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Festival Focus: Tamás Kádár, Sziget

Since it launched in 1993, Hungary’s Sziget has evolved into one of Europe’s largest festivals, featuring more than 1,000 shows on six stages over six days. With a strong focus on diversity, it attracts people from more than 100 countries and includes a broad range of entertainment including circus, theatre, a museum quarter, and much more. In an excerpt from IQ and Yourope’s European Festival Report, CEO Tamás Kádár looks back at the festival’s return since the pandemic.

What was it like for you and the Sziget team during the pandemic?
First of all, it was a great pleasure to see so many happy faces again on Sziget, the Island of Freedom, in August this year. To be together again and to enjoy music and freedom is always the highlight of my year, but this edition was even more emotional for our entire team after almost three years of pause and waiting.

Financially, it was a very tough ride for our company because the Hungarian government wasn’t willing to provide sufficient support for the culture and live sector during the pandemic, so we had to rely on ourselves. We managed to keep the core team onboard and to somehow keep our heads above water, despite these huge financial and emotional challenges.

Sziget is renowned for its broad international audience – what do you think is the cultural value of attracting people from so many countries to the festival?
I think Sziget is really a Pan-European get-together where young people from all over the world become ‘Szitizens’ of the Island of Freedom. We welcomed fans from over 100 countries in 2022. The festival’s programming is a broad church, from the weirdest of the weird to the most mainstream acts on Earth. We welcome them all. We believe in embracing diversity, respecting human dignity, and looking out for each other.

“I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic”

What trends do you think we will see play out in the next few years at festivals?
I don’t consider this season to be the first edition after Covid-19 but the last during the pandemic. The real comeback for festivals will happen next year, and I think that major festivals will become increasingly successful. I’m conscious of the humanitarian and economic impacts of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but I strongly believe that festivals can provide a safe haven for our souls where we can enjoy life and hopefully celebrate peace very soon.

What challenges does the festival industry face? And how are you aiming to approach them?
Most of the challenges are things such as inflation, staff shortages, and increasing energy prices, but I think Sziget has learned to manage these things over the past 30 years.

What do you think is the importance of festivals to the cultural landscape?
I think festivals have proven not only to have a strong positive economic impact on local and national level, but they also add a lot [of colour] to the cultural landscape of a society. Sziget is not only a music festival with a very strong international line-up but also a place for local acts and world-class performances from all kinds of genres and artforms. So, it is really a 360-degree performing arts festival, way beyond music.

Read the European Festival Report in full below.

Inside Sziget’s star-studded comeback

Sziget Festival CEO Tamás Kádár tells IQ the event enjoyed an uptick in six-day ticket sales as fans from more than 100 countries flocked to its comeback edition.

Held from 10-15 August in Budapest, Hungary, the 80,000-cap festival boasted a star-studded bill headlined by Arctic Monkeys, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, Justin Bieber, Kings of Leon and Tame Impala.

Organisers say a combined 450,000 people attended over the duration of the event, but Kádár notes that the increase in demand for full festival passes indicates Sziget’s appeal stretches far beyond its music offering.

“The best news for us was that more people were buying six-day passes,” he says. “Usually, I’m hearing people are buying day tickets on the basis of the line-up where they cherry pick their favourite act and then come on that given day, and that can cause a big difference [in attendance] between days. But if you have a lot of six-day tickets sold, that is levelled and that is what happened.

“I hope that it is because they want to have the full experience. Of course, we missed two seasons, so the drive to come back and have a great party was bigger than ever. But I really hope it is also a good sign for the future that people want the real Sziget vibe and atmosphere – and that takes more than one day, definitely.”

“People are always surprised the festival goes on until 5am or 6am”

Other artists included Lewis Capaldi, Bastille, Stromae, Anne-Marie, Steve Aoki and Caribou.

“If I wanted to be a bit ironic, I’d say we had a long time to put it together,” jokes Kádár of the line-up. “There were a lot of challenges in the almost three years since we last closed the festival gates, but we are very happy it came together like it did.

“A personal highlight is that it was packed everyday after midnight. People are always surprised the festival goes on until 5am or 6am and they party a lot. It was good to be back.”

Six-day passes cost 130,000 forint (€325), and Kádár says the breakdown between domestic and international visitors was roughly 50/50.

“I don’t have the final numbers in front of me but, based on pre-sales, Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy were the biggest countries with the Hungarians, of course,” he says. “It was a bit more of an international crowd this year and they tend to buy full festival tickets, which I think is why we sold more six-day tickets and fewer dailies.”

“We made it through and we are very proud of that”

He continues: “We have quite a high inflation rate in Hungary and the forint is very weak against the euro, which was a very special challenge, which we faced in the last three or four months. And the Hungarian music industry didn’t get too much state support over the last two years so a lot of professionals have left the field and it was not easy to get everyone together.

“But we made it through and we are very proud of that. I also think it is a very good sign for the Hungarian industry as a whole.”

Promoters also took the opportunity to highlight the festivals ‘better world’ initiatives, Love Revolution and Green Sziget.

“We would like to emphasise to everyone that if they choose to come to Sziget, they should come for six days and experience the whole event”

“We try to reduce the footprint of the festival as much as we can,” explains Kádár. “There is an area on the island which is nature protected, so we work there together with the WWF and the Budapest municipality. We also made a big step up in F&B and we haven’t used plastic straws since 2018.

“The only issue we have is that Hungary has been very dry for the last two months, just like other European countries, so we had a lot of dust onsite. That is very hard to manage, so we re-used water from the Danube River to sprinkle water around the sides, which was quite a green solution.”

Early bird tickets for Sziget’s 30th anniversary, set for 9-14 August 2023, go on sale tomorrow for 48 hours.

“We would like to emphasise to everyone that if they choose to come to Sziget, they should come for six days and experience the whole event,” adds Kádár. “And to reach that, we know we have to further develop our onsite accommodation and camping options, and other facilities that people can use if they actually live six days or even seven days on the island.”

 


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