In partnership with Sziget Festival
Taking place on an idyllic island in the middle of the Danube river, Budapest’s Sziget has been hailed as Europe’s answer to Glastonbury, and mixes big name acts across 60 stages with a feverishly eclectic program of art and culture.
It’s as much about the atmosphere as the bands who are playing. One minute you can be watching Foals on the main stage or post-punkers Viagra Boys pulverising the Freedome tent, the next you’ll see a seven-foot marionette of a horse cantering past you. Or you can join people jumping up and down like popcorn in a microwave in the Colosseum, a replica of a Roman amphitheatre replete with a “gladiator-headed” DJ booth, before heading to watch Kyiv circus acts perform a moving, feat-filled show about the plight of young Ukrainian refugees in the Cirque du Sziget big top.
Day one of Sziget’s 30th anniversary line-up sees Sam Fender making up for lost time on Thursday (10 August). Having had to cancel at the last-minute in 2022 due to vocal issues, he’s met with a belated hero’s welcome on the main stage with a tight set that culminates in a frantic ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.
Sziget’s self-contained location furthers Friday night headliner Florence + the Machine’s pagan cult-like Midsommar: The Musical vibes, as her ‘Dance Fever’ tour reaches its final furlong. Fans hurl flower crowns at Florence Welch like she’s human hoopla, as she Tasmanian devils her way round her gothic-themed stage, ruched dress billowing, in a typically bewitching appearance that begins with a spectral ‘Heaven Is Here’. She sings ‘Dream Girl Evil’ while cradling a lucky fan’s face in the front row, before a joy-filled ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’. Surveying the reaction to the latter, she beams: “We will not go hungry tonight.”
On Friday, Yungblud is swaddled in the Hungarian flag and marshalling circle-pits to get wider as the crunching ‘Medication’ kicks in, turning the main stage audience into a jacuzzi of flailing limbs. If there’s a theme of Sziget, it’s one of connectivity and breaking down barriers; it was founded in 1993 by young liberal Hungarians amid the fall of communism and has earned the sobriquet ‘the Island of Freedom’ – and Dom Harrison has his own unique way of fostering that. “I want you to make at least two new friends,” he commands. “Find someone you don’t know and say ‘Hello motherfucker!’”
Friday bill-toppers Imagine Dragons‘ mainstream genre-hopping pop, meanwhile, is brought to life with a crowd-pleasing show. A hailstorm of ticker-tape heralds their omnipresent hits like openers ‘My Life’ and ‘Believer’, lusty screams accompany Reyonds taking his top off, while in a touching piece of activism, Ben McKee’s bass is decorated in the colours of the trans pride flag – important at a festival that prides itself on its commitment to LGBTQ+ rights. Sziget is a safe space for queer people – and the Magic Mirror tent is one of the biggest draws. With a crowd that couldn’t be packed in any tighter, drag troupe Queenz as cover floorfillers by the likes of Cher and Whitney Houston.
On Saturday, on the main stage, Mimi Webb marshals swaying hands to her effervescent, TikTok-assisted pop hits like ‘House on Fire’. “I’ve heard a lot about how crazy this festival is,” declares Niall Horan later that day on the same stage, as he performs the breezy ‘80s West Coast pop-indebted tracks from recent album ‘The Show’. One Direction’s ‘Story Of My Life’ elicits mass singalongs before Horan throws in a cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’.
As David Guetta hurls out Number Ones like Donkey Kong, he close the evening. (Sadly, he doesn’t head to the ever-popular Tribute Stage to rope in faux acts to fill in for the guest vocals.) It’s the midpoint of this year’s festival, which has already proven to be as much about the magical atmosphere as it is about the bands playing.