72 hours without sleep (nice one, Aussie Dave). Three weeks past my deadline (ooops). An A4 pad containing all of my notes from this trip deposited somewhere in the Electric Picnic's campsites (my fault, that one). No real conception of what it was I originally intended to write about. A simple set of brackets will clearly not suffice to address that issue. At all.
A festival called Sziget initially formed the basis for this story. As is often the case, however, life threw up a series of obstacles that rendered any and all plans and schemes I harboured entirely obsolete. So, now I sit here, rationing my last few cigarettes in the harsh light of the morning after the night before, hoping that I will be able to set down a reasonable account of the past few weeks before I am overcome by that most troublesome of human needs, sleep.
There is no doubting that the festival proper began on the 8th of August. It is also indisputable that it ran until the 15th of that same month. Furthermore, I can assert with a reasonable degree of certainty that we arrived at Budapest's Obudai-Sziget on the 6th. The dates are established, this much we can see, but that is clearly not enough. What exactly occurred between the 6th and the 15th of August, 2007, Year of the Mad Dancing Loon, has degenerated in my mind from a coherent, chronological account of events to a hazy rush of sights, sounds, and colours with little to distinguish one from the next in any meaningful manner. In any case, here goes it.
Keeping in line with tradition, we shall start at the beginning. Why not? There are few sights more majestic than those on the banks of the Danube in Budapest on a warm August's evening. True, we were tired, somewhat irritable, and not even entirely convinced we were heading in the right direction, but these facts were hardly enough to dent our moods. The amazing density of spectacular sights along the banks of this vast waterway were enough to ensure this: the grandiose bridges picked out in gold against the soft August sky; the magnificent spectacle that is Castle Hill similarly illuminated; the Parliament buildings, ostentatious and overwhelming, once the largest of their kind worldwide. Truly, a sight to behold.
Eventually out trek brought us to the Obudai-Sziget, home to the festival, and we proceeded to set up camp. We spent the first night in an eerie and drunken ramble throughout the near-deserted island. I estimate that there were 1000 or so people present. During the festival proper this figure would swell to at least 50,000 a day. Revealed to us in its skeletal form, the grounds provided plenty of food for thought: the rows and columns of portaloos and showers giving the lie to the festival ideal of total disconnection from the outside world; the as yet unopened ranks of eateries and bars paying testament to the gluttonous appetites of the average festival goer; the huge stages dormant, a tribute to the Babelesque pretensions of the modern festival. All of this appeared infinitely clearer in its austere and lifeless form than it would later in the week when the island was overrun by the masses. Everything spoke of money and the insatiable appetites of those willing to brave the festival for its duration. Lucre, my friend, filthy lucre.
By the 8th the campsites were approaching capacity and the music was about to begin. The highlight of this opening day was undoubtedly Gocoo, a Japanese percussion group accompanied by GoRo, an inventive and versatile practitioner of the didgeridoo and, I think, the djembe. As a group Gocoo are hard to define or pigeonhole in any meaningful sense. Suffice it to say that their roots lie in the traditional Japanese musical form of Taiko, but their scope is much larger than that of many of their peers in this field, taking in elements of modern techno and trance. A truly mesmerising set on the World Music Stage that provided the perfect introduction to this most diverse of festivals. From there it was back to the tents for a few "wee drams" of whatever you're having yourself before we made our way to the main stage for an amazing set by Manu Chao, albeit one hindered by several power-cuts. These, however, did little to diminish the powerful presence and seemingly limitless energy of this most unique and engaging of performers. Our evening unfortunately finished in the Party Arena listening to a set by Timo Mass, a DJ whom I have no time for. Don't ask me why I went.
Day 2 provided another two amazing performances. I skipped The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, feeling that their slightly downbeat stylings would not transfer well to the vast and impersonal Main Stage. In any case, Tinariwen, one of my favourite groups, were playing elsewhere. This group of erstwhile Tuareg rebel fighters from the deserts of Mali traded their guns for guitars to continue their struggle for independence and celebration of their nomadic lifestyle with an inimitable fusion of traditional Tuareg music and modern rock and blues. Their set was unbelievable and, by all accounts, The Good, the Bad, and the Queen failed to impress. As per usual, I was right. The Chemical Brothers occupied the headline slot on the Main Stage and they truly were something to behold, playing an interesting set combining their big tracks with lesser known material, all to the backdrop of the most impressive laser and video show I have ever seen. However, it must be pointed out that some of their magic was certainly lost in their transition from the darlings of the dance tent to the huge headline act they have now become. A ramble through the African Village and a brief stint in the Party Arena, followed by several hours I can in no way account for, all the while twisted off my melon, capped off another amazing night.
The next few days of the festival were, quite frankly, too massive to squeeze into this short space, so keep your eyes open for the adventures Millar at Goldie, Dave Clarke, The Skatalites, Madness, Laurent Garnier...you get the picture.