An Interview with Sziget Festival

Photo credit: Csudai Sándor

Sziget Festival will return to Budapest’s Island of Freedom from August 9 – 16, celebrating its 25th anniversary with its customarily expansive music line-up, film screenings, eSports, chess, dance, theatre, sports, chill out areas, yoga, circus acts, fashion, a beach, and more.

Insights spoke with Sziget CEO, Tamás Kádár, about what challenges he foresees for the festival market in the coming years, new additions to the Sziget site in 2017, and to what he attributes the success of the event.

Festival Insights: Sziget has won several European Festival Awards in the past, including being deemed Artists’ Favourite Festival this year. What do the accolades mean to you?

Tamás Kádár: It means a lot to us, as these awards were decided through a combination of industry judges and a public vote, so it is a great honour and reinforcement of our work. This year it was very emotional for us as the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dan Panaitescu, who was our head of booking until his tragic car accident in 2016.

FI: Sziget will celebrate its 25th birthday in 2017. What can you tell us about what you have in store for the anniversary celebrations?

TK: Most people expect a special line-up or something related to our headliners but we will mostly use this anniversary to celebrate the values Sziget has always stood for: freedom, unity and diversity, which make Sziget a real Island of Freedom. So I believe that the experience is the thing which counts at the end of the day, so all celebrations will be related to this and not really the main stage.

FI: Last year the festival smashed records by attracting nearly half a million attendees from over 100 countries. To what do you attribute such astronomical international success and renown?

TK: It’s probably related to the aforementioned values on the one hand, and we know it is related to Budapest on the other, because this beautiful city turns Sziget into a real special holiday which is an outstanding asset to have in the festival market. But as our visitors tend to say: to understand why Sziget is so special, one has to cross the iconic bridge to the island.

FI: Having been to Sziget a couple of years back I can confirm that the festival’s array of non-musical entertainment is as expansive and eclectic as its core programme – from Architects of Air’s inflatable structures to dedicated gaming and fashion areas and bungee jumping. What’s new for this year on the non-music front?

TK: We will develop our circus program a lot, with a special area dedicated to the artform with very unique programming. We will also introduce some spectacular giant street theatre performances this year, but I think the entire non-music program is worth taking a deeper look into as it will be very unique again.

FI: 2016 was obviously a turbulent year for Europe and the world at large. What challenges do you think lie ahead for the continent’s live events industry, and how can we collectively overcome them?

TK: If you mean the security issues, I am pretty sure we were able to answer those concerns with our visitor-friendly check-in system, which has a very serious security presence. We invested a lot into that system and it worked very well.

I think an even more challenging development for the live industry is the financial feasibility of booking those real superstar headline acts for 20 – 30% more every year, without incurring a significant rise in ticket prices. This is something that has not yet been solved.

FI: Are there any emerging acts on the line-up that you’re particularly excited about? To what extent does Sziget try to represent and promote underground and unsigned acts?

TK: If you look at the line-up of the Europe Stage (well, as soon as we announce it), you will see that we dedicate a whole stage to interesting upcoming acts from all over Europe. I think there anyone can find those acts you are asking about. But also our ‘bigger’ stages are hosting some real underground talent across different genres, so I believe Sziget is really strong in this field.

Sziget Festival