Festivals are often separate entities. They originate in the same place but have their own identity. This is especially true of Sziget, an event held in August in Budapest on the island of Óbuda in the middle of the Danube. The festival was founded in 1993 by a group of music enthusiasts after the fall of the communist regime left live music without government subsidies. “Sziget is an island of freedom,” the taxi driver accompanying me from the airport said proudly, supporting the festival’s motto (“Island of Freedom”). And two minutes later, speeding down the boulevard, he told me with equal pride that the government of Viktor Orbán, the prime minister who had turned Hungary into an authoritarian state and silenced the free press, was “doing a great job, especially for the economy.” It organizes many events that give prestige to our country in the world.”
But what is happening today in Hungary has nothing to do with Sziget. As soon as you arrive on the island, it seems that you are entering another dimension. Everywhere pacifist messages, environmentalists (“Planet b” no) and Ukrainian flags, in an eternal festive atmosphere. The first releases in the nineties were almost a bunch of hippies, not today, but there is still some relaxation, despite the inevitable confusion that characterizes major festivals.
About a thousand concerts on sixty stages took place on the island this year from 10 to 15 August. A good portion of the audience (about forty thousand this year) traditionally camped in Obuda (the hours of sleep accumulated during these days must have been little, considering that the concerts continued until five in the morning). They came from different parts of Europe and the world (about 50 percent of the audience were not Hungarians). On several dusty paths that connected different stages, one happened to stumble upon the most amazing things: large papier-mâché giraffes, experimental theatrical performances and itinerant musicians playing klezmer music. There was also a circus where jugglers and tightrope walkers performed. In short, Sziget (meaning “island” in Hungarian) is a small utopia that seems the furthest away from Orban’s far-right authoritarianism.
Billie Eilish seemed like the perfect meeting point for pop and ’90s alternative rock.
And then there were concerts. For example, Billie Eilish, who performed in front of approximately seventy thousand people on August 15 on the Main Stage dedicated to Dan, the main stage named after Dan Panitescu, one of the founders of the festival, who died in a car accident in 2016. Eilish on this occasion confirmed that she is a star player. When she appeared on stage around 9:15 p.m. to the tune Bury a friend, it was immediately clear that at 21 she had already become an icon of modern music: short shorts, Suicide girl stockings, a loose hockey jersey with the words “Famous 99” and a red woolen cap with devil horns, it seemed like the perfect meeting place for pop music and alternative rock of the 90s. Like Nirvana was flirting with Rihanna.
The first part of the Eilish show with songs like Ed and powerful You must see me in the crown, was created specifically for Instagram, and featured the singer on large screens, sometimes giving way to pre-recorded vocals (which is unavoidable since her recordings are full of vocal overdubs) to focus on physical performance, jumping and running around the stage. But then the LA artist showed he could do things the old fashioned way: he took off his little devil hat, sat down with his brother and right-hand man Finneas – previously split between keyboards, guitar and bass. – for an acoustic set with a folk touch, in which they stood out Your strengthpainful thoughts about toxic relationships e TV, a piece that mixes her treatment of insomnia with political reflections on abortion rights in the United States. Eilish sings these two songs with the delicacy and depth of a consummate artist, almost a crooner.
In the last part of the concert, after an environmental appeal, Eilish returned to the electronic atmosphere with an elegant Everything I wanted and single Bad guy, perhaps his most famous work, in which the artist began to jump again and make the audience jump. The last act came from Happier than evertaken from the second album of the same name, another song about toxic relationships, this time referring to ex-boyfriend and rapper Brandon Adams, with a crescendo of rock guitars and liberating screams that brought the show to its emotional peak.
During the two days that I was at the festival (August 14 and 15), I saw many other concerts. The poster had more space for pop and rap, and a little less for rock (by now this has become a widespread trend). An honorable mention for the audience, very warm, curious, but at the same time quite neat when they have to move from one scene to another. This year Sziget again featured several Italian artists.
Most of them performed on the Light stage, a small stage whose artistic direction was entrusted to Ettore Folliero, but some also conquered the larger ones: on August 12, Vinicio Capossela entered the Global stage, a space dedicated to sounds from around the world, and on August 14, rapper Lazza performed on main stage with the band, giving his rap songs an almost crossover soul, with guitar and drums in the foreground. The line-up included fragments of his latest best-selling album, Siriusbut also the single brought to the last festival in Sanremo, Ash. Lazza became the third Italian artist to perform on the Main Stage in the festival’s thirty-year history, having only done so with Giovanotti in 2006 and Subsonica in 2010. His performance began at four o’clock in the afternoon, under a scorching heat that did not frighten a large group of Italians, partially sheltered by the shadow cast by the stage.
“It was a great experience, it was like starting from scratch, opening up to other artists. And I didn’t expect that there would be so many people under the stage,” Lazza commented ten minutes after the performance, sitting backstage in eye-catching sunglasses. “For this occasion, I made the right compromise between a gig with the beats I usually play and a more played one. I’ve been to a lot of shows overseas, from Drake to Post Malone, and in a way they’ve inspired me: presenting yourself on stage like that really matters. I’d like to hear my stuff from the audience’s point of view to understand how it came about.” How has playing Sziget influenced you? “It was really good. I made a special trip to Italy, having gone through a lot of apprenticeship. The thought that today there were the same people who were in Carroponte di Sesto San Giovanni a year ago, thousands of miles from home, makes me emotional.”
Walking between the trails, going around the tents and the many stalls and bars scattered all over the island, in the two days spent on Sziget, I built my route: I saw the Lord in great shape, who unexpectedly opened the concert with his most famous song, members of the royal familya play so beautiful that it even startled Bruce Springsteen, and that he ended up duetting with Caroline Polachek (whose performance, by contrast, convinced me less) in a gripping version Green light. I have seen Macklemore funny, but at times too intrusive in the pursuit of entertainment at any cost.
The last concert I saw on August 15, just before returning to downtown Budapest aboard the official festival ship, was 070 Shake, a New Jersey Puerto Rican rapper and protégé of Kanye West, who put on one of the most exciting shows ever. this year. version. During his performance, everything that distinguishes Sziget from other festivals happened: at some point, the children brought their tent and saw a piece of the concert lying down.
070 Shake as if he were Travis Scott, with his voice always filtered by autotune (someone has to make sure that even very good songwriters understand that autotune is not the devil, it is just as expressive a tool as others) , performed in his mix of rap, sung and spoken words in songs such as Story AND vibrationstaken from his latest album you can’t kill meand tracks from his debut album modus vivendihow gorgeous guilty conscience. The rapper closed the performance with a cover of the song ghost town, a song recorded with Kanye West that made it open to the general public in 2018, singing the final chorus “and nothing else hurts, I feel kind of free” several times, nothing hurts anymore, I feel almost free. But instead of finishing the song herself, she left the microphone to the bespectacled girl in the front row. The girl finished the song, albeit with autotune, visibly excited, but also surprising in the part, while the rest of the audience showered her with applause. For a festival of this magnitude, Sziget has a very thin barrier between performers and audience. Things that can only happen on an island.