By Rory Winston & Karo Alanko
“Do you dance like this? Forever” – the sung response caromed from ear to ear, body to body, flailing arm to elated eyes in what became a timeless space where ‘forever’ felt like way too short an interval. The Gorillaz were on. And, more importantly, they were at Sziget 2018, a festival whose location boasted 76 venues, over 500,000 visitors, attendees from over 100 countries, and a history of 26 years. With musical envoys, the likes of Kendrick Lamar and the Arctic Monkeys, the festival that turned all who entered into native ‘szitizens’, warranted sovereignty if not outright statehood. If Gorillaz were the measure, Sziget could justifiably claim superpower status in the galaxy of musical extravaganzas.
Forget the cartoon dazzle, visual vertigo, or even the Gorillaz staple anonymity and cinematic prowess. This was Daman Albarn at his best – Gorillaz mastermind, frontman, music aficionado armed to the hilt with a celebrated who’s who legion of musicians that included world-renowned backing vocalists, a brass section, and De La Soul rappers. Seizing the main stage at Sziget, the stand-alone Island located at the outskirts of Budapest, Gorillaz reaffirmed that the key to all their eye-candy had always been the sound.
Bands, pop artists, contemporary circus, theater, dance, beach, sports, installation and performing art, Sziget’s week-long event had music as its drug of choice. With Mumford and Sons bounding from country to western as only a British band that was enamored by cowboy films could, and Israeli based Asaf Avidan soaring from guttural blues to mellifluous emo-steeped Rocky Mountain moments, geography at Sziget existed somewhere between reverie and longing.
While Brit pop goddess Duo Lipa seduced her audience into a sway-rollick fever with her synth-pop delivery and ethereal drive, the full-on Danish singer-songwriter MØ whipped up her usual punk-gone-electro frenzy, empowering just about all who listened, danced or yelled along. For those demanding surprise, Fever Ray rattled its electro-trip-hop saber with menacing flair and mesmerizing sonic incantations.
As for Lana Del Rey… Well, you had to be there. Why? Because it often felt like she wasn’t. If you’ve ever wondered how well California dreaming fits hubris, a quick David Lynch-like look at Lana walking off the stage in the middle of a song to take selfies with the odd audience member is enough to make you painfully aware. This moment, paired with ex-Oasis singer Liam Gallagher’s ability to project self-love over a half-mile radius will convince even the most jaded cynic that the two were meant for each other. But the me-generation’s most vacuous love story was simply not to be. The two were destined never to meet. And that’s even if they were to have been locked in a small room with little more than themselves and a pair of mirrors. Rarely has narcissism drawn such a devoted following.
What better recovery for self-adulation than the hardcore Indie Punk Rock of the Slaves and the thoughtful alt rock of Wolf Alice, the latter possessing all the evocative candor of solid grunge and all the eclectic flair of Folk-infused rock. Such selections came off as nicely as a hard-on followed by orgasm and a good cry. Or, for the preteen version of the same – the orgasm in the form of a good cry – there was Shawn Mendes who brandished ‘homespun earnest’ and ‘resplendent humility’ across an intimate sea of fellow worshipers whose unspoken love drowned out his voice. This, while Everything Everything reminded everyone everyone (sic) just how dynamic it sounds when alt. rock, pop, R&B, and electronica all decide to have an orgy within the given interval of a single song.
Though it’s quite a tall order for other art forms to share space with so much spectacular music without being overwhelmed, Sziget managed to attract just the right artistic counterparts. The Wired Aerial Theatre creates a breathtaking show by juxtaposing dancer/acrobats dangling from wires over a screen with ever-changing 3-dimensional images. Besides achieving perspective distortions that throw the viewer off balance, watching how a given individual interacts with abstract themes is an exciting way to view individual action within the context of universal themes such as climate change and belief.
Likewise, Ofir Yudilevitch‘s choreography fuses acrobatics and capoeira to examine complex sociological subject matter, while the world-renowned Roy Assaf Dance Company which takes on the spiritual bond that exists between alienated war veterans make for thought-provoking performances that capture the imagination. Watching these productions at Sziget, I recalled the Gorillaz song, Tranz: “Do you dance like this?” It asks. And I thought: we all do. Every generation does. We dance the eternal dance between exploration and understanding. We dance to be transformed. We dance to celebrate having been transformed and await to be transformed anew. We dance and dance like this forever.