“It’s Balaton Sound, anything could happen,” was the week’s motto at Hungary’s largest dance festival earlier in July. Every year, 100,000 revelers take over the sleepy resort town of Zamárdi and party non-stop for five days (the festival site literally doesn’t close). It’s a world-class dance music showcase with the most picturesque backdrop against Central Europe’s largest lake: Lake Balaton.
The profound remark belongs to Benni, an information clerk at the festival. With his team: Patricia and Bogi, they saved Platform from potentially sleeping on the streets when we found out the hard way that nobody camps from the night before at Balaton Sound, which is defiant to Brit festival tradition. We still remain grateful to this day (thank you!) Since then, the motto has appropriately applied to other numerous WTF and OMG moments that have occurred over the course of the festival – mostly unpublishable.
The festival begins on ‘Day 0’ (Wednesday) and is when all 100,000 visitors check-in to their respective accommodation, exchange wristbands and pray it’s all sorted by the evening so they don’t miss Tiësto. Cue inhumanly long waits at the campsite in the sweltering heat whilst pitching your tent in sudden torrential rain – welcome to Hungary folks! Somehow this system has worked well for the organisers for seven years. Platform opted to escape the madness and go sightseeing until everything cooled over.
By some miracle, the tent didn’t drown and the rain stopped on cue for Tiësto to deliver an eclectic taster of the week ahead. Lots of epic drops, floor-quaking basslines and wonky remixes (Chasing Cars EDM mix, anyone?) were to be the consensus for the next five days. Here goes nothing.
We quickly discovered that there is more to Balaton Sound beyond its distorted Rubik’s cube-y main stage, and you’d hope so with it’s super-short programming (only 5.30-11pm each day). In fact, the main stage is just the pregame, with things kicking off around the early evening following afternoons duly spent dipping in the lake. After a roaring Thursday line-up of Showtek, Nicky Romero and Axwell and Ingrosso to gear us up, the main stage field becomes a desolate abyss and its perimeters come to life.
Urban and live acts could be found at the Jägermeister Arena and Thursday saw Brooklyn-based rapper Joey Bada$$ invite the festival’s female guests to twerk on stage with him. He was eventually followed by Flosstradamus who put on a shouty set in their white boilersuits, with lashings of floor-quivering bass causing more tremors than my gym’s Power Plate. I think I left more toned-up, than turnt-up.
We frequently visited the B.My.Lake Terrace (named after a sister festival), which showcased contemporary house and techno acts. We witnessed a stylish set from German Stil vor Talent founder Oliver Koletzki before Eats Everything took the reigns for a stamina-testing, techy ride.
We loved the Telekom Arena (sponsored by the Hungarian leg of T-Mobile). What appeared to be a massive tent on the outside, emulated a warehouse/super club vibe inside, housing sky-high decks and four bars. Those who grieved the demise of EDM past midnight could continue the big-room madness here with Dannic and Zedd, who showered the Arena crowd in confetti during dazzling sets on Thursday.
Friday saw the first anomaly to the EDM-laden main stage line-up with (sing it) Jason Derulohhh. Following a rigorous set by R3HAB, he slowed things down a notch with his sing-along anthems, smooth moves and glistening abs on display. Needless to say, the ladies loved him. The pace picked back up for DJMag’s number one DJ Hardwell who was later joined on stage by Derulo again for their collaborative rendition of Follow Me. Unfortunately, he kept his top on this time.
The festival peaked on Saturday and could be described as no less than epic. The locals were off work and attendees grew tenfold with the rise of day ticketers in tow. Warming us up as the sun went down was Afrojack on the main stage, who effortlessly rocked the crowd with a string of high-profile productions and collaborations. His set ended with a big-room update of his early club smash Take Over Control. As night fell, lasers were out for a flawless performance by seminal electronic group Faithless joined on stage by Kyla La Grange. Their classic hit Insomnia was perfection as it transcended throughout the open air arena, but their encore We Come 1 was even better.
Feeling euphoric, we floated over to the B.My.Lake Terrace for a funky, soulful set by Skream followed by a groovier live set by the enigmatic Claptone. Things got dark over at the Telekom Arena this time as Pan-Pot put on a relentless display of banging techno. Just as we thought it couldn’t get any heavier, the king of unforgiving techno Chris Liebing, piled on the bass for a pounding set until 6am. He continuously showed love and gratitude to the survivor’s crowd still going strong for him. As we rolled out into the blaring sunshine, the food stalls were open for the breakfast run with fresh pastries and coffee on display. Balaton Sound doesn’t close, remember?
The penultimate day saw the remix king Laidback Luke open the main stage with another US rapper to follow – remember Ludacris? Platform highly anticipated his performance all week, with a degree of skepticism. Despite a fruitful career, none of us could name a single Ludacris track. We contemplated whether he would perform a medley of interludes and bridges of famous tracks he features on, and our predictions were confirmed. His set comprised of rehashed takes on Fergie’s Glamorous and Usher’s infamous Yeah, in between repeatedly proclaiming “I’m so Hungary!” Utter cringefest. Apparently, this was his first time in the country (and quite possibly his last).
After a week of EDM blurriness, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike delivered a class show that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Their infamous anthem with Martin Garrix Tremors caused no less than uproar, whilst a teased-out version of Mammoth sent the crowd well and truly nuts.
With an awkward gap to fill, we headed back to the failsafe Telekom Arena and discovered an incredibly bouncy Eva Shaw dishing out commercial favourites before delving into something deep and techy. For the first time, we ventured over to the mobile brand’s counterpart stage the Telekom Rave, held upon a stationary boat. With the vibes of a real boat party, we bobbed along to a funky set by Budapest-based DJ T:Maniak. You might have been forgiven for thinking you were in Ibiza.
Back to our favourite B.My.Lake Terrace for one final time (we really ought to visit this festival now), we caught the end of Jackmaster, transitioning into a groovy Seth Troxler with some dub version of the Cha-Cha Slide. We may or may not have performed the entire routine with a group of kilted Scots.
Ultimately, that’s what Balaton Sound is about: no pretense fun. Constant confetti and streamer cannons going off made for delightfully camp moments. Punters turned up in some hilarious fancy dress and brought with them a zoo of inflatable animals.
The crowd are a truly mixed European gathering: a smattering of Brits, hoardes of Belgians and a handful of crazy Slovakians in the opposite tent who necked vodka for breakfast each morning. It’s a similar circuit to the Tomorrowland and Ultra Europe contingent and goes against the trend seen in Croatia where each festival is promoted within one country, such as the Brit-centric Hideout or Italian-exclusive Barrakud. Although we felt like outsiders initially, we quickly buddied up with punters the world over.
Our legs ache from dancing, our backs throb from rough camping, and our hands are stiff from continuously being told to put them in the air. We were left for dead on Monday morning but ultimately, we survived Balaton Sound. Pack your flag soldier, we’ll see you next year.
Words and photography by Sayuri Standing @sayeliz
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