Balaton 2017 Review

Jason Derulo is a proper pop star. When he hits the stage on the Friday evening of 2017's Balaton Sound Festival, children clamber onto parents shoulders and the crowd dances irrespective of age. That most of the other acts appearing on this main stage are EDM DJs – some of the biggest in the world – means the audience to Derulo dances with more groove and sophistication than at any other point of the weekend as he performs hits like 'Get Ugly', 'Swalla', 'Wiggle' and 'Trumpets'.

The audience's mean moves are mirrored by those in Derulo's entourage of dancers, backing singers and musicians, what they miss in the form of pyrotechnics utilised by DJs appearing here after dark, they more than make up for with their slick choreography.

Skiddle is in Zamárdi, Hungary, at one of Europe's biggest open air dance music festivals. Just up the road, the nearby town of Siófok is also known for its disco and unbelievably they are full even throughout Balaton Sound. This despite Balaton Sound drawing over 50, 000 people over its five days. Just where do all these people come from?

Lake Balaton is the draw. It is the largest lake in central Europe and for many people from the landlocked Hungary it is their sea. The entire lake is surrounded by towns and villages made up of cottages, summer homes and hotels providing access to holidaymakers and sporting types, the lake being a popular destination for runners, cyclists and sailors as it is regular holidaying families.

Trains run around the lake before heading off for international destinations making the lake easily accessible though quite far from the nearest international airport in Budapest. Though most of its audience is Hungarian, this accessibility alongside Balaton Sound's 11 year reputation (not to mention the reputation of its parent festival, the more musically varied and at over 100, 000 people, way bigger Sziget Festival), means Balaton Sound draws a huge international audience. Skiddle meets groups from Ireland, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and Slovenia at the event, all drawn by a line up that few European Festivals could challenge, certainly within the EDM genre.

Armin Van Buuren, Don Diablo, Tiesto, Axwell & Ingrosso, Kygo, Robin Schulz, Hardwell and Marshmello are all leaders in this field and represent at this year's event. It's an impressive billing for the main stage, although the reception Jason Derulo gets makes you wonder whether a few more expansive stage set ups such as his wouldn't be a bad thing. This is, after all, a festival which in the past has featured Beastie Boys, Basement Jaxx, Goldfrapp, Massive Attack, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Wu-Tang clan, Nas and The Prodigy.

Whether its the concentration on EDM, the visibly large police presence or just a regular part of Hungarian culture, but the make up of the crowd is very different from many other European festivals. Throughout five days Skiddle doesn't smell a single spliff in the air. Nobody looks tellingly wide eyed, under the influence of anything but alcohol, even in the late night Arena where the likes of Blasterjaxx, Showtek, Dave Clarke, and Afrojack play until dawn. There are also very few black people here and no overt homosexual behaviour (though to imagine there were no gay people here would be ridiculous).

The crowd is instead largely made up of teenagers and those in their 20s, many of whom tan pristine or muscular bodies by the lakeside during daytime hours. They are catered for by an amazing standard of fast food both in and around the festival, with many restaurants in Zamardi and surrounding towns well worth the visit in order to sample the distinct and delicious Hungarian cuisine and wines.

Of the main stage headliners, many DJs champion their own material and unique mash ups first and foremost. Armin van Buuren's Wednesday night set sees him play 'Great Spirit', 'This Is What It Feels Like' and recent release 'Sunny Days', ending with his own mix of sinister rave classic 'Dominator' by Human Resource.

The following night Tiesto opens with his 'Split (Only U)' track, makes his way through John Christian's 'Flight 643', Showtek & Justin Prime's 'Cannonball' and Martin Garrix & Tiësto 'The Only Way Is Up' before unleashing a finale of Hardwell's remix of Avicii's production of 'A Sky Full Of Stars' by Coldplay into Borgore & Caked Up's 'Tomahawk'.

The massive drops of the EDM sounds enable the DJs to shift tempo rapidly and reference many other genres unexpectedly, so Hardwell goes from techno pace to House Of Pain's 'Jump Around' in an instance and Marshmello quotes everything from Bon Jovi to Daft Punk. Perhaps such anthemic displays are where the euphoria is generated here rather than with the use of drugs at other events?

EDM aside, Balaton Sound remains a musically multi faceted festival and Skiddle spends most of its partying on the Heineken Beach Stage where Dubfire, John Digweed, Jamie Jones, Art and Department are highlights and where Skiddle is still dancing at 4am on Monday morning in a session fronted by Sasha and Hot Since 82. Though within its space much less, we also catch great entertainment from European Festival favourites The Bloody Beetroots, mental sounds from Example & DJ Wire, Netsky and actually well up with pride seeing British drum n' bass outfit Sigma slaying the crowd, all within the Jager Arena.

Between Balaton Sound, the aforementioned Sziget Festival and this August's Festival, also held in Zamardi and which brings Solomun, Sven Vath, Dixon, Adam Beyer, Ben Klock and many more to the shores, Hungary is well worth keeping an eye on as one of Europe's key music festival destinations.


Balaton Sound

08-12 July 2020

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