Let me preface this by saying that I’m not really a festival guy. My two least favourite groups of people are guys who wear the Australian flag as a garment, closely followed by white dudes with dreadlocks – and in my experience large music festivals have an uncanny ability to bring those two segments of the population together for a clusterfuck of misplaced cultural identity. However, for the past four years or so I’ve found myself inexplicably drawn to the Meredith Music Festival. Eagerly joining the ranks to clamour in the early hours of the morning for a coveted spot in Bush Camp, and resigning myself to both extreme weather conditions and the promise of a damaged psyche come the end of festivities.
Perhaps it’s the strictly enforced ‘No Dickheads’ policy, or the diverse lineup that keeps one particular genre from dominating the proceedings, but there’s something just different enough about Meredith that keeps people coming back time and time again.
This year was no exception, and as I rose at the ludicrous time of 4am on Friday to secure a good camping spot I was equally excited as I was exhausted. Once the frustration of setting up a cheap Aussie Disposals tent that’s still caked with dirt and glitter from last year’s debauchery was dealt with, our campsite kicked of the festival wide tradition of cracking the first tinnie long before it would be socially acceptable in any other context. Meredith had officially begun for another year.
Under Auntie’s watchful eye the festival has grown exponentially in its twenty two years, and so to has the diversity of the music on offer. There’s always been a strong emphasis on local presence, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Perth’s collaborative project Pond were the first band to grace the stage of the Supernatural Amphitheatre. They commenced proceeding by proudly announcing that this was the first gig that they’d ever played in suits – and it might have been that formal influence that kept them restrained (or it could have been the fact that half of the band where due to reappear on stage later in the evening as Tame Impala). Either way, there was a touch of hesitation in their performance. As their forty-minute set drew to a close the majority of the crowd stuck around for Triple J blessed, indie darlings Snakadaktal. The five piece seemed a little overwhelmed by the task of taking on the festival and delivered a lackluster set to a crowd of thousands that were baying for something a little more substantial.
As the dusk slowly started to fall across the stage it was Grimes that pulled the biggest crowd early on. Meredith is particularly hard on minimalist electronic acts, the dynamic of the Supernatural Amphitheatre is definitely better suited to bands than laptop jockeys and knob twisters who can easily become dwarfed onstage. However, decked out in panda-style makeup and flanked by two ever-eager backup dancers, Claire Boucher managed to hold it down for the crowd. Hit singles like Oblivion and Genesis saw a large proportion of (mainly female) crowd figuratively lose their shit, with a lot of enthusiastic pogoing and twisting happening all over the place. It’s worth noting that sartorially Grimes definitely had the widest cultural influence out of any of the performers – with dip dye hair, heavy eye shadow, and artfully arranged stick on jewels as ubiquitous as sensible footwear amongst the girls in the crowd.
After the high energy of the set there was a noticeable shift to the annual redundant Australian rock-revival fetishism, with the newly reformed Sunnyboys taking to the stage. Being in the front rows for this set meant fighting for a position alongside a fraternity of thirty-something, overweight, bald dudes that seemingly materialised out of nowhere – but at least they looked like they were enjoying it. Things got back on track for Spiritualized, and those who had braved the aforementioned segment of the audience were rewarded with choice position for the saturated sounds that were definitely a highlight for the first day of musical proceedings. The appreciative crowd was eating out of the palm of their hands by the end of the set as they worked through a litany of overwhelmingly lush soundscapes – definitely one to be remembered.
What to say about Tame Impala? The only thing I can think of is that a good friend once told me that you should never sleep with anyone who uses the word ‘psychedelic’ and I consider those words to live by – but judging by the response of the crowd I’m the minority in that camp. The real highlight of the night has to have been the unassuming Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet, whose unrelentingly arrhythmic electronic dance set sent the increasingly substance addled crowd into a fevered rapture. Perhaps the biggest mystery of Meredith this was the choice to put Hebden right before the abrupt cut-off of music at 4am, but who am I to question the methods of the omnipotent Auntie?
The dawn of the second day saw the arrival of the much-anticipated heat, and anyone sleeping in a tent found themselves blurrily stirring to almost unbearable conditions. The lineup started with a strong representation from up and coming locals, with a triple header of Twerps working class pop, Chet Faker’s brand of swooning rhythms, and the neo-punk styling of Royal Headache. Faker definitely won over the crowd, with a slowed down set owing to a skateboarding-induced ankle injury that saw him remain seated behind a keyboard for the full set. His soaring vocals and dedication to “Anyone who had sex in a tent last night” proved too much for a girl beside me who burst into hysterical tears two songs into the set, but the jury is still out on whether it was a sincere moment of emotional clarity or a chemically prompted breakdown.
All of residual gentlemanly affability was immediately counteracted by Royal Headache’s abrasive hostility, with shirtless singer Shogun stopping a song halfway through because “It’s too hot for this shit”. A pretty bold assertion from a band whose longest track barely registers over two minutes. The most memorable part of the set was their passing observation of “You know the best thing about being in a band for a couple of years is that you don’t go into cardiac arrest when you play a shit set – you just drink the free booze”. But hey, what’s the point of being in a punk band if you can’t act like a total dickhead?
If there’s one gripe I have with Meredith it’s their bizarre choice of hip hop acts (with the exception of Pharoahe Monch in ’09 and Clipse in ’10). This year’s inclusion of Rocksteady Crew beatboxer Rahzel and DJ JS-1 did little to reassure me that they were heading back on track. Rahzel tried valiantly to bring a touch of the four elements to the crowd with little success, as the fatigued audience were already preoccupied with battling with the immediate environmental elements. Not even an interpretation of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man and his decision to stop the set and individually hand out a dozen long-stemmed roses to confused girls could win the crowd over. Still, his rendition of viral sensation (and career float) If Your Mother Only Knew inspired plenty of ironic dancing among an audience who couldn’t possibly be further removed from his world.
There was a brief dip back into Australiana with pub veterans The Toot Toot Toots followed by Saskwatch, culminating in everyone’s favourite throwback Brisbane export Regurgitator taking the stage. Thankfully a cool change arrived to drop the temperature from the upper-thirty range to something slightly more bearable, and a revitalised crowd took to the ‘Gurge with gusto. They managed to get a nostalgic audience up and dancing, despite a crippling keyboard malfunction in the definitive ’90s anthem Polyester Girl. Quan Yeomans seemed so genuinely happy to be onstage that soon all was forgiven, and the closing choice of The Song Formerly Known As was the proverbial icing on the cake that saw many attempted (but largely unsuccessful) crowd surfing attempts from those closest to the barrier.
Things took a turn for the worse once Turbonegro took the stage, but what would you expect from a band that was originally going to be called Nazipenis? I realise they’re some sort of conceptual joke, but to be honest I don’t really want to commit the time and energy into try to understand it. The one thing I can take away from that set is the fulfillment of any latent desire that I might have had to see a fat white dude dressed like a character straight out of a Tom of Finland sketch earnestly doing the robot.
Next up was Primal Scream, who I’m not particularly a fan of. Even so it was impressive to see the band command the stage so effectively, and a huge throng of surging, swaying young alt-rock lovers lapped up every second of it. They gave the audience exactly what they wanted, drawing largely from Screamadelica for their set list. Popular consensus at my camp site had them as the best Meredith performance in recent memory, edging out the equally divisive Animal Collective set of 2009, so make of that what you will.
As the night well and truly set in the bands began to give way to the electronic contingent, with DJ Flagrant marking the long awaited return of a true party set to the Meredith decks. A relentless roster of bangers that included both HOV Anthems 99 Problems and Niggas In Paris accompanied by some slick visuals kept a glittery crowd bouncing and grinding on each other with an unprecedented level of enthusiasm. Flagrant’s set culminated in a bizarrely appropriate mashup of Dead Prez’s Hip Hop and The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony that killed beyond any reasonable expectation. Managing to unite both the sections of the crowd who were rocking Supreme five-panels with Hawaiian shirts and those who opted for a Big-W flannel and RM Williams boots combo (you might think I’m taking the piss, but in all seriousness apparently these were the only outfit choices available for male attendees). It wasn’t quite the manifestation of the rave scene’s idyllic peace, love, and unity principles – but it’s probably as close as I’ve ever witnessed. By this point things my memory gets a little blurry, but rest assured the back-to-back performances of button pushers Itch-E & Scratch-E, DJ Yamantaka Eye, and Otologic were enough to satiate both the factions of the audience who wanted to party, and those who were physically incapable of sleep.
The dawn of the next day of festivities saw a dusty crowd (both figuratively and literally) emerge from their campsite with markedly less enthusiasm to face a third day of music. Early risers and those who hadn’t been to bed at all were treated to the Jazzy Jeff and Erykah Badu co-signed local neo-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote, and Melbourne’s own Boomgates. I was not among either of those contingents, so I’ll refrain from commenting here. Before long it was all over. The time came to ceremonially dismantle the tent for another year, wipe the glitter from my face and a tear from my eye, and rejoin reasonable society. ‘Til next time, shout outs to Beatbox Kitchen for their ‘shroom burger, the guy behind me in the toilet queue who enthusiastically told me about all the models of wireless routers he could program in-between teeth grinds, acid warriors for making me feel better about myself, my girlfriend for driving me three years in a row because I’m not a real adult, and above all to Auntie Meredith for consistently providing a weekend off from reality that always manages to deliver well and truly above and beyond expectation.