Miller Music Amplified takes over Budapest for three exceptional days
DJ Mag visit the Hungarian capital city for Miller Music Amplified, an exceptional three day music event featuring DJ sets, live music and performance art in addition to a headline set from international super-producer Mark Ronson
Stepping out of the rain and into the lobby of Budapest's Four Seasons hotel – a converted palace on the River Danube reminiscent of Wes Anderson's Golden Globe winning Budapest fictionalisation – we hear the sound of four four beats.
House music isn't something you expect to hear reverberating through a hotel of this stature. It's an early sign that this will be far from a typical weekend…
A swift left at the hotel's reception and we enter the Miller Music Hub - a dedicated check in area leading to a private room – decked in golden lighting – with a DJ booth and welcoming bottle of Miller Genuine Draft to refresh us after our flight from London.
We're in the Hungarian capital city for Miller Music Amplified, an exceptional three day music event featuring DJ sets, live music and performance art in addition to a headline set from international super-producer Mark Ronson.
Miller Music Amplified brings together 10 competition winners and 125 guests from 20 different countries. So as we return to the Miller Music Hub later that evening conversation flows across the room in numerous languages.
Former winner of the Miller SoundClash DJ competition – from which Miller Music Amplified evolved – Augusto Yepes, from Colombia has taken to the decks. His high-energy house sound gets the dancers moving before the buses arrive to take us to tonight's Welcome Party.
Budapest is famous for its ruin bars – repurposed communist housing units, distinctive for their central courtyards – which are now regular nightspots, cafes and bars across the city.
Brody Studios, the location of tonight's Welcome Party is already rocking as we arrive. Ice cold Miller Genuine Draft flows as guests are treated to a Beatbox performance from an upstairs window. Meanwhile circus dancers scale the walls of the historic building before leading the crowd in convoy to the rooms in the venue's upper levels.
This visual spectacle sets up a debut Budapest performance from 2014's Miller SoundClash winners – and now Top 100 DJs ranked artists - Tom & Collins.
The affable Mexican duo rock the intimate upstairs room of Brody Studios, lacing their trademark selection of slick house grooves with classics like 'Yeke Yeke' and 'House Music All Night Long'.
Having attended each of the last two Miller Music Amplified and numerous Miller SoundClash events beforehand, Tom and Collins are regular faces here.
"It's like we're part of the family," JP from the duo joked ahead of tonight's set. "It's like an annual family holiday for us!"
Day two kicks off with a bus trip to an industrial area on the edge of the city.
After leaving the buses we follow our guides between two red-bricked buildings.
Huge wooden sculptures of sharks, birds and other animals line the path on either side, as we approach a vast hanger space, which we discover is the studio of prominent international sculpture artist Gábor M. Szőke.
Entering the studio, another Miller SoundClash finalist, Feelgoodsmalls is on the decks. The guests filter in – taking photos of the incredible wooden sculptures as they go – while the Canadian DJ's chunky deep house cuts fill the space.
It's not long before the guests are treated to a live Q&A with Mark Ronson. Climbing down the stairs from an upper balcony to applause from below, Ronson looks relaxed, happy and ready to talk.
During an interview on stage he discusses a range of topics including his history as a DJ, his process as a producer and his numerous collaborators.
The interview section is split with performances of tracks from Ronson's latest album – which he famously described as a collection of ‘sad bangers’.
Following the final performance - of 'Nothing Breaks Like a Heart' the discussion is opened to the floor.
During this part of the session, Ronson gives honest advice to upcoming artists, shares anecdotes from his life in music and answers kooky quickfire questions submitted by the guests.
It's an open and candid moment - and surely a once in a lifetime opportunity for those in attendance.
One question that wasn’t raised during this afternoon's Q&A is - what does a Mark Ronson show actually look like?’
It’s been several years since Ronson performed a full live show - during which his live output has been limited to the DJ booth and occasional one-off performances for TV or Award’s Shows.
“The only thing that I can really do each time is just make sure it's something I've never done before,'' Ronson explained to us, perched in a beautifully furnished glass box at the top of Szőke’s sculpture studio earlier in the afternoon.
“At the peak of when I was touring 'Version',” he acknowledges, “occasionally there would be a show where I'd have Daniel Merriweather, Lily Allen Santigold and and – on the off chance – like Amy [Winehouse] would be around. But it became kind of harder and harder because you go into a whole new record, you've got all the new collaborators, but then how you do the old stuff?”
So as we step into tonight’s venue – another ruin bar, but on a much larger scale – we are full of anticipation for what the performance will bring.
The stage is backed by a full length LED panel. In front of this is a piano and a DJ booth in a V-formation, while numerous guitars and microphones positioned across the stage complete the setting.
Ronson bounds onto the stage to a huge cheer from the crowd - a mix of Miller Music Amplified guests and lucky local invitees.
He takes to the piano first and as he does so, the LED wall behind him dims, exposing a 16 members of the Dohnányi orchestra’s string section, across two tiers.
Ronson works through a set of some of his biggest hits, as a selection of guests join the stage. Daniel Merriweather's vocal performance on his and Ronson's cover of The Smiths' 'Stop Me' is a particular highlight.
This leads into a section during which Ronson returns to his roots, with an hour long DJ set - covering hip hop, electro and big room – all accompanied by the string section who appear and fade from view through the LED wall.
Cuts from Ronson's 'Silk City' project (with Diplo) transition into electro classics like Fake Blood's 'Mars' before Ronson slows the tempo and closes with Bruno Mars collaboration 'Uptown Funk' which receives the biggest response of the night.
The encore pays tribute to Amy Winehouse, as Ronson and his on-stage collaborators jam on tracks from 'Back to Black' – notably without a guest vocalist...the crowd take the vocal lead instead.
The hybrid DJ/live performance is impressive and engaging throughout – and quite unlike anything we have really seen before. It's a fitting performance for an artist so cameleonic.
It's the final day in Budapest, and despite the rain our bus trip is buzzing with conversation about last night's performance.
It's fair to say that as headline shows go, Ronson stepped up the game. So how do you top a night like that?
The tone of the closing party is set even before we even reach the venue. Fire dancers and percussionists lead a procession through the side streets of Budpaest, leading the guests to EXTRA, the final ruin bar of this year's trip.
Performances from multi-instrumentalist Vale Rosales and additional Miller Music Amplified finalists including Guille Preda and Augusto Yepes ensure everyone finishes the weekend with smiles on their faces...
As an experience, Miller Music Amplified has raised the bar in creating exceptional moments. The brand's high-energy approach is evident throughout, from the smallest touches to the most impactful moments.
During our conversation in Szőke's studio the day before, Mark Ronson summed up what makes the event so unique and special to him. As an artist who is sparing in working with brands, he is full of praise for the event and the opportunity it provided him as an artist:
"I have this opportunity to come to beautiful city and play a show - I know I may never get to play anything quite like it again..."
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