By Rory Winston & Karo Alanko
Volcanic eruptions of sound, endless bodies swaying… the Gorillaz were in flight. “Do you dance like this?” came the beckoning refrain. “Forever,” – rang the response. The word caromed through the audience, forcing legs to sway, arms to flail in a timeless space where ‘forever’ was too short an interval. This was Sziget Festival – its 26th year.
With acts like Kendrick Lamar and Arctic Monkeys, Sziget 2018 had successfully turned guests into native ‘szitizens.’ Judging by the fraternity, Sziget warrants sovereignty if not outright statehood. In the world of musical extravaganzas, the festival could justifiably claim superpower status.
Forget the Gorillaz staple anonymity, its usual cartoon swag, its cinematic prowess. Sziget saw Daman Albarn at his best – the mastermind frontman armed to the hilt with a legion of celebrity musicians. His band included world-renowned backing vocalists, a brass section, and De La Soul rappers. Seizing the main stage, Gorillaz reaffirmed that the key to all their eye-candy had always been the sound.
Bands, pop artists, contemporary circus, theater, dance, beach, sports, installation and performing art, Sziget is the cultural homeland of festival goers that seek effortless abandon in a safe zone. The drug of choice: music. Bounding from country to western as only a British band that grew up on Americana could, Mumford and Sons gave way to their inner-cowboy. Their Israeli counterpart, Asaf Avidan trekked through equally distant lands as he trudged through guttural blues only to end up soaring the heights of mellifluous emo-steeped Rocky Mountain moments. Country of origin was never a factor in musical authenticity. Sziget itself was a testament to the fact that emotional geography exists somewhere between reverie and longing.
Brit pop goddess Duo Lipa injected her audience with her sultry sound, inducing a feverish response. Her ethereal drive together with her synth-pop delivery drove some to dance and others to stand gaping. Danish singer-songwriter MØ whipped up her usual punk-gone-electro frenzy. Strutting the stage like empowerment incarnate, she energized some to dance, some to yell. Under her spell, several women mustered the courage to dump their admirers and make a move on strangers they fancied. When it came to slow burn with an afterglow, there was Fever Ray. Rattling its electro-trip-hop saber with menacing flair, the band was brute force cloaked in mesmerizing sonic incantations.
As for Lana Del Rey… Well, let’s just say, you had to be there. Why? Because she herself wasn’t present at all. If you’ve ever wondered what ‘California dreaming’ sounds like when coupled with a megadose of hubris, the flighty David Lynch-like character is an accurate portrait. For some inexplicable reason, Lana decided to walk off the stage in the middle of a song for the sole purpose of taking idiotically affected selfies with audience members. Though I felt that few could hope to compete with her lackluster persona, ex-Oasis singer Liam Gallagher gave her a run for her money. Liam’s ability to project self-love over a half-mile radius will convince even the most jaded cynic that Lana and Liam were meant for each other. Sadly, it’s unlikely the two will ever meet. I’m convinced that even if they were locked up in a small room together, a pair of mirrors would be enough to keep them from making eye contact. Rarely has narcissism drawn such a devoted following.
When it comes to finding the perfect remedy for the non-dynamic duo, there’s little to compare with the hardcore Indie Punk Rock band, Slaves. And if you want to forget sappy deliveries and faux soulfulness entirely, the alt-rock world of Wolf Alice is an all-out cure. With all the evocative candor of grunge and all the eclectic flair of Folk-infused rock, Wolf Alice is as edgy as a band can get when flirting what may become ‘potential evergreens.’ Listening to their songs back-to-back is a bit like going from hard-on to orgasm to a good cry in the matter of a set. For the preteen version of the same – meaning, ‘orgasm in the form of a good cry’ – there was Shawn Mendes. Mendes brandishes ‘homespun earnest’ and ‘resplendent humility’ like a Bar Mitzvah boy sizing up unopened gifts. His demure air is so well coiffed that one hardly notices how happy he seems with his most heartrending moments. It takes barely a minute for a city’s worth of listeners to be shushed into submission by fellow worshipers. Of course, it takes equally little time before those same devoted fans drown out Shawn’s voice with unrequited love.
As for the band Everything Everything, it manages to remind everyone everyone (sic) just how dynamic it sounds when alt. rock, pop, R&B, and electronica all partake in an orgy within the heavenly confines of a tastefully decorated single song.
Though it’s quite a tall order for other art forms to share space with so much spectacular music, the festival had managed to book works that stand their ground. The Wired Aerial Theatre is an awe-inspiring show in a very literal sense. It pits individual values against universal ones. Juxtaposing dancer/acrobats with highly textured images that are projected onto a humongous screen.
As the performers dangle precariously over a proscenium, the world around them mutates at an unnerving rate. The viewers begin to second guess their own perceptions as two-dimensional images become indistinguishable from three-dimensional objects and people begin resembling insects more than humans. At times, the dangling artists look almost as if they’re being flattened into the massive 2-dimensional panorama. At other moments, the dancers find their way back to the surface. The concepts are likewise ambitious. One such theme includes our resolve in altering the course of global warming. Once beyond the tipping-point, demise is imminent despite the best of intentions.
Likewise, Israeli choreographers Ofir Yudilevitch and Roy Assaf respectively create works with profound sociological and psychological dimensions. While the former fuses acrobatics and capoeira to examine norms and roles, the latter creates a movement based language to articulate the unspoken spiritual bond that exists between alienated war veterans.
Leaving these performances, I couldn’t help but think of the Gorillaz – the lyrics from Tranz still echoing in my ears: “Do you dance like this?” And I thought, yes, ‘we all do.’ Every generation does. We dance the eternal dance between exploration and understanding, longing and memory. We dance to be transformed. We dance to celebrate having been transformed and await to be transformed anew. We dance and dance like this forever.