Balaton Sound is one of Europe's fastest growing festivals, increasing in calibre and attendance steadily since its inception seven years ago. This year's edition has been another step up for the Hungarian event with a record-setting 145,000 visitors gracing the (usually) quaint Lake Balaton with their ground-rumbling presence, and there is no doubt now that it deserves its place amongst the top electronic music festivals.
Day Zero, open to campers only, kicked the festival off in style with the likes of Dutch DJ Sander van Doorn and local legend Sterbinszky. Dark clouds loomed ominously over Zamárdi, the festival's host town on the southern shore of the lake, but nobody seemed phased. After all, they came here to party and they weren't about to let the weather get in their way. Tents popped up throughout the three campsites, filling them to the brim and even spilling out into the adjacent streets. Flags from all over the world could be seen amongst them, giving another indication that Sound is quickly becoming a globally-renowned event.
Thursday July 10, Day One, the official start of Balaton Sound. The rain is pouring, the drinks are flowing, and Nervo hits the main stage. The minxy Australian twins did not disappoint the drenched hordes and gave them a worthy performance, justifying their return to the festival for the second consecutive year with an upgrade to the Main Stage. Next up was Dutch meteoric sensation Martin Garrix who didn't prove to be much of a talker, but definitely connected with the crowd through his mixes and especially with his standout hit 'Animals.' Capping off the first day on the Main Stage was Alesso, the first of three Swedes to grace this year's floral-themed main venue. Carrying the youthful momentum of Garrix's show, the 23-year-old left nothing to be desired with his upbeat progressive house tunes including 'Years' and 'City of Dreams.'
While all of that was happening on the Main Stage, the smaller (but still sizeable) Jager Arena played host to a number of standout UK-based acts who definitely made their mark on Balaton Sound right from the get-go. Clean Bandit, Gorgon City, and Rudimental all rocked the intimate venue, with the latter giving an incredibly energetic performance that dominated the entire vicinity as the partying crowd spilled well beyond the open-domed arena.
The festival's second sunrise did not bear good news in terms of weather, as evidenced by the last of the drunken partiers returning to their tents with their shoes, or more often bare feet, caked ankle-deep in mud. Not many people came prepared to deal with such downpours, but you can't really blame them considering how much of a contrast it was compared to last year's 40°C average temperature.
However, rain or shine, the show must go on. And go on it did with Martin Solveig opening on the Main Stage. Admittedly, it was a slow start, but by the time he got to his chart-topping and mood-lifting 'Hello' it was no longer just the raindrops making ripples in the puddles scattered around the site but rather the vibrations - both literal and figurative - of the party. Next were the second set of siblings to perform on the Main Stage at this year's festival, the Greek-Belgian Thivaios brothers better known as Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. It was around this point that I realised that it wasn't just my imagination making me think I've been hearing the same songs over and over again. As this was my first proper EDM festival, I wasn't sure what to expect musically but I certainly didn't anticipate hearing the same radio hits recycled in various mixes.
It was getting old quickly and I ditched the show to head over to the Jager Arena to catch the last bit of Hungarian hip-hop group Punnany Massif ahead of Disclosure's set. Expecting another typical electronic performance from the Surrey-born brothers, I was pleasantly surprised by their use of actual musical instruments which made for a nice change of pace. I only stayed for the first half, though, as I had high hopes for David Guetta on the Main Stage considering his huge portfolio of original tracks. My hopes were swiftly somewhat crushed by Day Two's headliner as most of what I heard I could've listened to on Capital FM from the comfort of my own home. That being said, the Frenchman did include some original mixes of his own stuff such as 'Titanium' and 'Play Hard'; which, coupled with the seemingly genuine profession of his love for the venue (this was his third performance at Sound), made for a decent show.
After Guetta I soldiered on to the Party Arena where things only kick off after dark and, despite the lack of big acts, always lives up to its name. Tonight was special, however, with the appearance of Deep Dish at 1am. To say there was hardly any room to move within the pavilion by the time the American duo came on would be an understatement. Packed in like sardines I didn't think it would be possible to enjoy the performance; but there's just something about classic Madonna and Depeche Mode remixes, flashing lights, and people wearing sunglasses in the dark that just simply made it fun. I had to call it a night after that.
As Saturday rolled around the sun decided to show itself and the lakeside beaches quickly filled to capacity, still in pristine condition having been previously unused. Sprawling out on the grass beach between the two campsites I could finally see what Sound is really all about. There really are few things better than soaking up the sun while sipping on some Borsodi (a popular local beer) and mingling with your fellow festival-goers from local residents to faraway Aussies.
Just before I started burning I realised it was time to head into the festival grounds to catch the first Main Stage show of the day, Hungarian reggae-rock ensemble IrieMaffia. Most likely unknown to most of the foreigners who comprised roughly half of all festival attendees, the 11-strong group quickly won them over with their English lyrics but mostly with their captivating beats and unique sound. A highly-recommended hidden gem. Sebastian Ingrosso of the Swedish House Mafia was up next and although the repetitive music was starting to get to me, the Stockholmian added a little something extra to his performance and actually talked to the crowd quite often. This allowed him to build up to several musical climaxes that made the masses go crazy, earning them his praises every time in the aftermath.
Day Three's final act, and second to include live music, was tattoo-covered hip-hop star Wiz Khalifa. Despite not exactly being everyone's cup of tea, he still managed to pull off an exciting show which would've probably been even better with a more cooperative crowd. Lighting up the clear Saturday night sky were Richie Hawtin in the Party Arena, Flux Pavilion at Jager, and Felix Da Housecat and Maya Jane Coles at the Telekom Terrace.
The final day of Sound got off to a great start with another beautiful morning and another quick dip in the refreshing waters of Lake Balaton. But the warm sunrays kissing the beach were short-lived and soon replaced with the all-too-familiar raindrops and mud. As the threat of lightning got involved, Azealia Banks's set got delayed by a good half hour filled with a lot of confusion as to whether or not she would even come on. Maybe it was the returning rain, maybe it was the lack of pyrotechnics, maybe it was the poor turnout, but the self-proclaimed “Bad Bitch” put on a thoroughly underwhelming performance. Unlucky.
A second helping of some Swedish House Mafia was next as Steve Angello casually strolled onto the Main Stage and the pyrotechnics were back in full force once they were deemed safe to use again. Oh the irony… About 10 minutes in, Angello stops the music and everyone is bracing themselves for the drop, but it never came. The flamethrowers had set the stage on fire and an awkward silence ensued once people realised what had happened. The fire was quickly put out, though, and it seemed to just get everyone even more pumped as the rest of the set sent everyone mad.
Since there was a delay on the Main Stage I thought I'd go check out Rita Ora at the Jager Arena, and I'm glad I did. She was only on for less than hour; but she gave her all, ripping a lot of her own clothes off as she ripped through an already-impressive catalogue of hits including 'R.I.P.,' 'How We Do,' and 'I Will Never Let You Down.'
Presiding over Sound's grand finale this year was trance deity Armin Van Buuren. You just can't go wrong with an artist who has so much history behind them; 'This Is What It Feels Like,' 'Youtopia,' and 'Not Giving Up On Love' were just the tip of the iceberg in a classic trance set, complete with an amazing laser display. It's no wonder he's become a regular at Zamárdi.
Headlining the afterparty were Leeds lads Sigma in the Jager Arena, and they gave Armin a run for his money. A sublime ending to a festival that deserves it.
Next year's festival promises to be bigger and better yet again; so if you've got about 120 quid (festival passes sold for 44,000HUF this year) and a long weekend to spare, you should seriously consider Balaton Sound. Camping tickets cost about a tenner, but many people rent apartments in the nearby towns as well. One final word of warning, though: prepare to queue for everything from getting into the grocery store to using the cash point.
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
festival home page