Look back on the history of Budapest’s Sziget Festival through these archive photos
Drawing in crowds in the hundreds of thousands each year, Sziget stands as one of Europe’s largest and most crucial festivals. With its beginnings in 1993, the annual Budapest event formed after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Socialist summer youth camps had disappeared and there was a revolutionary spirit in the air; a thirst for change mixed with a sense of nostalgia for the 60s and 70s, when warmer climates were taken over by Woodstock, the countercultural hippie movement and summers of love.
Emerging from the city’s changing political landscape were ideas. Musician Péter Müller and manager Károly Gerendai recognised the need for the empty summers to be filled with music and art, and together, with a small community of like-minded individuals, formed Sziget Ltd. Funding was scarce, but the event was propped up by ideas, and against the odds the inaugural edition of Sziget festival – then called Diáksziget or Student Island – proved to be a success, with the following year expanding with the inclusion of international acts on the line-up; pulling in an audience that grew by 100,000 attendees. To coincide with the 25th anniversary of Woodstock in 1994, Sziget’s sophomore edition was called Eurowoodstock and global media outlets, such as MTV, were on site to cover the event.
As the festival ran at a loss, 1995 saw the organisation grow to encompass a professional body, gaining financial sponsorship from Pepsi that became the catalyst for further success, culminating in a breakthrough year in 1997 which saw David Bowie perform on stage.
Bolstered by the financial backing to realise the original MO, Sziget grew to become an internationally recognised event. Pinning the festival as a cultural spectacle, Hungarian prime minister Péter Medgyessy made an appearance, as did the French minister of culture, Jack Lang. As Pepsi’s financial sponsorship dried up after a three-year deal, rather than decrease in quality, Sziget grew from strength to strength. There were record levels of rain in 2003 matched by the event’s largest number of attendees on the Saturday, and 2007’s line-up of acts represented a record of 56 countries. Through its long-running trajectory, a roster of renowned artists have been booked for the platform, with the festival staging icons such as Prince, Patti Smith and Nick Cave.
This year’s upcoming instalment will be themed around love and revolution, embodying the spirit laid down by its founders all those years ago.
Sziget will be held at Budapest, Hungary, on 8-15 August