It’s day four of five at Balaton Sound in Zamárdi, about 70 miles outside of Budapest, and our ears are almost bleeding. We’ve endured days of relentless dance music being blasted from opposing stages in every direction, while scantily-clad, picture-perfect, bronzed bodies move and shake and gyrate in the 35-degree heat. All of this takes place on the edge of the beautiful Lake Balaton – fresh water, shallow enough to stand in almost all the way across, on squidgy, cushion-like sand perfect for barefoot exploring. Perhaps the only place to escape the intensity of the pounding beats – because let’s face it, even if you love it, everyone needs an ear-break – is out on the water, as far as you can go.
The crowd and general atmosphere (immaculate toilet blocks included) is a contrast to Glastonbury, which I only recently left: instead of an eccentric and mixed age group, it’s basically Club 18-30, and while the chance to wear as little as possible in the summer heat is generally liberating, here it seems routed in a sense of competition, starting with ‘Who has the shiniest six-pack?’ The amount of flesh on show has got so extreme that my band mates have started to get excited by punters wearing more clothes due to the sense of mystery it provokes.
Today I swam in the lake for the umpteenth time, played on some large inflatables, ate my bodyweight in free risotto, and lounged in the sun, temporarily forgetting what it was I came here to do, and tonight I will play another swelteringly fun 45-minute show for a somewhat rowdy yet responsive and loyal crowd. Between the six-packs and slim-line beer kegs there are many lovely souls and outrageous dancers, just the way we like it.
By day four, we’re sitting having lunch in the VIP (very inconveniently positioned) area, as we do every day, directly between Finlandia – a small and disproportionately loud stage dropping ear-splitting wob-wob-wobs all day long – and the main stage, which begins a soundcheck at precisely the moment we sit down to eat. It feels like we’ve heard these Coldplay and Ed Sheeran remixes a thousand times before – and, truth be told, we probably have. Today the earplugs are out and, like a bunch of disgruntled and exhausted pensioners, we’ve all had enough; talking isn’t an option as it’s simply too loud, so everyone looks down at their thumbs and electronic devices and gives up on real-life socialising. At night it seems to make more sense, but in the daytime we feel like decrepit geese sweating in a locked pen, yearning to be set free in the cool lake, away from it all.
One 45-minute show a day by a glorious lake at 11PM doesn’t really feel like work – except when the mosquitoes are out in their thousands and drawn to our drum lights and sticky white faces – so we spend each day enjoying the sun, the lake, trying out a bit of experimental drumming, and, on the final day, scaling a climbing wall and descending on a giant zip wire, which propels us from one end of the site to the other, above a sea of tiny half-naked people. For the sky-high view of the lake alone, it’s worth every penny (and this is Hungary, so not many).
Backstage we’re accompanied by various other street theatre companies in neighbouring makeshift dressing rooms: a stilt-walking group from Germany, a walkabout group from France, and a Samba Batucada group (complete with capoeira and samba dancers in bright, buttock-revealing costumes) from Budapest. We catch moments of these other shows throughout the day, and make our way over to dinner while casually samba-dancing along the main track.
Highlights in the programming include Mija and a number of other artists on the Jäger stage, which we find ourselves drawn to each night, and Noisia’s set on the final night on a tiny stage at the far end of the site. The lowest low is Jason Derulo, who makes the main-stage crowd wait for 45 minutes before bringing on the world’s most awkward hype man for an embarrassing school disco, and then finally turns up just to repeatedly shout his own name over butchered remixes with his hands lingering conveniently down his pants while various women dance around him. Watching the young crowd’s enthusiastic reactions and hearing their screams, it feels as though we’re bearing witness to the birth of a new cult. Time to cover our grimacing faces in clown white and get back to work.
With our gigs here coming to an end, it’s not long before we’ll be missing the daily rituals of lake-swimming, predictable drops and endless bikini time. Our spritely, young coordinators have been organised to the point of perfection (nothing like a ravers festival back home), and despite the monumental levels of noise all over the site which completely drown out the sound of our drums, the gigs have been all sorts of fun. We even have a soft spot for our hotel, a strange but somehow homely place, 15 minutes’ drive from the festival site down a straight road in the middle of nowhere, with brightly-lit advertisements for a restaurant that doesn’t exist and a half-finished concrete roof covered in sun loungers. Here we’ve enjoyed a few bracing swims, ping pong games, bicycle rides to Tesco, hot nights with no air conditioning, and scrambling behind the reception desk for room keys in the dark only to discover the watchful owner sitting silently in a pitch-black corner. It’s been hilarious and eerie, and the breakfast pastries and selection of mystery meats have kept us going throughout the day. What more could we ask for?
Now, time to polish off this risotto and jump back in the lake, where we might just have another walking singalong to 90s dance classic ‘Freed From Desire’ as it echoes from some distant shore.