Each time I return from Budapest, through no fault but my own, the bright corridors of Bristol or Amsterdam Schiphol alert me to an unscheduled lightness; I have left something behind. Invariably it’s an assortment of the same items: keys, wallet, heart, cash, sense of direction, preconceived notions of both popular and alternative music as an exclusively Anglophonic affair that extends as far as Scandinavia before offering diminishing returns as soon as one ventures further south or east. Upon my visit to Budapest Showcase Hub (or BUSH) 2017, the extraordinary sophomore to last year’s debut event, I am pleased to report that I am now only bereft of the final four items on that list.
The city itself remains as beautiful and lively as ever, and the usual tourist highlights – thermal baths, St. Stephen’s Basilica, ruin bars and the palinka held within – remain an abundant source of distraction. But all we’re here for this time is the showcase event, encompassing not only a dazzling array of new or undiscovered live acts, but also a range of talks covering social media, PR tips, and how acts end up on million-streaming Spotify playlists. It’s all pretty eye-opening, and the hospitality of the event’s organisers is second to none from start to finish.
What blew me away – naively, perhaps – was the sheer depth and breadth of quality from the live shows. Team Hungary put out a full-strength squad, and accounted for most of the week’s toe-tappers: Dope Calypso, Blahalouisiana and Deep Glaze all put on irresistibly lively performances. But BUSH is a celebration of surrounding European countries’ finest musical exports too. Rather than shading across the dozens of international acts I saw here, I’d like to focus on six that particularly impressed, each accompanied by a weird Hungarian phrase or idiom I discovered to keep it local. Szívesen.
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Kraków isn’t known for its freezing cold temperatures, but then nor has it traditionally been known for its bewitching electronica; nonetheless, there’s an exhilarating chill that runs through this four-piece. New single ‘Aquarius’ is particularly enchanting, each crescendo unfolding from nothing more than bittersweet violin and piano. In Hungarian: Miért itatod az egereket? Literally, ‘Why are you giving drinks to the mice?’ Apparently this is what you’d ask a child if they were crying, which no one had to ask me during this set, because fortunately I just had something in my eye.-
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AKA Minsk-based songwriter and producer Natallia Kunitskaya. On record the artist channels late-1980s synthpop and electronic textures; on stage she’s a one-woman party, singing, dancing, and waving her arms around like she’s hailing a taxi at a rave.
I’d be tempted to say that she’s part Grimes, part Kedr Livanskiy; in truth, she’s all Mustelide. In Hungarian: Örül, mint majom a farkának. ‘As happy as a monkey about its tail,’ which neatly sums up how I felt by the end of a gloriously energetic set.
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Mart Avi is weird as hell and I love him. On stage in Budapest, he has a variety of props which get picked up, thrown across the stage, or draped about his person: a suitcase on wheels, a chain, the mic stand.
If you ever wished that John Maus would make an easy-listening sex record, I have some very good news for you right here. In Hungarian: Mi a faszomat csinálsz? Translates to ‘What my dick [i.e. the hell] are you doing?’ which, had I learned it before Mart Avi’s set, would have been running through my mind from start to finish – in the best possible way, of course.
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At any of these showcase events, brevity is key: you need to be willing to tear yourself away from one great act to catch another elsewhere. Helen was the first act of the weekend that forced both my brain and feet to actively ignore this directive.
The Romanian electro-pop act is as addictive to listen to as she is captivating on stage; you sense that Helen could go stellar on the basis of these performances, and after 10 years of writing for both local and international artists, she utterly deserves it. In Hungarian: Ki korán kel, aranyat lel. ‘Who gets up early will find gold.’
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Call me new-fashioned, but the ‘five lads making psych-rock’ thing very rarely does it for me – except when it’s spiked with this much soul, pop and energy, and then I’ll forgive more or less anything. The Budapest five-piece have the catchiest choruses in the showcase, and prove to be the local scene’s most compelling offering.
In Hungarian: Kenyérre lehet kenni. The phrase for ‘good-hearted’ translates to ‘you could spread him on bread’ – sounds rude to me, but certainly fits the band’s stirring positivity.
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Dark and luminous, elegant and furious, Lucidvox are absolutely sensational on the last night. I find myself down at the front before I realise that I’m moving, convulsing with the crowd, ebbing and flowing and ricocheting with the music.
What is the music? I suppose we could bandy about terms like ‘psych rock’ or ‘post-punk’, but none of it does justice to the white heat that pours off the stage in a small cellar bar in autumnal Budapest. Band of the showcase, and then some. In Hungarian: Köszönöm means thank you, and despite not being enough to ingratiate me with the city’s visibly unimpressed tobacconists, I hurled it around wherever I could.
I’ve picked up a few other phrases by now, but by the end of this set – and the showcase as a whole – it was the only sentiment that seemed appropriate. I already know I’ll be back to lose more valuables next year, because it’s nights like these that remind me just how much I take back with me.
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Words: Matthew Neale
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