Sziget Festival 2017 Review 

Set on an island oasis in the Danube, boasting 90,000 daily revellers and music-lovers from across the globe and with its own currency and passport even, I was seriously looking forward to this festival, until I realised (belatedly) that the biggest headliners were, er, Kasabian.  Is this seriously the best they could do (and the likes of Two Door Cinema Club, while much better musically, hardly tipped the scales) or are times that hard in Hungary?   Mind you, with Victor Orban in power, maybe that's true.  Kasabian were assembled in the early noughties for the purpose of fusing classic rock with a modern sensibility.  However, as befits a band named after a serial killer, they sounded noisy and uninspiring, and nothing much has changed since then.  They are the proverbial poor man's stadium rock band, or rich man's pub rock band may be a better way of putting it.  Either way, you get the idea. 

Sziget is as close to a real village as you're going to get for a music festival.  There are numerous camping sites, ranging from luxury caravans to the cheaper tents pitched almost everywhere you look.  There are many kinds of exhibits, museums, a circus, plenty of social awareness themes centred on the disabled and children (because it takes a village you know) and I didn't even mention the 10 music stages or 1,000 beer tents.   And in keeping with the spirit of Sziget, I stayed in a comfortable hotel in Budapest, taking a comfortable boat ride daily to the island, and returning home to a comfortable bed by the same boat.  There is no sacrifice too great... 

The music represented everything under the sun, which was pretty intense this year.  By now, I've got some clear guidelines for going to a festival, one of which is to stay away from any acts with a mere semblance of hip/hop or rapping.   Given that sound systems are rarely any good in the outdoors, unless you get very close to the speakers (in which case you won't hear anything AFTER the festival either), there is almost no chance of hearing anything the rappers say, which really defeats the whole point of rapping.  What you end up with, therefore, is a man (usually) shouting at you non-stop for an hour from a stage, which for me is too much since it triggers childhood nightmares of being in the army cadets and marching up and down a yard in my oversized fatigues and boots while being screamed at by the drill sergeant.   

After several days of Sziget, I struggled to name many truly memorable acts.  The Kills, perhaps, Oh Wonder, oh okay then (if you're under the age of 24), to some extent the above-mentioned 2 Door Cinema Club (because the second door, I realised is the emergency exit after overdosing on bubblegum pop).  Really the dance music, the (I can't think of a genre so I'll call it) world music (special mention here to Dubioza Kolektiv) are the best thing on offer here because you can just avoid any kind of judgment listening to this stuff.    In the end, I enjoyed trying lots of different food, drinking a fair amount of beer "between acts", and meeting locals, knowing that I had somewhere else to go at night.   

By the way, you really must visit Budapest.   

So here is my Spotify Playlist:

Sziget 2017 on Spotify

Oya Festival 2017 Review 

Scandinavian pop is known for its melancholic subtext, although not necessarily sound.  And so it was fitting that the biggest - and best - performance at this year's Oya Festival, held in a surprisingly compact park space with hills conveniently doubling as spectator stands, would be the Queen of pop noir, Lana del Rey.  While she brought summertime sadness to the land of long winters it was sweetened by the  Hollywood glamour packaging, including film clips mimicing that decade of cultural doom, the 1950s.  I guess sadness sells if you sugarcoat it, much as Abba once brought their own slice of melancholy to the same lands shrouded in joyous, uptempo melodies.  And didn't the crowd love it, not least the teenagers who seemed captivated by the untouchable movie star persona on stage, even when she got down with the lucky few at the front and joined them for selfies.   Her manager must have been livid - "no Lana, nobody can touch you (except me)".  The style, if not the mode of delivery, was classically influenced, baroque style pop, suggesting that her next incarnation should be in front of a full-blown orchestra.  Very good though. 

The first day unleashed an unremitting thunderstorm and the plummeting temperature made it into kind of an endurance test, especially sinceI too tried to get up close and personal with Lana.  Or maybe I should just get out more.  Yours truly managed to catch a cold in the middle of summer.  But who am I to complain?  I was just there for a few days.   

Elsewhere, there was the usual festival melange, from heavy metal to power punk pop (is that what it's called?) to the occasional charming and arresting stripped down set.  I was particularly captivated by Nils Bech, a local talent, singing and miming his way through songs of tortured ennui.   You could almost see the leaves turn brown as he sang.  And then he was joined by a huge inflatable doll with lip gloss - no kidding!  Strange Hellos were another enjoyable discovery - nothing unusual about their blend of guitars and synths but the melodies were distinctive and enticing.   

Ryan Adams was on hand on the penultimate day to re-inject some star power into proceedings, although his performance and presence were so low key you could have been forgiven for thinking he was still up and coming.  Perhaps that's why he's recorded 20 albums - nothing like the feeling you haven't quite made it yet to motivate you.   Then, for the third time on my concert tour, there were the Pixies, one of the most unique bands in the history of Rock and with enough variety in their back catalogue to keep anyone enthralled.  Nothing beats original songwriting, including a beautiful singer with style and swagger to burn.  Even with a plane to catch a few hours later. 

Here then is my Spotify playlist for Oya 2017:    Oya 2017 on Spotify



Benicassim and Low Festivals Reviews and Playlists 


Glastonbury, Coachella, Benicassim - what do they have in common?  Well they're festival landmarks for a start, rites of passage for festival-goers, both young and virgin (and sometimes both, but never fear, if you choose the camping option and wander into the wrong tent in a drug-induced haze, you may lose both your virginity AND your youth).  And as such they're mass marketed via the kind of headline acts that you may have to pay for six months in advance in your home town, all playing on the same stages one after another.   

Benicassim actually starts when it's already dark, which means that it's only your ears that end up burning.  And if you decide to stay in a hotel, like me, then you can actually have a fairly comfortable experience, allowing for the flying beer, obstructed views and improvised mosh pits fully of teenaged boys trying to prove their manliness.   

This year, Benicassim featured the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Kasabian, Weeknd, and Biffy Clyro - familiar names on the festival circuit all.  And the sets were short enough to be spared their "essential" album tracks.  The crowd were here for the hits and frankly after a full day of music no-one, myself included, was in the mood to differentiate between the more subtle material.  At a certain point, Stormzy could have been singing Californication.  Speaking of Stormy, it occurred to me that British grime is the new gangsta-rap - full of aggression, energy and swearing.  Everything except music, that is.   

So yes, I got drunk plenty, had a good time, and got bored quite a bit, surrounded by people mostly quite a lot younger than me.  A typical festival experience.  And so here's my playlist! 

Benicassim 2017 Spotify Playlist


No this isn't a drum n' bass festival, headlined by Meghan Trainor, or an orchestra of didgeridoo players.  The Low stands for "low cost", which is what it is - 50 Euros for 3 nights of music (giving a wide berth to that word because you know, there's a lot of time to fill and not that much money to spend filling it). 

It's set in Benidorm, a favourite for British tourists, but there are almost no Brits here - it's very much a Spanish festival and the bulk of the acts are Spanish.     

There are fewer world famous names here, of course.  But you still got to see the Pixies and Franz Ferdinand - and the Hives!.   

In truth it could just as easily be called Low Key Festival.  Everyone is well-behaved here and the music is not that loud.  And yes the bands were mostly singing in Spanish but it's a worthwhile reminder that every country in the world plays almost every style of music and not everything revolves around England and America.   I found it a relief in a way not to have to train to hear the lyrics, as I usually do.  Because it's all about the good vibes man.   

I'm actually thinking of starting my own festival, calling it Under the Radar and limiting it to unknown bands.  It will cost nothing and my dog will be the headliner.  Ok, I've said enough. 

So here's the playlist: 

Low 2017 Spotify Playlist 

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Festival Season 2017 - Here We Go! 

It starts Saturday, a tour of 10 different music festivals around Europe spanning over 30 days.  Whew!  I'll be meeting lots of people, playing where I can (thanks to the trusty Ed Sheeran-size guitar on my back) and producing reviews and playlists for each festival I attend by way of newsletter and in this blog.  I hope to connect with a lot of interesting festival goers who share a love of music and exploring the world and its delights.  And to share my songs in the process.  

So here's the schedule:

7-9 July Festival Beauregard - Herouville St. Clair, France
11-12 July Skral - Grimstad, Norway
13-16 July Benicassim - Benicassim, Spain
19-22 July Colours of Ostrava - Ostrava, Czech Rep.
23 July Lollapalooza - Paris
28-30 July Low Festival - Benidorm, Spain
4-6 August  OFF Festival - Katowice, Poland
8-10 August Oya - Oslo, Norway
11-12 August Way Out West - Gothenberg, Sweden
13-17 August Sziget - Budapest
25-27 August Rock en Seine - Paris (or Reading Festival)

So stay tuned - and sign up to the mailing list for my newsletters!

Au revoir,