“This festival is like the whole world coming together to feel things,” marvels Tove Lo to Friday’s main stage audience. Though Clash only arrived at Sziget festival a few hours earlier, it only takes a stroll through the site to know what the Scandi pop star means.
Based on Obuda Island (aka “The Island of Freedom”) and straddled by the Danube river, one of the first things Sziget greets you with upon entry is a trail lined with national flags from across the world.
Elsewhere, messages like “the power of our diversity unites us” and “together we can change the world” have pride of place above stages, across which a diaspora of music is performed from Afro-Columbian urban club to Balkan Western music and mainstream EDM.
The festival is a technicolour melting pot, in which their “Love Revolution” is front and centre – a sentiment echoed by its line-up. As far as Tove Lo is concerned, her love revolution comes in the form of a sexually-charged performance.
Though known for performing topless, today the singer was dressed in a look reminiscent of young Madonna. In high wasted leather shorts and a white vest top, Lo writhed and strutted around the stage in front of a kick drum sporting a labia, reeling off her multitude of chart-topping hits including 'Cool Girl', 'Habits (Stay High)' and an extended version of 'Talking Body'.
Mura Masa and Fliss brought similar energy to their early evening slot the following day. Though Alex Crossan (aka Mura Masa) might’ve been the star of the show with his virtuosic skills on a range of instruments, it's Fliss who carries the performance. The supporting singer conquered parts from the rolodex of guest vocalists featured in Masa’s back catalogue, from A$AP Rocky to Christine and the Queens. When she wasn’t delivering vocals, she took any opportunity to rile the audience up with her dance moves – even getting into the crowd at one point.
Aside from a run of lesser-known cuts which saw the energy dip, the pair deliver a high octane, hit-heavy set. Music may be a big part of Sziget’s appeal but judging by a near-stampede to get into Briefs, the Austalia-imported queer cabaret show, it’s certainly not all of it.
“Be freaky with your freedom and luscious with your love,” declares host Fez Fa’anana, to the packed Magic Mirror circus tent. The show, packed with boylesque, acrobatics, comedy, and copious amounts of nudity had the audience roaring with laughter and gasping in awe and was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Clash’s stay.
From one highlight to the next, a spellbinding, late-night performance from the inimitable James Blake has the Mastercard Stage in a state of wonderment. Sitting behind a number of synths and keyboards and facing side-on towards the other two musicians, the set-up is intimate and gives the impression of a rehearsal space.
Between songs, the trio jam, maintaining intense eye contact and, despite the size of the tent, these moments feel intimate. The set ends with the electrifying 'Retrograde' and a tender rendition of 'Don’t Miss It', and it’s clear by the sheer volume of the crowd's cheers this will be a set to remember.
On Sunday we return to the Mastercard Stage to watch IAMDDB kick-off Sunday’s festivities. A late arrival to the stage sets the tone for what’s to come: a performance that defines the trap-jazz hybrid as a rockstar in waiting. Oozing swagger, the Manchester-based singer demands the crowd to show her “big dick energy” but as zealous as the fans are, no-one quite rivals hers.
Round the corner, Honne are proving that they’re worthy of a mainstage slot, but for fans that have been following the duo since their debut, the expansion of their sound for a bigger stage doesn’t feel worth losing their earlier nuance.
Sunday night headliners Years & Years turn in a set to satiate both old and new fans. The career-spanning setlist, which ranged from playful numbers like 'If You’re Over Me' to unaccompanied ballad 'Eyes Shut' and prowling pop hits like 'Sanctify', made for a nuanced and well-paced set – with frontman Olly Alexander proving he’s a multifaceted showman.
Highlights of the trio’s set included an ominous rendition of the title track and a cover of their Jax Jones collaboration 'Play'. The band concluded their set on pop grenade 'King' and it feels like a fitting ending for what’s proved to be a celebratory and inclusive festival.
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Words: Lisa Henderson