Sziget is a choose-your-own-adventure with Lorde, Caroline Polachek, and a whole bunch of new talent

Sziget really does live up to its reputation as The Island Of Freedom.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Frances Beach

Sziget Festival is often called Europe’s answer to Glastonbury, and with 1000 performances across 50 stages alongside a string of pop-up gigs and travelling raves, it’s easy to see why. Away from the music, punters can attend Hungarian dance masterclasses or ride the world’s smallest Ferris wheel. The Magic Mirror tent puts on a daily drag brunch, an impressive series of light installations offer escapism via post-rock, or you can try your hand at bungee jumping. There’s even apparently a hidden nightclub in a portaloo, but we’re not falling for that one again.

While Glastonbury is driven by a furious urgency and that inescapable sense of FOMO, Sziget is a choose-your-own-adventure that lets the punter experience it all. Mornings are reserved for the more cultural experiences, the bigger stages don’t kick off until the afternoon while dedicated arenas for dance music come alive at night. It’s hectic, but relaxed with it. That carries over to accommodation as well. With 50 per cent of punters coming from abroad, Sziget offers a range of camping and glamping options alongside partnerships with hotels like the IBIS Budapest Castle Hill, for those who prefer their festival experience to come with a buffet breakfast, comfy beds and a warm shower. It also serves as the perfect jumping off point for those who want to see the sights of Budapest. Sziget really does live up to its reputation as The Island Of Freedom.

That eclectic, purposeful approach extends to the music as well, with each stage meaningfully curated. The Petőfi Stage gives local bands a big platform, right in the centre of everything, The Dropyard focuses on hip-hop, with every artist required to perform in their native tongue while the Tribute Stage closes out every evening with joyous, familiar singalongs. If there’s a better way to end a day than bellowing along to ABBA, we haven’t found it.

Elsewhere, the FreeDome tent houses a range of new and underground artists that are poised to breakout. 070 Shake already feels like a superstar as she delivers an hour-long set of cathartic, crunching R&B-infused rap, Confidence Man continue to offer sheer elation with a sleek, spirited performance while Hannah Grae is rapidly growing into a festival powerhouse, with her angsty, theatrical punk rock. Amyl And The Sniffers writhe, wrestle and stomp their way through a phenomenal 60 minutes that’s as chaotic as it is exhilarating.

Around the corner, the IBIS X All Europe Stage brings together rising talent from across the continent, including optimistic Austrian indie outfit Freekind., experimental French rapper Awir Leon and brilliant Spanish popstar Queralt Lahoz. Lithuanian’ three-piece Shishi make shiny punk rock, that’s as agile as it energetic. ‘Liar Liar’ channels the urgency or early Arctic Monkeys while a reworking of Happy Birthday is delivered with a knowing grin. Elsewhere, The Mary Wallopers prove just how unifying their Irish folk music is, with the surrounding hammocks and beanbags quickly abandoned for a dance and a sing-song.

All of the wonderfully disparate elements of Sziget seem to come together at the Main Stage though. There’s a familiar comfort in Mumford & Sons Sunday night headline set, while Macklemore makes his fourth appearance Sziget appearance on the Monday, with a show that’s furious, funny and surprisingly wholesome. It feels like the entire festival turns up to experience the gigantic intimacy of Billie Eilish’s Tuesday night headline set, while the festival also brings beloved artists like Caroline Polachek and Lorde to Hungary for the very first time. Their back-to-back appearances on the Monday evening feels like a real moment for both popstars as they seem genuinely taken aback by the joyous reception, and they return their favour by teaming up for a euphoric take on Lorde’s eternal party-starter ‘Green Light’. It’s a moment of surprise, wonder and glee – perfectly suited for this island of freedom.