A niche too far?

Budapest has emptied. The tens of thousands who descended on the city have gone home. Sziget is over and by all accounts, it wasn’t nearly the success it has been in previous years. The week-long music festival has been running for 25 years and this is the first year it hasn’t been run by Hungarians. Or so I’m told. Apparently, the same US crowd who run the weekend Coachella festival in California have taken it over and their influence was visible.

I went myself, for the first time, back in 2014 and had a blast. The novelty was quite something. To see such a well-organised temporary city within a city was evidence of the extraordinary logistical feat involved in catering for daily crowds of up to 80 000 with few, if any, incidents of public disorder. I went then because I got a free ticket. This year I paid because I wanted to see Jamie Cullum again, having thoroughly enjoyed his gig last year at the Veszprém Fest.

He was on stage at 4pm, so we set out about 2 to have an hour or so to wander around before having to pay attention. This time, himself was the virgin. It was Day 1. Pink had played the day before on Day 0 and the five-day passers wouldn’t arrive till the next day. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many as I’d expected and the crowd was somewhat subdued. I saw far more chairs and blankets and lots more sitting around this year. Perhaps it had to do with the heat. It could also have been the music though.

Jamie, God love him, is brilliant. But outdoors at 4pm in 30+ heat ain’t his gig. Still, though, he gave it welly and his 70 mins were great. A short break and then Tom Odell took the stage. They’d said I’d like him but he didn’t do it for me at all. Biffy Clyro, though, they were brilliant. And for all the mad roughness that their appearance screams, they’re gentlemen. Now them, them I’d go see again. And I’ve note to self made to get a CD for the car. They’re driving, stay awake, sort of stuff. I have it on good authority that they got their name because one night, sitting around stoned (hey, it’s what I heard), one of them asked the other to pass a Cliff Richard fan pen, the Cliffy biro. It came out the Biffy Clyro. It makes a good story.

Between acts, we wandered around and looked at what was on offer. Much the same as 2014, there were some additions – like the fun fair. With the Italian marionettes. There’s also a museum quarter where all the museums in Budapest had taken a stand. Skanzen, the traditional Hungarian village centre from Szentendre, was there, too, complete with its games from the past. Various causes were well represented and this year they seem to have had a full theatre and a comic gig or three. I was taken with the recycling efforts but despite handing out free portable ashtrays and offering rewards for bringing back bags of trash, the place was littered with cigarette butts and empty cups. It wouldn’t have taken much had everyone picked up after themselves, but as I say, this year seemed different.

I was very disappointed in the wine village – a paltry offering that was overpriced. And the food…. what we hadn’t wasn’t great but of the hundreds of outlets, we only tried two, so it could well have been the luck of the draw. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But in talking to some Irish friends who’d gone the VIP camping route this year (as opposed to bring your own tent as they did last year) they, too, noticed a difference. More drugs. More booze. More trash. And the music was more mainstream but very much focusing on electro (is that the right term?) dance. Last year, they said, they’d had to juggle to get to all the gigs they’d wanted to see (there’s about 1000 in all over the course of the week), but this year, they’d time on their hands.

Hungarian friends tell me they stayed away because they didn’t recognise the big names. I thought it was just me, which wouldn’t be surprising. But those they knew weren’t their scene. Seems like it’s niching up and playing to a particular crowd – Scandinavians and French.

We rounded off our evening at the Music Box where Ripoff Raskolnikov was doing the business. I’d already seen him earlier that week at Kobuci Kert for his birthday gig. But I wasn’t worried. When he and Nagy Szabolcs (keyboards) get together, they don’t play set pieces. It’s more of a ‘what’ll we play next’ sort of thing. which is good if you’re a regular – you never get the same gig twice.

Sziget? Yes. For a day. But only if there’s someone you really want to see. The experience has become expensive, very expensive, and many are being priced out. The offer is more limited and while the novelty factor is still there, I doubt I’ll be in a hurry back. That said, if Ed Sheeran were to head it up, I’d be there. But if it’s going down the dance route, he’d hardly be their first pick. Let’s wait and see.


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