Okay, so it’s not as if I’m pretending to be an expert or hardcore attendee of music festivals all over the world, but I like my music, I like my festivals, and I just thought I’d express some opinions and realisations I’ve had here after attending Sziget festival in Budapest last week.
As someone whose general vision and experience of music festivals has up until now included multiple layers of clothing, umbrellas, ponchos, muck, and copious amounts of alcohol, the differences between this European festival and the likes of Electric Picnic or Forbidden Fruit at home were something that hit me at every single colourfully signposted and culturally unique corner.
First of all, and probably most obviously; the weather. Having gone from being a total newbie to the interrailing lifestyle, my opinion of European climates ranging from varying extremities of heat to cold and ‘home’ as a default becoming all jumbled up in my head all meant I hadn’t given the temperature much thought before I left. Luckily my instincts overpowered at this point as the word ‘holiday’ seems to have been engrained upon my brain, triggering an unconscious reaction to pack only Summer clothes.
The weather in Budapest at Sziget this year rarely dropped below 30 degrees, something which makes or breaks a pale ginger Irish fresh-air junkie such as myself, especially considering the lack of air conditioning available whilst camping (I’ll give you a guess – there’s none!!). Not to mention the constant battle with our neighbouring ant colony to keep the tents clean and cool enough to actually provide some sort of respite from the blaring midday heat. I’ve gotten to the stage now where I know better than to even try to withstand a sun like that for longer than a few minutes at a time, and dreams of attaining an actual tan from it are frankly laughable, so my bottle of factor 40 came with me everywhere I went.
My one main complaint with festivals at home has always been simply that it has been too cold. There’s only so many times you can justify standing waiting for one of your favourite bands, shivering beneath layers of soaked plastic ‘waterproof’ jackets and squelching along miserably back to a tent that may or may not yet have been flooded, trampled on, or worse – inhabited by unknown drunkards mistakenly thinking they’ve found their own resting hovels. Of course, this may be where the tendency to over-indulge in alcohol comes into play at Irish festivals – any excuse to keep warm and be able to sleep somewhere you usually wouldn’t put your dog to rest is surely going to sound like a good option after dutifully standing in wait for hours in unpredictable and rowdy crowds at varying levels of intoxication.
But this is what I mean. The good weather lent itself to every aspect of the festival abroad. Not only did it allow us to enjoy the daytime activities and decorative features for what they really were – a makeshift ‘beach’ and volleyball courts adding hugely to the ‘holiday’ feel of the place – but the sun and warm weather put everyone around in a good mood, and generally just brought out the best in everything. In that heat, tolerance for alcohol is down, so one or two drinks is all that was necessary to obtain a good buzz; even at that there were days where I completely avoided the bars, not by choice, just by sheer preoccupation with the amount of things there were to do and see around me. This in itself is a huge contrast to any festival at home, where the general consensus once entry has been successfully gained and tents hurridly pitched is to ‘head for the bar’ or ‘meet back here for pints’. Starting as you mean to go on only really works when the festival itself only lasts a day or two – a week of that kind of debauchery would be enough to cripple even the most seasoned festival-drinker.
Even so, it was amazing to see all those different walks of life and nationalities merging together in one place like a giant Noah’s Ark, as representatives of each country arrived and set up camp in twos and threes. All this in the love of music, life, and having a good time really succeeded in cementing in my head that life is for living, enjoyment, and sharing that love through a balance of art, music, and a general understanding of one another.
If there is one thing human beings from all corners of the globe love more than anything, it’s having a good fucking time and enjoying the fuck out of what little time we have here.
The experience of the likes of a week-long festival such as Sziget being condensed down into a 3-day pissup in a field in Laois is something which really opened my eyes to the state of Irish festivals and our attitude towards them in general. Although Sziget is very much a limbo kind of paradise in that many travellers attend as a stop-off on an interrailing trip, it still manages to stand alone as an ‘Island of Freedom’, as they call it, and I spent a few content mornings alone wandering the island as the sun came up and many of the hardcore stragglers stumbled home or collapsed under various trees and bushes dotted in the mainstage area – none of the bars or DJs in the arena stopped until 5.30am, something we sadly discovered after setting up camp less than 50 metres away from one.
This closing time is something that in Ireland would only tempt fate and end badly, yet here it somehow worked with such a culturally diverse crowd of attendees merely looking to meet new people and share in the delights of such a positive and interesting atmosphere. Again, this idea of music and the arts bringing people together is more successfully executed and appreciated due to a better attitude towards alcohol comsumption and social norms – people actually talked to one another in these ‘clubs’, and I found the best place to make new friends was literally – anywhere you wanted to do so. All you had to do was look around, smile, and ask someone where they were from. Of course, this might just have been the incredible holiday-atmosphere and general happiness of everyone in attendance, but it’s difficult to imagine getting a similar reaction everytime at a festival in Ireland – people would think you’re either extremely drunk or just really creepy.
Of course a lot of this is all a massive generalization, as I’m still 100% going to attend Electric Picnic again this year, and more than likely enjoy it immensely. The main difference will be that this time I’ll be making sure to keep a broader mind when it comes to evaluating my understanding and appreciation for it, and hopefully experience more of the cultural and artistic side of things than I have before. Maybe this time I’ll also try to be aware of the various nationalities that (I’m sure) are always in attendance. Sziget has opened my eyes to the world through musical and creative displays of individuality, yet contrastingly has also helped me draw many parallels between myself and other human beings; this European melting pot (in 39 degree heat, this sometimes became literal!) and hub of life, activity, and 200,000 people roaming about a field in their own filth and excessive food and drink consumption, all just silently in search of love or some other form of connection with someone else – because in the end that is what we all seek, is it not? Not necessarily love, or a partner, or a means of procreation – it is merely companionship; likeminded souls who share a similar disposition and understanding of our situations, regardless of background, heritage, culture, or previous successes or failures. These are all just things which become wrapped up in negative and unecessary tension. They do not really matter. For a week on end I shared a common location, contentment, and various experiences with walks of life I never could have dreamed of encountering were it not for this fantastic festival.
As eye-opening as most travel can be in this respect, there was something extra special about the context in which people came together at Sziget. It wasn’t just to satisfy a niggling wanderlust, or to escape from a hometown or a job for the weekend, or even just an exuse to get drunk – it was out of a genuine love for music, life, and a celebration of all the good things there are to be had from this combination if we just do it right and balance it out. While it differed immensely from my experiences of music festivals at home, I’m certain now that when I next attend an Irish festival, I will do so with a completely different attitude, between expectations, enjoyment, and ability to sit back and enjoy the show, the acts, and the surroundings – even if the Irish weather is promised to put a dampener on everything!