Text by – DAVIDE PARLATO
Translation by – JULIA PERRY
In a previous article, we presented an economic and managerial parallel between the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival and the present Sziget festival that, we remind you, is considered one of the most important festivals worldwide, both in terms of audience size (370,000 present in the last edition), as well as in terms of popularity and big names that animate the festival: great artists from all over the world that include a wide range of genres, ensuring a complete 360 degree musical experience, certainly favored by the suggestiveness of the festival’s location (the Obuda Island on the beautiful blue Danube, to be precise).
If it’s true that managerial differences between Woodstock and Sziget are colossal, so much as to define the latter initiative as more successful and functional in respect to the previous, we must remember the important role its American ancestor played in the development and legacy-building of the Hungarian festival. A legacy that the organizers (who aren’t shy to admit their goal is to go above and beyond the “mother of all festivals” – that by the way, this year celebrates its 45th anniversary) say that consists in the idea that music can represent, in all its shades, but especially in its highest form of artistic production without spatiotemporal limits, an adhesive, a stimulus, an invaluable context for living together – to live as a community.
Woodstock won’t only be remembered because of its epic performances by sacred musical beasts of the 1960s music scene, it won’t only be remembered as the most important event in rock history as we know it today, but it will most of all be remembered as one of the most immense human gatherings: women and men, adults and children alike, coming together in a massive crowd, eliminating all differences between one another and joined under the all-inclusive and nonjudgmental sphere known as music. All this, obviously, occurring in the hippy era of peace, love, and liberty; ideals that belong more appropriately to music than any other theme in the artistic and cultural worlds. This may be because of the nature of music itself: a fascinating yet mysterious nature, the most touching and transcendent individual human creation, so much as to always have been object of speculation (in both good and bad) among the various artistic objects due to all its philosophy and occidental beliefs (thinking of the journey that music has made on a conceptual level from the more hostile Plato to a more spiritual Hegel, who considered music as the object most directly connected to the human spirit).
But back to us. The Sziget festival inherits this woodstockian model of community creation and adapts it to current times, on one hand offering its musical experience, both vast and distinguishable (not only in general terms but also in the fame of the artists), and on the other hand, offering a contest and a series of complementary events that make the festival, first of all, an occasion in which to socialize, have fun, and live the experience of a pseudo-hippie/psychedelic fraternity wisely reshaped to fit our present sociocultural context. The initiative that may seem inconclusive, or even overly simplistic, is in reality based on a strong ideal, so strong to go against our increasingly individualistic and narcissistic culture: the ideal of a newfound international communal spirit (even European, really) re-discoverable without barriers in the context of artistic enjoyment. This, in turn, opens an interesting reflection on how a cultural festival manages to create a spirit of fraternity and unity in comparison to European policies that have failed to do so – although, this isn’t the main issue at hand.
In order to make this all possible, Sziget festival, once again using its 1960s predecessor as an example, proposes a series of events not necessarily related to the music world. For example, Sziget beach, a picturesque shoreline facing the Danube where it is possible to take rejuvenating baths, to go tanning, and camping because it is equipped with a campsite: everything, obviously, done in good company. Additional attractions are also featured, like the Sziget eye (a colorful ferris wheel), or the Luminarium (a chromatic labyrinth experience – truly psychedelic in its nature). Aside from the various themed parties that are constantly being organized with the aim of having rampant and mindless fun, the organization also gives the option to take tours through the characteristic Ruin pubs of Budapest. For those who don’t know, Ruin pubs are setup in old nineteenth century apartment buildings that are no longer being used, and whose spaces are refurnished and used for public use: a pub in which it’s possible to grab a drink, but where it is also possible to play musical instruments or watch a film projection – an “alternative” alternative for some nighttime fun and a way to integrate oneself into the Hungarian nightlife. They also present stages used for jam sessions (improv) for anyone who wants to play. Finally, the last joint initiative that deserves mentioning: this year is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and, to remember this historic “act of liberation”, a wall will be built along the 100 meter Sziget community garden in collaboration with artists from Berlin and will be open for decoration by street artists participating in the festival.
Everything is created and decorated in order to offer a sense of community, from more collegiate fun to fun that’s more relaxed and artistic. All under the all-encompassing sphere of music. Sziget chose a winning strategy: bringing art, culture, and community together under a single roof – values that should go hand in hand but that outside of this hortus coclusus of the festival, are becoming increasingly dispersed in the miasma of a more contemporary individualism.