Discovering Hungary’s Garden of Eden at the S.U.N. Festival
Photo by Gergely Somogyi.
We’re midway through summer, and it’s festival season in Hungary. As ever, it feels like we’re spoiled for choice without being truly excited. One event with a difference you may not have heard of is the S.U.N., which is taking place this weekend.
According to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper website, it is one of Europe’s top “eclectic and affordable festivals [….] where profit takes a backseat.”
The first Solar United Natives Festival took place in 2013, born out of Hungary’s psychedelic Goa trance party scene. Goa, in India, has been a hippy mecca since at least the 1960s. Parties there are soundtracked by electronic dance music where the usual thumping repetitive computer-generated beats are mixed with more organic samples and vocals often lifted from movies. The Hungarian Goa trance scene kicked off around 1992.
S.U.N. happens in Csobánkapuszta, a green, wooded, hilly and deeply rural area about 78 km northeast of Budapest by road, and described on its website as a “Garden of Eden.” The festival was the first in Hungary to insist on biodegradable cups, plates and cutlery. Volunteers do most of the organizing. Most of the artists play for free. It’s non-profit; if it earns money, the organizers agree on how it’s spent.
When I spoke to Peti Oleg, one of the founders of S.U.N., he told me Csobánkapuszta is home to a “tiny alternative off-grid eco-village and art community” that lives there all year round. “The community is dedicated to living a sustainable and conscious life.” Throughout the year, it also hosts a children’s camp, smaller sporting events and creative workshops.
The Solar United Natives movement was born in 2012 when a group of people, of which Oleg was one, realized the real reason why the transformational festivals they’d previously been involved in were popular.
“They bring back ancient needs for the community to celebrate, dance and vibrate together with each other and Mother Nature,” Oleg told me. “We decided we should make a festival where the money coming in is shared equally and used to help us improve and evolve as a community.”
“S.U.N. Festival is rooted in the belief that we’re 100% part of Nature with the special gifts of consciousness, art and humor,” the co-founder explained. “Music and dance are important to celebrate, let go and connect with each other.”
Oleg is one of a group of people who moved to Csobánkapuszta and surrounding villages. They’re part of a network that includes international friends and organizations such as Astralship and record labels like Global Sect and Ages of Love. The group calls itself New or Nature Conscious people and does its best to escape the everyday world of consumption, energy dependence and manipulative politics.
“We believe that in the new age of the internet, we can create international communities as part of networks dedicated to preserving the environment and natural resources that share knowledge and values,” Oleg said.
The first S.U.N. Festival drew more than 10,000 people. After its second year, when it was banned and bankrupted, visitors dropped to less than 3,000.
“We realized then that a smaller festival is easier to organize and, because there are fewer visitors, has less impact on the land,” Peti told me. “Now it’s a private event, and we don’t really promote it, which keeps the number of visitors low.”
In the years since the festival began, the community has overcome bureaucratic and financial challenges to have the land as its official home address. Helped by the power of crowdfunding and volunteer support, the community has grown, with people living in yurt tents, caravans, and wooden houses. They’re planting trees to recultivate the surrounding fields, have introduced cows and sheep, and set up a Forest Protecting Foundation.
Thanks to EU funding, the community is also building more accommodation and a recording studio which will offer a mix of free and paid-for recording time.
“We need some people to pay to sustain the studio project, and so we can support talented musicians with proper mixing,” Oleg said. “We have created an online label and already released some music. The artists retain copyright.”
Unlike other festivals, you have to become a member of the S.U.N. community to be able to attend. Annual membership currently costs EUR 115. Lifetime membership is EUR 200. Your money goes not just to help make the festival happen but also to supporting a community that is, as far as I can see, only doing good things.
Admittedly, I’ve never heard of any of the more than 100 artists playing at S.U.N., who include Suduaya, Atacama, Mula, Ánimo, Bagatel, Transnomad and Omikron. But does that matter? I don’t know about you, but I find the number of big-name acts appearing at the Sziget Festival overwhelming.
Even if, musically, Sziget is excellent value for money, I only ever want to spend one day on the “Island of Freedom,” and I can never decide which one it should be. At least if I don’t know who any of the acts are at S.U.N., I won’t feel like I’m missing out.
When I asked Oleg what he would say to people thinking about going along to S.U.N., he simply said, “If you’re touched by our values and the off-grid way of life and feel an inner call, you’re very welcome to come.”
Find out more about S.U.N. Festival and the community at Csobánkapuszta at www.solarunitednatives.org. You can listen to the first releases from Sun Music Studio at www.sunmusicstudio.bandcamp.com.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 14, 2023.
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