For a day which is about to deliver arguably the greatest performance in Sziget’s 18-year history, Day 5 begins somewhat serenely, the looming storm-clouds dodged with a gentle stroll around the Octopus Multi-Arts Site. Like a low-budget Latitude, this collection of smaller stages and stands houses ballet, circus, dance and theatre, representation from some of Budapest’s most esteemed museums and the Digital Funfair, where the festival’s younger visitors can try their hand at DJing, virtual coconut shies and even playing Pacman whilst cycling. Although a perfect way to duck out of the hustle and bustle on a lazy afternoon, this is never going to be a festival highlight – there is only so much fun you can get out of watching an acrobat stacking cards, after all.
Billy Talent take to the main stage, third from the top of the bill, to kick off an unforgettable evening of music. Their performance is solid enough, opening up enormous circle pits 15m across around an excitable hardcore of fans near the front. Musically, the band hasn’t progressed beyond the slightly childish emo punk of the first album. Fairly entertaining to watch, and clearly excited at their billing, Benjamin Kowalewicz promises that their Hungarian debut won’t be their last appearance. One wonders, however, whether all the Hungarians in the audience are entirely delighted at the prospect of adding to an hour of irritating vocal quality reminiscent of an adolescent SpongeBob Squarepants.
Eagerly-anticipated Kasabian take to the stage with a limping Shoot The Runner, and it becomes immediately clear that something is off. Despite Tom Meighan’s best efforts to animate the band from the front, Sergio Pizzorno looks half-dead, while session guitarist Jay Mehler strikes the wrong balance between cool indifference and utter lifelessness. The band trudge through hit after hit, but the spark that fans are used to just isn’t there, culminating in a painful rendition of Fire started several notches too slowly. Whether due to fatigue or the pressure of warming up for the headliners, Kasabian‘s performance is average, dull in places, and thoroughly disappointing for such an established live act.
The last day throws up yet another questionable clash. Yeasayer won’t have thanked organisers for their bittersweet slot, headlining the A38 Wan2 stage at the expense of clashing with Muse. Nobody in the crowd for the latter, however, loses too much sleep over this. Muse were relatively anonymous in Hungary before Supermassive Black Hole popped up on the Twilight soundtrack, so for many festivalgoers, this is their first chance to see the stratospheric proportions of both the quality and production of a Muse live show.
Throughout the week, speculation has built as to what the Devon trio will pull out of the bag. Fans glimpsed hundreds of feet of extra cable being added to the main stage in the dead of night on Saturday, and by the time the tour bus rolled into the VIP enclosure on Sunday morning, the anticipation was palpable. With their supporting act having bottled it so disappointingly, it is up to Matt Bellamy and co to save the day, and they deliver in spades. Opening with a rollicking rendition of Uprising beneath the now-iconic hexagonal backdrop used at Glastonbury, they power through a choice selection of their top-drawer material.
Fans may complain slightly at the relative brevity of their headline slot (at Sziget, an hour and a half is the norm, even for the best live band in the world) or the absence of several enormous tunes (and not a single track from Showbiz). However, it is truly testament to a band’s greatness that they are so spoiled for choice when constructing a set list. Featuring the best lightshow of the festival and plenty of jamming in the interim to showcase the talent of all three members, fans are treated to a performance that was as stunning visually as it was musically, and leave knowing they have witnessed another piece of Sziget history.
There really isn’t a festival like Sziget anywhere in the world. At €120 for a week-long camping ticket, it is cheaper than most English weekends. In terms of visitor numbers, it dwarfs Glastonbury. Few other festivals boast a line-up that includes such variety, or so many big name acts. But what really sets Sziget apart is the sheer opportunity to come home with tales of escapades as thrilling as they are bizarre. Whether that be “Hitler ejaculated blood on me during Gwar,” “I bumped into the members of a klezmer band at a floating bar 21m in the sky” or “I discovered Hungarian glam rock,” any islander will tell you there’s no beating it.