By Rory Winston
“Big girls cry, oh, oh,” retorts the insouciant Tove Lo to the Frankie Valli classic with her own in-ya-face near-classic Bad as the Boys at Sziget Festival’s main stage. Vulgar, girly, aggressive, and sensitive by equal measure, Tove Lo has a raw feel to her. The emotions are pure, the personality ever-present. She is not only an artist to be taken seriously, she is one to be seen live. There is adrenaline in the air, an unabashed sense of no-holds-bar without an urge to filter her inner world or even channel it through metaphor. Whether she likes herself, loves herself, or hates herself, she is indifferent to how others may perceive it. And it is this kind of primal venting that gives her show the feel of intimate poetry in the raw.
Chicks on Speed
When it comes to a parallel performance of feminist awareness, Sziget Festival’s Magic Mirror had the renowned art band, Chicks on Speed. Formed in Munich at the Academy of Fine Arts, back in 1997, Chicks on Speed has remained what it had been from inception – a collective of interdisciplinary arts that fuses electronic dance music, fashion, graphics, video art and installation into a cohesive feminist message. Their show at Sziget was no exception. Filled with whimsy and fury both, they yelled, sang, romped about the stage and energized the world around them with the same ferocity with which they began.
Sziget Festival, Rockstar Photographers
With over half a million in attendance at the Island of Freedom, Sziget Festival’s 27th year had visitors from over 100 countries. While an unprecedented number hailed from the Netherlands in particular, beyond the European and US-based visitors, guests came from as far as New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Tobago and Trinidad. From music to theatre, comedy, dance performances and workshops, varied talents gathered from 62 odd countries. Cultural diversity and a love of all genres are clearly a key component to the festival’s success.
Grammy Award winner British singer songwriter, Ed Sheeran took to the stage. With campfire song candor, he introduced well-wrought melodies with so much restraint that even the slightest introduction of a drum beat in the final songs gave one the feeling of a power-pop tune. Although the enormous venue felt a bit off for an ‘unplugged sensibility,’ the crowd held steadfast from beginning to end.
For the audience, it made little difference that Richard Ashcroft appeared under his own name rather than under his former band’s name the Verve since almost everyone – with disgruntled exception of Ashcroft himself – kept waiting for Bitter Sweet Symphony. Living up the songs name, Ashcroft’s performance made even those who didn’t know him recall all that was sweet in 90’s Britpop, and the many artists for whom it left a slightly bitter aftertaste. Franz Ferdinand, Twenty-One Pilots, The National – the main stage hosted some of the most major indie and alternative bands around. In addition, there was the renowned Florence and the Machine.
To Each Their Own
Well, the machine – and especially the mechanics – was still present, but where was Florence? Certainly, Florence Welch had come a long way. She knew how to place her vocals more precisely than ever, and also made sure that the entire band served her vocal flights of fancy. At times, brilliant and at other times extraordinarily contrived, she gave a hearty performance that, paradoxically, lacked heart. “Shut off your phones, we are here now in the present,” may be cute for a newcomer pressing the ‘nowism’ button, but she seemed a bit too polished and full of bluster for such a ‘real’ moment.
Boasting more than 10 large stages, the weeklong festival gave plenty of opportunity to see bands that ranged from contemporary classical to Jazz, world music, local bands, metal, DJ sets and a host of uncategorizable sounds capable of catalyzing future waves. But, perhaps, of the stages, one of the most interesting remained the Mastercard Stage by A38. Not only did exciting bands like Chvrches and kodaline play there, but artists like James Blake and Yungblud performed. Though I am admittedly a James Blake fan, no band stirred me quite as much as Son Lux. With nuanced grooves, unanticipated pauses, crawl tingling chord progressions and fragments of haunting melodies, Son Lux is an odd reminder of what Peter Gabriel might have been doing had been born in the early 80’s. Another great surprise was getting to see the ever- evolving Broken Social Scene and the nuanced electronic duo, Maribou State.
Eva Dudas Company
Besides the many stand-up comics and theatrical extravaganzas, there was also a plethora of worthwhile Dance performances such as Soharóza, a post-modern dance pageant with a choir singing works by Zoltan Kodaly. Local works also included the expressive choreography of Eva Duda Dance Company who did a unique homage to the frenetic dark joys hidden beneath each circus.
Stefaniya & Kalina Georgieva of Atom Theatre, Photo courtesy of Ivan-Alexander Ivanov
With a minimalist set, no lighting and nearly no props, a young choreographer, Stefaniya Georgieva, from Bulgaria’s Atom Theatre introduced a highly idiosyncratic and exciting new language in dance. Together with her sister, Kalina, the pair worked through slow but highly articulated personal movements whose effect was to deconstruct human dialogue into action and reaction and rebuild it into a single flowing organism constructed by the pair’s interaction.
Evoking Japanese society in all its order and oddly fetishistic rituals is what the all-male contemporary Company Un Yamada does with their work, One Piece. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and extremely well synchronized with nuanced movements that fused modern dance and ethnic posing, the work was far more interesting than any had expected.
As finales go, The Foo Fighters were full-on signature rock star whimsy, energy and joy. The two-and-a-half-hour main stage concert – which had the massive main stage audience beaming and yelling for more – made it apparent that David Grohl’s opening comment “we’ll play till they kick us off,” was no mere boast. With Grohl’s own daughter sharing the stage, one was reminded just what a long-term family this band really was.
In truth, the Island of Freedom meant family in many ways – it was a place with workshops on everything from the ecosystem to feminism, a permissive place open to all lifestyles and ever eager to hear people voice their opinion. Removed from the present, current politics, trends and even the country in which it is set, Sziget Festival is a weeklong kiki, an all-encompassing international party in which to meet new people and be exposed to art, music and ideas.