Budapest, HG (AP) - Under the thumb of an oven-like heat wave, an estimated 250,000 music fans from around the world gathered on the skinny Pepsi Sziget Island in Budapest, Hungary, this past week for the biggest music event East of Berlin, which ended Tuesday (Aug. 7).
Sziget combines equal parts state fair and Lollapalooza -- at best a comprehensive music festival, at worst an exciting eastern European urban camping trip. Obudai Island, arboreally dense and cozily nestled in Budapest's tranquil Danube, modestly contained the noise and chaos of the enormous event. The festival hosts dozens of stages and hundreds of open-air galleries, shops, and workshops devoted to every imaginable art, from traditional gypsy music to contact improv sign-language dance. Navigating the festival was quite a trick, as all maps and available programs were strictly in Hungarian, leaving you and your hunches to call the shots.
However, it was not hard to find the music epicenters. When Morcheeba took stage the fourth night in, with a crowd of 50,000 fans jammed packed in the open-air arena, guitarist Ross Godfrey demurely commented, "They told us this would be a pub gig." The enormity of the crowd response must have been a shocker to incoming artists including Fun-Da-Mental, Republic, Run-DMC, Him, the Wailers, and Placebo.
The beauty of Sziget is in its diversity, from the Hari Krishna tent's hardcore punk bands to Brazilian stylus king CJ Bolland's world-class DJ set at the massive and slick New York dance arena. Mid-set, Bolland picked up the turntable (almost like a guitar) amidst a whirlwind of only slightly rhythmic beats and noise that remarkably kept the hall dancing.
Honorable mention goes to Hungarian jazz-hop sensation Yonderboi, who had the hometown crowd dancing to his band's blend of loungey jazz hooks thickened to Palladium proportions by scratching turntables and an androgynously pitched female lead singer.
This year, Sziget was so big that you couldn't help miss more than you caught. Though the program could have offered a much more daring range of foreign talent, to experience Sziget's sprawling adventure was clearly worth the price of admission.