Sziget 25: The festival of half a million people

Every August, Budapest is the ultimate destination for festival lovers. Here's why...

Half a million people. Over one thousand performances. One week. One island.

Those numbers are a big part of what makes Sziget Festival unique. For one week, Budapest’s Óbuda Island becomes the Island of Freedom, a haven away from the kind of bustle you’d expect in a major European capital. An escape from reality for festival attendees, or Szitizens as they’re known. They come from all over the world - 93 nationalities attended last year, and it’s thought that about 70% come from outside Hungary.

Here are five reasons why Sziget remains such a massive draw this year.

Massive Headliners

Some festivals these days have trouble booking worthy headliners for two or three nights - so it’s an astonishing feat that Sziget manage to deliver seven each year.

This year, Szitizens can look forward to main stage masterclasses from the likes of P!nk, Biffy Clyro, Kasabian, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Chainsmokers, Major Lazer and a huge closing party with Dmitri Vegas & Like Mike.

An island of discovery

To stay only for the headliners would be a fatal mistake. The main stage shuts down at 11 each night, but there are countless smaller stages where the music goes on until the early hours of the morning.

Founder Károly Gerendai has said “when talking about the content and program of Sziget we don’t necessarily think only of the headliner concerts, but all the small, colourful, spectacular and unique programs, that cannot be replicated. These can only be seen and felt at those given moments, when Szitizens wander around the island. These programs fill up the ‘Soul of Sziget’.”

Szitizens can get a global education at Sziget, which has hosted a world music stage for the past 17 years, and is also home to a Roma village. Of course Sziget showcases native culture too - the Hungarikum Village displays the iconic elements of Hungarian culture.

25th anniversary

The first Sziget was organized in 1993 by friends Károly Gerendai, a promoter, and Péter Sziámi Müller, a musician-poet. Since, Sziget has grown massively in size and scale. In 1993 the festival hosted 43,000 people to enjoy 200 music, 80 film and 40 theatre performances. In contrary last year’s Sziget hosted 496,000 people with a week-long program of almost a thousand performances at more than 50 venues. This year, there’s sure to be a number of anniversary celebrations in store.

The blue Danube

Sziget’s Óbuda Island is surrounded by the beautiful majesty of the Danube, Europe’s watery superhighway. Far from treating it as a simple boundary, the river is just another of the festival’s resources.

For the 25th anniversary, you can enjoy a special boat parties on the river, hosted by a number of DJs including Michael Mayer, DJ W!ld, GusGus and Henry Saiz.

The elegant pleasure-boat offers something for everyone: be it chilling in beanbags admiring the views of Budapest - the city’s 15 bridges as they pass over their heads, and the ancient riverside buildings including the Parliament - or going crazy on a pulsing dancefloor.

Irish invasion

Irish fans are known the world over in a sporting context, with no distance too far for supporters of the boys in green, whether it’s following the footballers to Japan or the rugby stars to New Zealand. Why not transfer that attitude to the world of music? Getting booked to play a festival of Sziget’s stature isn’t unlike qualifying for the World Cup, in a way. This year we’ll have four representatives on the island.

Zurich-based Greystones man Mano Le Tough has been voted as one of the top ten DJs in the world by Resident Advisor and was a regular at the likes of Berghain and Tresor during his time in Berlin. Not only does he have a late-night slot at the Colosseum stage on Thursday, you can bag a spot on the Mano Le Tough boat party on Thursday evening.

The Strypes have just released their best album yet in Spitting Image and they’re bringing the tour to Budapest. Their blues sound has earned them a big slot on the OTP Bank Stage on Saturday evening and they’re sure to go down a storm as they aim to become Cavan’s most successful export to eastern Europe since Cillian Sheridan.

Bangor banger merchants Two Door Cinema Club will be looking to prove they can step up to headlining major festivals in their sub-headlining slot on the main stage before Major Lazer on Monday. With a back catalogue including the likes of ‘I Can Talk’ and ‘Undercover Martyn’ as well as one of the funkiest singles of the year in ‘Bad Decisions’, they definitely have the tunes for it.

Dundalk have had great success in Europe of late and these days they’ve a permanent resident on the continent in Gavin Lynch, who DJs a late night slot in the Colosseum on Monday as Matador. Lynch was a kitchen assistant before his recordings came to the attention of Richie Hawtin, a pillar of Detroit techno, and he’s been somewhat of a protegé to the Canadian since, playing regularly in Ibiza and Berlin.


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