Sziget 2013 festival review

'The gem in the European festival crown'

Photographer:Mike Burnell

Chris Swindells - 22 August 2013

Everyone remembers their 21st birthday. At least what started of it. Birthday celebrations don't come much bigger than this.

21 years since Sziget was born, from the dream of music fans emerging from a generation of socio-political unrest, the island festival this year proved, once again, to be the gem in the European festival crown.

Óbudai Island is surrounded by the fast moving Danube river, the lifeblood of Budapest and the isolating factor that keeps the potential of this festival contained. Crossing the bridge is like crossing the border into an unknown foreign territory, to meet colours, noise and all manner of delights so bright on the other side that most don't live in the conscious imagination. From each little feature: the beach, the circus, the Hungarian quarter - you see signs of huge personal investment, more than just financial investment, this is what thought and passion looks like.

For entertainment in 2013 Sziget draws some dividing lines. On the one hand Blur (9) and the closing night David Guetta (8) extravaganza connect with a large chunk of their international audience and, on the other, headliners Biffy Clyro (7) and Mika fail to deliver the same rewards. It's clear that headline fire power (with the exception of Guetta) is not all the festival want to deliver in 2013 but, speaking to the fans on the site, many hope to see 2013 as a blip in an otherwise faultlessly strong and original bill of festival line-ups.

The festival is rather unique in welcoming so many foreign visitors. Ninety percent of all week-long festival tickets are brought up by international guests. These guests, joined by day ticket-holders, number more than 300,000 over the seven day event and represent 69 countries, as diverse as Australia and Pakistan.

Amongst the eclectic bill for these international guests, mostly from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, there's some familiar British faces. Dizzee Rascal (8) has emerged as the complete festival act, something he's been promising for nearly half a decade, and with new single 'I Don't Need a Reason' alongside his decade old 'classics' like 'Jus' a Rascal' this show hardly relents in building its anthem tally. Franz Ferdinand (9) haven't quite reached that same plateau when it comes to firing out a set of big hits, nevertheless their strength comes in the singles like 'This Fire' and latest single, 'Right Action', that take on new life in their live incarnations.

The organisers, trying to avoid the 'Disneyland experience', have opted to stamp an Hungarian shaped mark through the site in the local artists and designers they employ to decorate and design the unique scenery. The Fantasia land they've created is at first tricky to navigate and covering all 108 hectares on foot is a tiresome job, especially in 40 degree heat. The rewards though seem almost endless.

Chess in the Logical Games Tent, fire-jumping in the Hungaricum Village, dizzying heights up the 65 metres tall Sziget Eye ferris wheel and - if you're tired of going to it, let it come to you - the Giant Street Theatre that takes to the road every night.

It may be considered sacrilege to say it but Glastonbury Festival might have found a new challenger. 1,000 miles apart but these two events could have come from the very same parents, so joyous and wondrous their two offspring have grown up to be.


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