Sziget Festival
Óbudai-Sziget, Budapest, Hungary
August 5-8, 2004

by Keith Henderson Keith Henderson

From Aural Innovations #29 (October 2004)

To be honest, after spending 10 days in central Germany in mid-July, attending both iterations of the “Herzberg” festival, I wasn’t much in the mood for another trip so soon. But the opportunity to see nearly all of my favorite Hungarian psychedelic artists in a single event was too strong to pass up. And visiting at least one major city in Eastern Europe was also something that I was keen to do. In the end, it turned out to be easier to go to Budapest by air rather than by train, which would have entailed an overnight journey where I’ve heard that sleeping takes a certain degree of skill. I had never heard of this Sziget Festival before discovering it on the gig list at Korai Öröm’s website, but I easily enough found all the info I needed at the fest’s own site. The word “Sziget” itself means “island,” which refers to the fact that the festival site is indeed a(n American) football-shaped island in the middle of the Donau River, better known as the Danube. Defying Strauss’ waltz, the Danube here is wide, flat, and not particularly blue, but rather a murky brownish color. The middle four letters of Óbudai (the particular island’s name) indicate that it lies close to the western bank of the river, which is indeed the “Buda” side of town (Pest being the east side). The old Chain Bridge that 150 years ago effectively joined the two cities into one, is just visible down to the south some 2 or 3 km.

My flight arrived without problem at the main airport far off to the southeast of the city, and I had only a cryptic description of the route to the island that I had downloaded off the web. But I was surprised to see a small information booth in the baggage claim area specifically for those people travelling to the fest. That was my first indication that this was indeed quite a large affair! They were helpful in getting me started on my way (a bus trip to reach the entry point of the city’s underground), but it was still some work to understand the mass transit network. The Hungarian language is totally foreign to me, with seemingly a total lack of any common Latin-based root, so even place names were indistinguishable from common words. But it wasn’t all that difficult to make the two connections necessary to reach the closest stop to the island, and the huge mass of people all headed in the same direction made the final walk a no-brainer. The festival goes on a whole week, but I had only arranged to catch the four days starting with Thursday and continuing through the weekend. There were obviously many Budapest natives that came from their own homes each day, but the number of temporary residents on the island in tents was also staggering. I was happy to find a comfortable spot soon after arriving, somewhere on the southern edge of the grounds, close enough to the restrooms/showers but far enough away from the stages to have some peace and quiet at night.

With my tent secured, and the official 136-page festival guide in hand, I set out to explore the grounds and tentatively draw up a plan schedule for Thursday concert viewing. It wasn’t easy. Music entertainment was going on in some form or another at about 20 different places simultaneously! Thankfully, there was some organization to the scheme, with different stages having an obviously musical theme; a blues stage here, a jazz stage there, the metal stage way over there (where they won’t bother anyone else), etc. The main festival stage was roughly in the middle of the site, facing northward across a large semi-circular area of hard-packed dirt. I had been warned about the high dust level of festivals past, and indeed it is obviously much drier in late summer in Budapest as compared to the Alpine front where I live. But it wasn’t really such a bad situation, and there was even a bit of rain over the weekend. Finding the main stage wasn’t a great priority for me, since there wasn’t really anything going on there that greatly interested me (the likes of Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell were acts that I was perfectly happy to avoid at all costs). But without too much searching I found the two stages that housed most of the progressive and psychedelic bands. The stage sponsored by the Bahia record label was built along the far western edge of the grounds, and the one run by the Wan2 music magazine was just beyond the main stage over to the east. Both were surprisingly large festival tents, long and rectangular, with wooden pallets fit together to make a functional floor.

The music programs for most high-traffic places got going around 4 or 5 PM, and I first caught a few tunes by Zagastic, a serviceable but otherwise unremarkable reggae band with a pair of female singers. It was still early enough in the day such that the hot, stagnant air inside each of these canvas structures made enjoying the music somewhat challenging. So, it’s unfortunate for all those bands scheduled in the first two hours that they play at such a big event with the potential for many new listeners, and the audiences are small just because of the (lack of) comfort level. So I myself didn’t stay long, and strolled over to the open main stage site (Nagyszínpad in Hungarian) where the Dutch band Zanzibar was playing. Despite the exotic-sounding name, they were the type of nondescript pop-alternative band that hardly plays anything exotic. So it was inside the stagnant, hot Bahia tent where I got my first chance to hear something truly interesting. Eclipse play a brand of hard progressive rock, not unlike Tool, with active bass lines and complex structures. The guitarist relied heavily on the ole hammer-on technique that I’ve always thought sounded gimmicky and robotic, but overall they had a strong, punchy sound that managed to cut through the stuffy air inside the tent, and I stayed through to the end of their hour-long set.

I returned to Wan2 to discover the Russian/Armenian band Deti Picasso, that played hybridized rock versions of traditional folk songs from their homeland. This kind of thing can sometimes come off very poorly, but they were really quite impressive at times. Lead singer Gaya Arutyunian had a very strong and resonant voice, and also a great stage presence. In the middle of their set, they went through a bit of a lull with some quieter stuff including even a lullaby tune, but then they went forth again with some surprising heavy and psychedelic numbers that really got the ever-growing audience moving. And by the end, Arutyunian was commanding such attention that she was able to choreograph the entire audience into following her dance moves. I was disappointed that there wasn’t any merchandising opportunity here, because I might well have walked off with one of their CDs, had that been possible. Only the heavy metal stage (sponsored by HammerWorld magazine) had a merchandizing booth, though I couldn’t tell whether the performing bands were even involved with that. And the main festival merchandising booths were mostly selling T-shirts, so I was a little disappointed to see that there wasn’t much infrastructure in place to help the bands offer their own goods.

For the next few hours, I engaged myself mainly in searching out something remotely familiar enough to try eating, as well as sampling the “flüssiges Brot.” The two main beer sponsors (impossible to miss, given the carpet-bombing style of advertising) were Arany Ászok and Dreher, neither of which was familiar to me. I went with the former just because it was a bit cheaper, as I figured that neither were particularly outstanding examples of fine brewing. It was only Saturday that I realized that Dreher was in fact far superior and worth the extra 50 forints, it having some actual flavor to it. Hoppier and slightly bitter, as I prefer. Oh, well, you live and learn. My listening choices were mainly determined by random chance, and I caught a few songs by the obviously-popular Hungarian group Kispál és a Borz on the main stage. Again, another radio-friendly pop-rock group for those who would rather hear music in their native tongue rather than listen to the same boring stuff in English. Die Ärtze fulfil that same role in Germany, and not surprisingly I saw them on the schedule for later in the week.

I continued my walkabout only to discover that the main festival “roads” were becoming mobs of people, and that during the peak hours of festival activity the crowds became almost too big to handle. It was impossible to say just how many people were on the island each night, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put the numbers into the 100,000 range. This place was obviously the place to be, for any and all young people interested in any sort of entertainment, or even just to get away from their parents. And they came from far away too, as I heard quite a few people speaking German (probably many from Vienna, Austria). I had already discovered by this time that the exchange rate between the Swiss Franc (and likewise the Euro) was extremely favourable, such that even with travel costs one could have a fairly cheap party weekend in Budapest. Not knowing this ahead of time, I ended up carrying back about 30% of the Hungarian Forints that I had withdrawn on the first day.

Anyway, I eventually fought my way back to the south area and stopped briefly inside the jazz tent to find a five-piece band called, according to the schedule, the Elemér Balázs Quartet. The incongruity between the number of players present and that suggested by the band’s name didn’t much bother me, and they were talented and tight, but there’s not a lot about jazz music that excites me much. From what I remember, the guitarist put forth some pretty nice licks here and there, interspersed with the obligatory e-piano runs…pretty standard stuff, not bad but a little antiseptic. So I walked off down the road to the HammerWorld stage, where I was met with the exact opposite. Metal these days has left me stuck deep in the past…I’m now definitely ‘old school.’ Kids streaming into the huge tent-hall were all wearing t-shirts sporting the current faves in the extreme-metal category, e.g., Therion, Dimmu Bunghole (or something) and naturally the band just then heading to the stage, Children of Bodom. This Finnish death-metal group left me yet colder than that jazz group. I’m sorry, I just don’t find anything interesting in simply making so much goddamn noise as possible and then having your ‘vocalist’ imitate vomiting sounds at a volume level to match. The tent (especially in the back where I was standing) suffered from a pretty strong echo phenomenon as well, so any subtlety in the music was lost into the muffle-chamber of the environment.

So, I fled that scene not long thereafter and leisurely made my way back to the Bahia stage, where I was awaiting the highlight of Thursday night, the excellent Másfél. They’ve undergone a bit of a minor transition in the last two years, as cellist Eszter Salamon has apparently split from the group for good. So nowadays, the saxophone of Levente Lukács is becoming yet more prominent in the ‘lead’ sense, but really it’s bassist János Hegedüs that for me is the band’s star attraction. His bass lines are always sophisticated yet playful, and his energy level throughout this 75-minute performance saw no limit. The crowd was as enthusiastic as the band, and even this ‘little’ tent was packed full with more than 1,000 people, or at least it seemed. They have reworked some of their best tunes from the ‘Angyaltojás’ CD, including the title track (translated ‘Angel’s Egg’), Perpetum Stabile, and Pitbull Terrier, each now having the suffix “2.0” tagged on. Of everything that I hoped to hear on this weekend fest, I think “Angyaltojás” (as it was on the studio CD) was the one song I most looked forward to. And while I might not prefer Version 2.0 to the original, the basic elements of the song survive, arranged now in a new way that is still interesting and fresh.

Their new live CD entitled 'Balast' (Playground Records, 2003) has all these new versions, as well as some new tracks not on the previous studio albums, and I strongly recommend it. The music of Másfél is as well-crafted and complex as any 'progressive rock' band I've ever heard, yet it takes all the effort you can muster to keep yourself from dancing about and jumping up and down like an idiot. Luckily, when everyone is doing it, as on this hot night in a crowded tent, you aren't the only one looking like an idiot. The finale tune was an especially surreal moment for me, given that Lipps Inc. "Funkytown" is about the most awful thing I experienced as a young teenager growing up, trying my very best not to be irredeemably corrupted by pop radio. But here Másfél has even managed (unbelievably) to me having to rethink things, as their interpretation of this song (which they call simply "Funky") is really kinda, uh, fun! Oh my god, did I just say that?! Anyway, Másfél lived up to my high expectations and I feel that this is the sort of band that pocket-protector-wearing, CD-poll-statistic-calculating, NEARFest-attending, nearly irredeemable prog-nerds in the USA need to discover if they ever want to get any dates. Probably won't help me, but there's hope for the rest of you.

Once Másfél’s set came to an end, I hurried my way out and up the road as fast as I could (it was packed by then), to catch the last bit of Korai Quartet in the Ambient tent. It was highly unfortunate that there was such a large overlap scheduled, but I was happy to at least enjoy the last two pieces of their performance. Of course, the quartet is led by synth-player Emil Biljarszki of Korai Öröm, though I wasn’t paying enough attention to the other three to know who else is in the band. There was a guitarist and drummer, but the music was quite true to the ‘ambient’ label, with lots of soothing spacey textures taking a lead role. The Ambient tent was, in one sense, a very ‘cool’ place to be, quite a contrast to the overcrowded party atmosphere elsewhere. But it was also rather reminiscent of a med-evac triage unit, its soft carpeted floor littered with the semi- or even unconscious bodies of so many partied-out souls. The wonderful light projections, rippling across both the backstage screen as well as the sheets billowing down from the ceiling (like the shimmering reflections off a swimming pool) had an additional hypnotic effect. Anyway, though I caught just 15 minutes of music or so, hearing some of Korai Quartet was a nice way to wind down to prepare for much-needed sleep.

Friday morning I did a bit more exploring around the island, as there remained still many places I hadn’t been. I found the strange inflatable architecture thing way off in the far NW corner, courtesy of the Ixilum folks. Sadly, although I had made the intention to do so, I never actually found the time to actually enter the place. It required some amount of waiting in line, but it seemed it would have been worth the wait. Anyway, the first band I caught that afternoon was Zdob si Zdub on the big stage where already big crowds were gathered. These guys from Moldova did a similar kind of mixture of traditional folk and rock as did Deti Picasso, but it wasn’t quite as successful for me. Instead of any psychedelic touches, they had more of a heavy/alternative style, but they were fairly interesting nonetheless. The lead singer was a real character, wearing a kilt and using various props. At one point, some older guy that looked like a politician, joined the band and they did obviously some traditional song in their native language. My guess is he might have been the Moldovan ambassador to Hungary, or something.

Over at the Bahia stage, I caught some of the performance by local Budapestis Fred Astral, who were pretty good as well. They played atmospheric jazzy rock, featuring agile, light guitar licks and a female vocalist, who sounded like a mix of Patti LaBelle and Grace Slick! She really had an interesting and strong voice, as you can imagine. After them, I made it a point to head over to the Wan2 stage for the Trottel Stereodream Experience, whose CDs I’ve seen on several occasions in places where one can find other Hungarian/psych music. The latter part of the name already suggests something that shouldn’t be missed (though the word Trottel means ‘idiot’ in German…I wonder if they know that?), and indeed they heavily featured a lot of electronic sounds in the mix. However, in the end, I found their songs missing something. I’m not sure what it was, but I didn’t find myself really catching on to the rhythms or melodies…I was just listening to the sounds, which while spot on, weren’t quite enough for me to have a great experience, despite the band’s name. Well, you never know, I might give them a second look someday; it’s not like my first instincts have never been wrong before!

I wandered off at some point, and ended up off the beaten track in the venue sponsored by the Durex condom manufacturers, who were among the more prolific of companies canvassing the grounds with their comical ‘Sperm Team’ (or what have you), passing out little white ‘condom hats’ that wouldn’t have gone over too well in some neighborhoods I can think of. Anyway, their Táncdalfesztivál sátor was home at that moment to a cover band with the terrible name Hit Rock, who played a large selection of Pink Floyd tunes. And not so badly either, though I normally have very little time for such ‘tribute’ bands. They even did a few from the post-Watters era that was OK by me, as I’m one of the few who thinks that stuff wasn’t really all that bad. They also did a serviceable job with “Crazy Diamond.” Hit Rock threw in a few tracks by other bands, but the only one I remember is Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” because I remember I went and had dinner during the inevitable drum solo.

On my leisurely journey back to the south end and the ‘metal’ stage, I stopped for a short time at the outdoor Pesti Est band-shell, where Eszter Váczi és a Szörp were performing. Váczi is the lead singer, fronting a large band with all sorts of brass and percussion instruments, playing a very fan-friendly ‘world-pop’ sort of concoction. Not terrible, and the percussionists were very good, but they aren’t doing so much to push boundaries very far. I made it back to the HammerWorld stage in time to get a good place staked out for the performance by The Gathering out of Holland. Now I’ve been a fan of the Gathering for at least five years, since I saw them in Columbus on the “How to Measure a Planet” tour. And there’s still something about singer Anneke van Giersbergen that can’t be ignored (I’m talking about her voice!), though I admit at first I really wasn’t a big fan of her style. Her very unique way of drawing out her voice over every other word took some getting used to, but eventually I came around to recognize her to be among the most interesting vocalists going today.

But then I had gone to see them here in Switzerland for the ‘Souvenirs’ tour, and was really let down. That album was rather weak in my opinion, and their set list didn’t punch it up with some older numbers that would have saved that show (“Liberty Bell” should be in every show!). So, here at Sziget, I was happy when they launched into some powerful numbers right away, like “On Most Surfaces,” “Sleepy Buildings,” and “Strange Machines.” So I thought, what I’d seen six months earlier was going to be an aberration. Because here we are in a big hall with 3,000 screaming youngsters, who live and die for the music that most scares the hell out of their parents. And then, after all, there’s a huge banner that says “HAMMERWORLD” right above the stage. Certainly, the Gathering won’t then forego their ‘metal’ past and stick with their more recent ‘textural’ songs like they did last time, right?! Well, that’s exactly what they did…unbelievably. And Anneke’s angelic voice wasn’t enough to save them…OK yeah, a lot of people screamed and applauded after every song, but then these people were mostly young guys who would have done likewise if Anneke had simply stood there and told dirty limericks all evening. Actually, I think they would have even cheered louder, had that been the case!

Anyway, I’m absolutely stunned that such a talented band could be so clueless about how their prepared set-list is going to work for their audience that night, such that they could choose such music and, really, just bore the pants off everyone. I’m sure there’s a different perspective for them onstage as opposed to me in the audience, but that’s exactly why their manager should be out in the audience experiencing the show exactly as I did. So I wasn’t really surprised at all as I walked out following the end of the encore (another slow, textural piece, that followed 10 similar songs) that what had been a full auditorium at the outset had become quite sparsely populated in the back half. The Gathering have a really excellent catalogue of songs to choose from over their career, but for some reason they’ve decided to leave out all the ones that give momentum to a show. Very strange. Yeah, a couple of them were heavy and loud at times, but there was very little forward motion after the first 20 minutes. I see they are coming back to Switzerland next month. I was all set to blow it off this time, following these two weak performances, but I’ve decided to go check out their opening act Paatos from Sweden. So we’ll see if they’ve learned anything.

Well, I was still having such a good time at Sziget that I wasn’t going to let that disappointment stay with me very long, so I was immediately out searching for more new bands. I was surprised to see that the band onstage just then at the Bahia tent turned out to be nearly identical to Deti Picasso, although this time called Children of Picasso (which is actually what Deti Picasso means, I see now). But then, they weren’t quite the same, in their alter-ego. To be honest, I don’t know what it was, and in the time between then and now I’ve forgotten, but the “Deti” version was much better for some reason. The psychedelic touches were missing, and Arutyunian sang differently in some way and wasn’t quite as endearing a personality as before. So I headed back to the Ambient tent to take off the shoes (required actually) and chill out for awhile once more. First up with a trio, that according to the schedule should have been the ZUM/Papilla project, but I can’t confirm that and see I have no photographic evidence. All I remember is the tall thin woman playing bass.

Later, a four-piece Slovakian group called Abuse came out and played some stuff that was IMHO too loud and energetic to be called ‘ambient.’ In fact, it seemed to me that a band playing such music would prefer to have an audience that was actually more attentive than what they were facing, which was again a floor full of lifeless lumps. A few people were kind enough to acknowledge after each song (I did my best as well) the efforts of those providing the live music in the venue. However, the good concept of the chill-out tent is not really working to provide a proper forum for live bands, if you were to ask me. I think at some point in the evening, they should have just switched over from real bands to some ambient music DJ’ing, which could be both enjoyed but also generally ‘ignored’ without offense.

I chose Saturday to make a trip down to the inner city, just to sightsee and spend away some of these Forints, of which I still had too many. Of course, it was a cloudy day with a few bouts of drizzle, but the cooler temperatures actually made it more pleasant to be climbing up and down Castle Hill. I made it back to the festival around 6 PM, to catch some of the Swedish heavy-metal band In Flames, who were given a prominent place on the main stage. Unlike Children of Bodom, I thought these guys really had some musical ideas to share, even though they were awfully damn loud at times too. Their album art is really nice to boot, and you would expect to hear Floydian proggy-rock if you went by their designs alone. I haven’t run out and purchased any In Flames CDs since I saw them, mind you, but I think they at least gave me some hope that metal these days isn’t all about ‘out-suffering’ your friends, as if it were all some sort of aural Jackass episode. (“Oh, man, I bet I could take an even harder kick in the nuts, and still not cry!”)

As you might imagine, Korai Öröm’s performance was a key moment for me not to miss. So I had to keep tabs on the schedule over at the Wan2 stage where they were set to go on at 12:50 AM. But then, that afternoon someone had pasted over the name of the band scheduled before them (Talvin Singh) and moved the Korai’s up to the earlier slot (11:00 PM). At the time, that seemed to be very lucky, as if I had showed up only at the later time, they might have just finished! In the end, it seemed that someone may have realized this as well, because they went on about the same time as originally scheduled, and so the stage manager must have just let bands play a little longer in between and give the crew longer between sets to change gear. But while I was there, I walked in to find the local Budapest band Mantra Porno finishing up their last two songs. While the first one was pretty good, such that I didn’t immediately turn around to leave again, their finale was really spectactular. I don’t know what it was called, but it was very energizing, reminding me a bit of the band Salaryman out of Illinois. The pulsating electronics were very modern, bordering on the techno, but they had a full contingent of rock instrumentation as well and also a guy playing soprano sax. Again, I was disappointed in the total lack of merchandising in the concert venues, but I was happy to stumble across their CD called ‘Ganja Police’ at a vendor elsewhere on the island the next day. I have to admit that I haven’t find the studio recording to be nearly as good as my 10-minute experience with Mantra Porno live, but they’re still a pretty good band irregardless and I’ll keep an eye out for them in the future.

So now I headed back to HammerWorld to catch Finland’s Amorphis, a band that has gone through a similar evolution as the Gathering. I’m sure a few think of them as having sold out for a more commercial approach, but I like what they’ve done in more recent years, giving up that horrid monster-voice singing for the most part and even delving into Hawkwind and Kingston Wall cover songs! But more importantly, Amorphis came prepared to deliver what they knew their audience wanted…some balls-to-the-wall metal. So, their setlist was evenly represented by songs from their complete history, the stuff from ‘Tales from the Thousand Lakes’ being the ones most favored by the fans in-house. Whereas I prefer the stuff from ‘Tuonela,’ where they first “smoothed out” their sound and added the psych-ish wah-pedal guitar, and happily they did some of those too, including “The Way.” Vocalist Pasi Koskinen (who has since split from the band, so they are looking for a new singer momentarily) is able to do both vocal styles, and thankfully he has a really nice natural singing voice. The most recent studio album ‘Far from the Sun’ was also featured, and I have to admit that I haven’t yet picked up a copy, since I had heard it was too ‘derivative’ of their previous two, including ‘Tuonela’ and ‘Am Universum,’ the latter of which already sounded too much like they were trying to recreate the same album. So, especially now having lost their singer, I wonder if they’ve already hit on their high point, but still, their live performance on this night was very good. I never had to look at my watch, and they didn’t just flail away and make a bunch of noise either. I think the fans thought likewise, as the tent was just as full at the end as it was at the beginning.

I got back to Wan2 stage pretty quickly, just to make sure I understood what was going on, in relation to Korai Öröm’s start time. A band that I eventually learned was Zagar was onstage at the time, and I stayed around just to learn mainly where we were in the set (beginning, middle, or end). Their music was a bit too cute for me, albeit electronic…perhaps Radiohead or Starsailor fans would have liked it. But the odd part was watching the screen off to the side of the stage, that was sponsored by some big phone company. At some points during the weekend, they actually showed live video of the performing artists from various cameras, just as they did over at the main stage. But now, they just had a service that allowed people to send in SMS-text messages from their cell phones and have them posted on the big screen for everyone to read. And so that’s how I found out who was playing, given that somebody had posted this query and gotten a response…as well as a few other comments, which I won’t relate. A few conversations of a sort began, which eventually became a shouting match about which particular European football club “Roolz” the most and which “Sux.” And then the inevitable photo-posting, which included certain well-endowed females. There must have been somebody censoring it at least a little, because it would have only been a matter of time before someone would have found it entirely hilarious to post hardcore pornography for everyone to see, and that didn’t actually happen. Anyway, if the music were any better, I wouldn’t have found this worthy of so much attention, and plus, it made me feel really old.

Once Zagar finished up I could estimate how long it would be before ‘go time’ there at Wan2, so I quickly took off to Bahia once more to see a little of Úzgin Uver, who are a band I also find quite interesting. They are more steeped in the traditions of folk music, even more so lately with their newest CD ‘Vörös Rébék,’ which is a live effort in conjunction with a dance theatre performance in Budapest. Marcsi Farkas on violin and Gyula Majoros on various woodwinds provide most of the color to the sound. I only got to hear about two tunes, and I wasn’t in quite the right mood for such subtle touches (I was gearing up for hyperkinetic space rock, natch!), but still it was nice to catch a snippet of Úzgin Uver, no matter if I still don’t know how to pronounce it. I did manage to get both of the band’s latest CDs at the fest, so I got to hear more of their music later on.

I hurried back once again to Wan2, and indeed timed it pretty damn well, as I arrived before Korai Öröm went on, plus was able to sneak around the far side of the tent to get a spot close up. It was especially gratifying to be in such a large venue that was filling up with loads of people, obviously in anticipation of a band that they all knew from previous shows. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I usually expect my favorite bands to be supported by almost nobody in my home city, even those bands that are from that same city (!), so Korai Öröm’s support in their hometown is really wonderful. I hesitate to give a firm number, but it was a big tent and there were no empty spaces, so I think about 2,500 or more. I can’t remember all that they played, and like the show before that I’d seen, they have some new songs that aren’t yet available on disc. A few songs from both the ‘Sound & Vision’ albums (2000-Red and 2001-Blue) were featured, the highlight for me being the opening number from the 2000 CD, which is becoming one of my favorite songs of theirs. I think they also did the 1st and 3rd tracks from the 2001 disc (and maybe the 6th too?), which were also received well.

In recent years, Korai Öröm has more completely integrated vocalist Tibor Vécsi into the band and he was again onstage throughout the show, even putting in additional short vocal accompaniments into songs that were otherwise instrumental. This he often did in a similar way as for modern reggae/dub bands, which usually worked quite effectively. The thick, multi-faceted percussion and Zoltán Kilián’s steady basslines really carry most of the momentum, and then that’s countered by echoey guitar licks from Péter Szalai and the like. Miklós Paizs (aka p.m.), who often sits crosslegged on stage, so it’s easy to overlook him, plays a number of different instruments, including trumpet, jew’s harp, etc., and also contributes often as a ‘lead voice.’ All the synth textures come from bandleader Emil Biljarszki, who was front and center on this night, and surprisingly animated. He seemed a rather mild-mannered guy when I had met him in person last year, but obviously he was as charged up as the audience on this special night at Sziget. Their set was pretty long and almost non-stop ‘motion,’ but for several moments of introductory cosmic sounds and such. The lightshow was extremely effective and technically advanced, with coordinated video projections on both halves of the wide screen behind the band. Late into the set, a woman who I’d seen earlier performing elsewhere with her flaming “Poi” balls, came out onto the stage and did her routine to the music and that was cool also. All in all, a fantastic experience.

After the show, I just needed to escape the sweaty and still-rather-stuffy confines of the Wan2 tent and just get some fresh air. While walking aimlessly around the grounds, I came upon the Blues stage to discover Led Zeppelin Emlékzenekar, which I’m guessing means “Led Zep Emulator” as they were indeed just a tribute band. Well, I thought, at least I know I’ll like the songs they played. This tent, while a lot smaller than the Wan2, was totally packed as well, and the punters were obviously drunk enough to think that these guys were actually good. I finally woke up to what was obvious, which was that they were only marginal players, and didn’t really emulate Zeppelin at all very well either, so I wandered back out into the dark, just happy that my sweaty t-shirt had dried out so I didn’t get chilled again. I ended up back at the Wan2 where a band called Tanu Tuva was on as advertised. Now here was the stroke of luck for Saturday....Tanu Tuva were also really excellent!

No doubt any knowledgeable space/psych fan would have made the same mental note as I did, that Tanu Tuva play music quite similar to the Ozric Tentacles in many ways. The main difference being that these guys featured a full-time vocalist. I don’t remember, to be honest, what sort of voice the guy had or whether the singing was in a traditional verse-chorus style. But just the fact that they used ‘voice’ as an additional instrument was something that appealed to me. True, there are some purely-instrumental bands that I’ve fallen in love with over the years, such that the ‘missing’ vocals aren’t at all a concern, but Ozrics-type music I think it better with at least some singing. That’s why I actually liked Ship of Fools and Dead Flowers more than the Ozrics. So, Tanu Tuva is definitely a band to check out, if and when you can ever find some recorded product. I did a brief online search to see if I could come up with anything, but it just seemed that they’d recorded some demos and still have yet to release an album. Don’t quote me on that though!

Anyway, out of all the long weekend’s performances, I might have enjoyed this one the most. While all my pre-fest favorites were definitely excellent, they were also all playing in crowded venues, where one could potentially suffer from heat exhaustion and limited mobility and/or view. By this time of night, many people had already headed out to late-night parties or whatever, though there were still a good 500 folks or more enjoying the show. But I was happy to take a few steps back to the ‘mixing island’ and there found plenty of room to move about with the cosmic sounds and also had a great view of the excellent lightshow, carried over from the Korai Öröm performance by the same guys, or so it seemed. Tanu Tuva’s fabulous set came to and end somewhere around 3:30 I guess…whenever it was, I didn’t care at all about how late it was. I was just happy that I didn’t miss it! Wow…Saturday night really turned out to be a stunning live-music experience!

Sunday I woke up extra late for obvious reasons, and never really felt completely recovered. After three days of sensory overloading, I was ready to start winding down for the trip home and just try to take it easy. I hope I didn’t miss anything particularly exciting, but then one never knows. The sheer numbers of bands playing at this event, even just over the four days I was there, was virtually overwhelming. Sometimes you just had to wander around and stick your head into any random tent just to see what might be going on. And while this review is already ridiculously long, it doesn’t even mention the bunch of bands that I only heard for 90 seconds and then ran out screaming! So, I was pretty aimless on Sunday, just wasting some time shopping for CDs and trying out some strange food items that I could only point to.

I remember catching the last half of the performance by Titusz és a Carbonfools, who were playing on an outdoor stage sponsored by Dreher Beer, with a huge sandbox for the audience to play or dance in. It was a rather cool place for live bands, and I couldn’t understand why they only had just one performance per day there. The bassist I think was Titusz, and I think I had even seen him playing with another band earlier that week, but I can’t remember who now. They were OK anyway, and of course, close to the bar with the better (i.e., Dreher) beer. Later, I remember wandering back into the Wan2 tent when Anselmo were playing, but I don’t recall what sort of music they played and see now that I didn’t take a photo, so I must not have been too impressed.

Around 9 PM, I was back at Bahia to catch (by chance) Viktor Lois’ Tundravoice ‘orchestra’ (for lack of a better term), which featured a female vocalist accompanied by some guys playing crazy home-built instruments made out of scrap parts from cars, bicycles or whatever. The ‘drumset’ looked like some sort of mechanized Suzanne Sommers workout gizmo, which one ‘mounted’ as you would a motorcycle. I’m going to include a URL here where you can see some of Lois’ other designs. Actually, the instruments looked a lot weirder than the music sounded, so I think the peculiar construction techniques were more for visual rather than aural effect. But then the guy is primarily a sculptor, so that would figure. Interesting group to see, and yeah, to hear too.

The highlight of Sunday for me was to be Colorstar, who shares not just a guitar player, but also a fair amount of stylistic form, with Korai Öröm. Both bands use a similar approach for percussion, which I think goes a long way to characterizing the particular ‘Budapest’ psychedelic sound. Along with the ‘main’ drummer, who often sticks to a very straightfoward, almost metronomic, beat, they’ll also have a second percussionist who fills in the already-dense beat with extra flourishes and counter-beats. In that way, the Budapest bands always have both a ‘trancey’ yet ‘organick’ feel to them, and it’s why they can appeal to both old leftovers from the 70s like me, as well as today’s college-age rave-veterans. Colorstar offered a few tracks from ‘Via la Musica’ that I recognized, but I don’t remember anything specificly from their debut CD ‘Heavenicetrip.’ Which means I think they have a lot of new material that hopefully we’ll be hearing soon on CD as well. I’m not sure whether the lightshow was produced by the same people as for Saturday night, but it was really excellent too! The crowd was again quite huge, just as it was Saturday night in the same time slot at Wan2, and there was plenty of dancing and definitely a free spirit was always present.

It was only shortly past midnight when Colorstar wrapped up what was a very enjoyable set, but I was keen to just get enough sleep so as not to be worried about sleeping through my flight the next morning. I think I made a brief stop at the Ambient tent once more, thinking about maybe another relaxing moment before bedtime, but I think it was already overcrowded to the point of being too much trouble than it would have been worth. So then, I did wake up at about the perfect time to get all my gear collected, tent and sleeping bag rolled up, grab a quick snack at the nearest food vendor and head out for the train towards the airport. I imagine that there were more interesting bands to have been heard on Monday and Tuesday, but I don’t know who has that sort of stamina…not me, I guess!

All in all, I really thought the Sziget Festival was among the best music events I’d ever seen and heard, even if just for the sheer concentration of great, alternative music being offered all in one place. But of course, it was especially good because of those particular local bands that have really created a style all to themselves (if you believe my opinion, that is) within the genre of space-rock and ‘world psychedelia’ (for lack of a better term). And although I could have claimed to have been previously introduced to the Hungarian scene through the live Korai Öröm show I saw in a tiny club near Stuttgart in 2003, this was really the real deal. The downside to this festival was, of course, the level of commercialization present due to its massive size and marketing potential. At some points, you just thought maybe it would be better to just stay put where you were, rather than fight your way through the masses to wherever you thought you might want to go. But despite the sickening display of ‘carpet bomb’ advertising in certain areas, there still remained in some isolated corners a spirit of grassroots involvement, as it seemed to me that a lot of the work was done in a cooperative spirit to put together alternative venues that could coexist with the monster of consumerism next door. Such was the case for places like the Ambient tent and the area where a lot of theatrical and visual arts activities were going on. Sziget is really one-stop shopping for music and everything cultural, so that anybody interested in anything could find their little corner of the island to enjoy their particular favorite. Mine is space rock and psychedelia and I got plenty of that, and so despite the aesthetic butchery by numerous greedy corporations, I found it definitely a worthwhile experience. Maybe I’ll even be back in 2005!

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