Monthly Archives: August 2013

Notes From A Small Island: Unprofessional Stories From Sziget Festival

Perhaps you’ve already seen my ‘professional’ review of Sziget Festival over at Soundsphere Magazine (if not, click here). It’s probably worth reading that first to get a fuller picture of what the festival is about. This post, on the other hand, is a collection of unused notes, amusing observations, occasional frustrations and general happenings that represent the more casual side to my Sziget experience. It’s going to be pretty scattershot, but trying to turn all this into flowing prose would probably mean my writings on the festival swell to nearly dissertation length (the review in itself is already close to 6000 words). So I’ll just shut up and get on with it. I’d like to apologise in advance to anyone whose name I’ve mis-spelt or otherwise completely forgotten (edit: think I’ve fixed some of these now!).

In case you weren't sure which festival you were at.

In case you weren’t sure which festival you were at.

Monday 5th August

–  The bus ride to Sziget takes us through the suburbs of Budapest, which have that familiar yet alien feel of so many European countries. We’re chasing the glowing orange sunset and arrive as night is falling. We meet an Australian guy called Matt on the bus – we get split up, but as fortune would have it we bump into each other later on in the internet tent.

– We wander past a man wearing a rabbit head riding a mechanical bull. James will later try his hand at it, but not before the Pope, a Londoner dressed as a medic, and several pairs of girls make their own attempts. The Londoner puts in an impressive stint and at least one of the pairs of girls come dangerously close to butting heads – for his part, James makes the an admirable go of surviving a particularly rough-looking ride (he’s probably still got the marks to prove it).

– An attempt to ask a question in English to the left luggage attendees in the French camping area leads to a total communication breakdown – I later wonder whether I should have made a ham-fisted attempt to get the point across in French, but I have absolutely no confidence whatsoever in my ability to speak any foreign language. This is probably due to my almost complete lack of ability to speak any foreign language.

– Matt stops to talk to three Dutch girls, (Sarie, Nena, and Tessa) and we end up hanging out with them for the rest of the evening. We go in search of the party (or at least, some music to dance to) and find that everywhere we go seems to wind up shortly after we arrive.

– After about 2am, it seems like music seems to start flowing from various bars around the main stage on a more permanent basis. We bump into medic guy again, and he’s still with the Pope. The leads to me singing a song about “Dancing With The Pope” (to the tune of Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’). I thought it was funny, anyway.

– A random guy tells me that I’ll get fat eating sweet and sour chicken, and that I should empty the contents of my box out and fill it with vodka instead.

– At some point Tessa loses one of her contact lenses, and thus the great search for the contact lens begins. A small crowd forms of those genuinely trying to help (using lights on mobile phones), and those doing the exact opposite (the guy who was simply waving an old-style phone receiver around). Sarie eventually finds it and all is well again.

– Somehow we end up partying until gone 4am. I dance like an idiot to songs I wouldn’t even care to admit knowing the words to – my rendition of ‘Numb/Encore’ is particularly good, if I do say so myself.

...and this is what 4am looked like.

…and this is what 4am looked like.

– James attempts to go back to the tent and duly gets lost. Fortunately he still has some of his wits about him and we’re able to reunite. I guide him back to the tent and then head back. Of course, the party winds up as soon as I get there.

Tuesday 6th August

– If there’s one thing you shouldn’t expect at Sziget Festival, it’s a good night’s sleep. I probably only managed about two hours before the baking sun woke me up.

– There’s some confusion RE actually getting our press passes – seemingly a catch 22 situation where we need to go to the VIP area to get our press passes, but we can’t get in to the VIP area without the press passes. Fortunately we’re able to attract the attention of the press crew, thus resolving the situation.

– We intend to go visit Budapest, but that plan is scuppered by the fact I suffer a huge sleep deprivation induced crash and end up literally just monging out in the shade for two or three hours. James makes better use of his time by heading off to the sports area and then befriending a German girl called Lotte, and a Dutch girl called Fina. I end up spending most of the rest of the afternoon with them at the beach, which is a good way to recuperate.

The beach had some impressive sand-sculptures too.

The beach had some impressive sand-sculptures too.

Wednesday 7th August:

– Today I meet a couple of Sarie’s Belgian friends, Filip and Pieter (I’m almost certain I’ve got at least one of those names wrong, I’m so sorry). They seem like cool guys and actually give us one of the more surprisingly decent recommendations of the weekend when they tell us to check out Triggerfinger on Thursday.

– “You have very good English, where are you from?” – Hungarian pizza man. The Hungarian pizza was great, by the way, but the spicy one is very spicy, as James discovered. The guy also had an amazing moustache.

– While I’m sat outside the Party Arena I can’t help but think that Chase & Status are basically the worst ever.

– Exchange between boy and girl, both wearing “Let’s Sziget Fucked” t-shirts. I presume there’s some pre-amble to this, but the only part of their conversation I witness properly is as follows.

Boy: *Boob grab* “You have very nice breasts.”
Girl: “Thank you!”

– Someone hands me a loyalty card for vodka, complete with attached shot glass. It does, of course, contain a reminder to drink responsibly.

Drink vodka, get free stuff!

Drink vodka, get free stuff!

– Nick Cave omits the lines “I do driver alertness course/I do husband alertness course/I do mermaid alertness course” from ‘Mermaids’. I don’t know if he just forgot them, or whether he thought the reference to a driving mishap he had in Brighton might be lost in translation.

– While dancing in the Colosseum at one point, we notice a conga line going past. A weird guy also sticks a shiny star on Sarie’s face. Takes all sorts, I guess.

Thursday 8th August:

– I mentioned in my review that the frontman of Balthazar compared performing at Sziget to performing in a microwave. I didn’t mention that he followed that comparison up with the following statement: “Let’s just pretend that this is a big bowl of spaghetti and you’re the real tasty meatballs!”

– Presented verbatim, here is the list of objects that I saw being confiscated by security before the Kees Van Hondt show:

  • Two metal barrels
  • A bench
  • Several chairs
  • Several large tree branches
  • A bin
  • Another bench
  • A gazebo
  • An actual fucking Donkey Kong barrel
  • A tripod
  • A giraffe on a stick
  • A tent
  • Another tent
Here are just some of the items in question (including that Donkey Kong barrel).

Here are just some of the items in question (including that Donkey Kong barrel).

– On the way back to the tent I see a young man crouched on the floor, clutching what appears to be a now-deflated inflatable of some sort, and a can of Red Bull. It seems possible that he’s on some sort of Kees Van Hondt induced comedown and is currently wondering what the hell is going on in his life.

Friday 9th August:

– James managed to lose his phone yesterday, but by some miracle an incredibly kind girl called Lisse has picked it up, and after a series of missed calls we’re eventually re-united with it at the Sziget Beach. Apparently she’s some sort of festival guardian angel, as she managed to re-unite someone else with their phone at a previous festival too.

– Today also features the only real source of frustration, a failed attempt to get an interview. Now, I wasn’t really arsed about doing any interviews in the first place and was only even trying to sort this out as a favour, and my original apathy towards doing interviews at festivals is vindicated in the worst way possible. The problem comes down to being sent from pillar to post by some not-desperately-helpful security guards, attempting to find some sort of alternative entrance to backstage in a blind panic, ringing the stage manager too late and not getting an answer, then saying “fuck it” and giving up in an exasperated huff (and of course, missing a call back from the stage manager in the process). So, I end up with nothing to show for spending two hours dicking around trying to sort this out, apart from a general feeling of being unprofessional and the silver lining that I don’t have to do any transcription when I get home (seriously, transcribing interviews is so fucking boring, even if your subject is the most interesting person in the world). So that’s how I ended up writing an email to the press team, apologising for not doing an interview I didn’t really want to do in the first place.

– tl;dr version of the above: Unless your line of work absolutely demands it or you’re mad keen to talk to the band in question, don’t bother doing interviews at festivals – you’ll only end up wasting your time. And at a place like Sziget, there’s so many other ways you could better spend two hours.

– I end up not watching much of the band in question out of misplaced spite (seriously, it can’t possibly be their fault). They’re great musicians, but I know for a fact I won’t enjoy their set regardless of that.

Let's lighten the mood with this pretty picture that's a complete non-sequitur!

Let’s lighten the mood with this pretty picture that’s a complete non-sequitur!

– As I’m waiting for Blur to start, I manage to bump into Sarie and co completely by chance. I then end up getting distracted and losing them 5 minutes later, just as the band comes on stage. This means I spend the entirety of the Blur show on my own, which is exactly what I didn’t want to do. But while I feel a bit miserable about it, perhaps it’s for the best – at least no-one notices me getting a bit teary-eyed during ‘Tender’. And ‘This Is A Low’. And ‘The Universal’. Then again, if I’d have had company then my emotions would no doubt have been somewhat different. It’s almost merciful that they end on the high of ‘Song 2’, otherwise I might have ended up a total wreck.

– Some guy wants to take a photo of my ‘I (Ghost) J F’ T-shirt, because it has his initials on it. This is slightly strange but still somehow cheers me up a bit.

Saturday 10th August:

– In the early hours of the morning and into the early afternoon, a storm hits the island. Nothing too drastic though – the cold air is nice for a change and the rain(!) means I can actually lie in the tent for more than a couple of hours in the morning, which is refreshing. It’s a stark contrast to rain at UK festivals, which feels like a depressing inevitability.

– Hadouken! keyboardist Alice Spooner looks to have gotten involved in the afternoon’s colour party, if her t-shirt is anything to go by. The band’s frontman James Smith shouts “THIS. IS. SPARTA!” at one point, and in hindsight I’m not really sure why. He also manages to get the crowd to do a Mexican Wave.

I have absolutely no idea what or where this is, but it looks kinda cool, right?

I have absolutely no idea what or where this is, but it looks kinda cool, right?

– I somehow manage to successful direct a French guy towards some pizza using incredibly rudimentary French. Granted, the journey only really involved two stages (turn right, then turn left), but I still felt a little proud of myself.

– I was wearing a Hot Club de Paris t-shirt featuring drawing of a young Bruce Springsteen and the words “There is only one boss that Hot Club de Paris answer to.” On the way back to my tent, a random guy stared at the aforementioned t-shirt for a few seconds, grinned at me inanely, then wandered off.

Sunday 11th August:

– I see a girl with a sign saying “Hugs 50ft” (forints, not feet), and think that someone’s got a high opinion of themselves. I then notice that her friend has a sign offering hugs for 100ft.

– I think that Ryan Jarman tries to sing the Hungarian National Anthem at one point during The Cribs’ set, but I’m not too sure. Whatever it is, it goes down pretty well.

– While watching Franz Ferdinand, I spot a gazebo with ‘Franz’ adorned on it, as well as a flag bearing the logo for video game series Half Life. Later, some guys will start dancing on top of a passing truck during ‘Outsiders’, like the true rebels they are.

– “It’s always better on holiday” go the words to ‘Jacqueline’. Too damn right it is.

Monday 12th August:

– We end up arriving at the airport way too early to even check out, but James doesn’t feel like going anywhere else. I somewhat guiltily leave the larger of my two bags with him and head back into Budapest on my own. Managed to get an hour or two in at the Hotel Gellert Spa, although it does take me half an hour of that time to actually find an unoccupied locker that works. Pro tip – if you’re using your free Citypass Spa ticket like I was and don’t want to pay extra for a cabin, go leave your larger items of luggage at the hotel itself. I’m not sure of the full details on rates, but I only paid 500ft (about £1.50) for a couple of hours, which didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. The spa itself is very nice, and I definitely feel better for having made the journey.

– Budapest airport is very nice, but seems pretty slack when it comes to actually making any public announcements about flights – I’d recommend you set an alarm for an hour or so before your flight leaves, just in case. James and I only realise we’re on last call about half an hour before our scheduled departure, and the queue at passport control is ridiculously slow. We’re not the only ones who’re running late however, and pretty much anyone left to check in for the Manchester flight ends up hustling to the front of the queue. Fortunately, to Jet2’s credit, they’re aware of the problem and hold the flight back until everyone is on board – and it doesn’t cause us any delay as the flight turns out to be shorter than expected.

Push The Sky Away

Push The Sky Away

– “I thought you were American.” – Welsh BBC researcher that James ended up sat next to on the plane home. Apparently I’m still adopting my ‘talking to people whose first language isn’t English’ voice, like the unintentionally patronising Brit that I am.

– We bump into one of the more distressed passengers from our earlier escapade at the airport – a lovely (if slightly kooky) girl called Sky, who’d nearly overslept and missed the flight entirely. We had a bit of a chat while waiting for our bags to come off the plane and in the subsequent downtime before we head to the station, and it turns out she’s been doing body painting at some sort of crazy Psytrance festival in Hungary. After making sure she’s got something to eat and somewhere to charge her phone, she thanks us for our help and we’re on our way back to York.

Top 10 Sziget Festival Tips

  1. If you value a good night’s sleep, don’t stay on the island.
  2. If you plan to party all night, do stay on the island.
  3. You can basically camp almost anywhere, within reason. Just make sure it’s somewhere shady.
  4. If you’re a hopeless introvert (like me), either bring an extroverted friend who’ll inadvertently help you make new friends (thanks James!), or bring someone you know will stick with you for the whole weekend. Or, failing that, be happy to go do stuff on your own.
  5. If you have a 7-day ticket, make the most of the Monday and Tuesday by exploring some of the more out of the way stages or doing some non-music activities (particularly popular ones like the Luminarium or Tarot Labyrinth, the latter of which I sadly missed). It’ll save you rushing around and trying to do them all on the last day.
  6. Don’t be too ambitious with your plans during the festival. Even a short trip into town can seem like an impossible mission in the heat.
  7. If you actually want to visit Budapest properly, consider staying a couple of days before or after the festival (or both). You won’t have as much time or inclination to do so during the festival as you might think.
  8. If you’re not sure what you want to do at any given moment, take tips from others and just generally be willing to try new things.
  9. Bring a nail brush. Seriously, my nails were almost constantly filthy.
  10. If you have time, take a visit to a spa before your flight home. It really did help me feel a bit more human.

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