappeared, even the beach which used to be a hippie heaven turned into a commercialized space that felt more like Tulum than Goa.
Image above: Rufus del Sol
Due to a drought that was affecting all of Europe and resulted in 3 months of nearly no rain in Hungary the ground was so incredibly dry that after day 2 the dust was so bad that even with a mask it was more torture than fun to be around the Main Stage. Water shortage didn’t help, even two weeks after the event many festival goers still complained about respiration issues, on the ground everyone was coughing, many tried to get throat spray and eventually lost their voice.
Another very sour taste, figuratively speaking, were the food prices. While inflation is understandable the fact that food prices doubled since 2019 and the same products cost double of what they did in the city just a 20 min train ride away simply couldn’t be ignored. The selection was also a lot smaller with a minimal amount of healthy options available, the supermarket at the festival was very small for the number of people taking part and before midnight there was always a 30 min queue to get in.
Images below: Nova Twins
On the positive side, the drink prices remained very reasonable and the different high-quality artist installations were still present, a big kudos to all the artists working on them!
On the first day, it was still very busy with people moving in, which resulted in crazy long wait lines. Role Model played the tent and the crowd was very excited, fresh, and ready to rock to this energetic show. Later on Rufus du Sol took the MainStage, it took a bit to get everyone going and as usual with DJ acts there wasn’t much crowd interaction but the night was still young. Nova Twins attracted everyone looking for mosh pits and action, they absolutely burnt the place down and nobody left not convinced that they are an act to keep in mind. The highlight for many was headliner Dua Lipa, and she didn’t disappoint. To end the night, Canadians Cleopatrick played the Europe stage with a solid set that attracted a similar crowd as Nova Twins just a few hours prior. Many people continued to the tribute stage, where rock cover bands played until late and a rock disco was on until 5 AM. In previous years this started right after the main act, but sadly this year it was way later and lost quite a few people due to the delay.
Images below: Cleopatrick
Day two was hot, and people were still up relatively early ready to check out all the different areas the island had to offer. The Gaming Hub was a popular area during the day, offering board games and consoles to bring people together, it has been organized by the same family for the past years and they make sure they offer a wide, ever-changing variety.
The World Stage had artists from all over the globe playing traditional music and right next to it was the Tent Without Borders – a safe space for European refugees and this year the focus was on Ukraine. The tent was home to a special exhibition presented by a French museum and everyone working in the space were refugees themselves.
Later in the afternoon, the programming started on the Europe stage with dutch newcomers The Vices who filled the area in seconds (no surprise with hundreds of Dutch visitors) the band is definitely worth keeping an eye on. While the headliner Kings of Leon sadly was a bit disappointing with no drive and a pretty boring set, Bastille were able to make up for it and offered a great show playing all their hits which matched the festival vibe perfectly.
Image above: The Vices; Images below: Bastille
The next day everything started to get dusty, but that didn’t stop people from coming, yet. Loads of day tickets were sold, which led to a very full venue, even though the island is gigantic and people usually spread really well, this year the space reached its maximum capacity.
Like many acts this year, Viagra Boys canceled their show but The Murder Capital stepped in and offered a banging punk set that treated the crowd to rock vibes that were a bit sparse this year. Belgium superstar Stromae attracted a huge crowd that absolutely went wild while he performed a beautiful show with loads of theatrical elements and a detailed theme.
Image above: Stromae; Image below: The Murder Capital
The main reason, however, for so many guests here today for just the one day was of course Justin Bieber, and loads of young girls already fainted in the heat before the show even started. He played all his hits, and the fans were happy, even though he didn’t seem to enjoy it that much and there wasn’t a ton of crowd engagement.
There was another highlight though and that took place every evening at PM in the Magic Mirror – a venue dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community. During the day they offered talks on a range of topics, screened movies, and hosted creative performances, the evening programming led to huge queues outside the tent, and rightfully so! Put together by an Australian group a very thoughtful but still frisky burlesque, acrobatic and dance show was performed in the most tasteful way possible. This one stage very possibly would have been worth the price of the ticket.
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Continue your Sziget adventure in the next post: Sziget Festival part two: In the dust we live and dance