I’m not your usual camp-festival fan. The last one I braved was at 17, where Hilltop Hoods rang in the new year while a bunch of sunburnt, thong-clicking bogans herded utes into the parched paddocks of Phillip Island for three days of flag-wearing, VB infused revelry in 40-degree heat. Though I admit at the time I thought I loved it, forking out a few hundred bucks for a similar experience hasn’t ranked high on my priorities in the years since. But this year I got my shit together and gave it another crack. And as a late re-entrant into the festival game, I can tell you now that Meredith is a winner.
Gliding down the highway towards the Golden Plains Shire was joyful as we spotted fellow festival crews, mattresses and slabs piled high through rear windows. But an inability to rise at 5am and a detour for a forgotten ticket set us in some pretty brutal traffic and inbound line-up that felt like some huge, metallic crippled snake.
An hour later we entered the Supernatural Amphitheatre’s hilly surrounds too late for a sought-after Bush Camp spot, but South Pines welcomed us with grassy space. We settled to the sound of peg hammering, tent zipping and the crack and fizz of cans, while impressive structural feats went up around us. Heavy cloud loomed and the realisation that tie-dye, feathers and flower headbands couldn’t shield the elements saw festival outfits swapped for sensible shoes and Gore-Tex.
At 4 o’clock we descended to a pit of noise, the crowd already thick as local rock act Warped kicked off, delivering heavy riffs, plodding bassline and blasts of grinding guitar. Stonefield unleashed their flowing locks and indie rock stylings before Vance Joy replacement DD Dumbo took the stage. A one-man experimental act, he delivered a dynamic set with jangling guitars and looped melodies in intricate layers.
US indie-rock favourites Deerhunter followed with mellow instrumentals and popular album tracks before working into a finish of feedback and distortion. US sludge metal band The Melvins pumped out bizarre rock as darkness grew, when World’s End Press delivered shiny synth sounds and slick guitar in a lively electro-pop set.
As night set in a swarming crowd gathered for headliners Brian Jonestown Massacre, who opened with ‘Whoever You Are’ to a backdrop of warped colour screens. The band played favourites through a steady wall of guitar, as well as two new singles. As expected little word came from Anton, except to remark on the good vibes, which were by this point very good indeed as the hour-long finished with ‘Oh Lord’.
US rapper Le1f appeared in flamboyant costume and head torch to lead the way for twerking multitudes, and performed a serpent dance that a mate could only describe as ‘mesmerising’, though I think he’d had a little chemical help to get to such an observation. Next came the DJ sets, with Jon Hopkins bringing numerous slow builds before a payoff in a drop that sent the crowd nuts. I didn’t make it as far as Roland Tings’ set, but it reportedly had a similar response.
Saturday morning saw clear skies but not clear heads as people trudged back to bask in the finally arrived sun. Canada’s Mac Demarco launched into a boisterous set of current songs. Playful screams and shouts made their way into his usually cruisy singing style, perhaps as a result of his professed liquid breakfast. The brilliant summery riff from ‘Freakin’ Out the Neighbourhood’ was drowned by fuzz and drums, and the 12pm timeslot was a little rough for an international act with a fair amount of hype. But Mac’s antics won people over, crowdsurfing to the edge of the ‘Sup and back and opening a stubby with his teeth before working into a frenzied guitar finish on his knees.
The Smith Street Band followed, and then fellow Melbourne act Dick Diver pleased with their warm electric guitar, unpretentious style and relatable lyrics. Slow vocals and full harmonies carried across tracks like ‘Amber’ which had frontman Rupert declaring “if you want to smoke a joint, I’d probably do it to this one.” ‘Head Back’ saw a different bent as dancers wore heads of political and media figures while the calls, “Fuck Kochie,” and “Ditch Abbott,” received positive response.
After a roster of rock acts, solid hip-hop came at last with Joey Bada$$ performing the last show on his Australian tour. Bringing in Pro Era co-signer CJ Fly, the 18-year-old rapper delivered a tight 40-minute set to a hyped crowd, and saw the ‘Sup the most packed it had been for a while. The afternoon heated up in dust and smoke as Bada$$ had masses waving two fingers, before bringing a huge finish with ‘Survival Tactics’. The 3pm timeslot was a bit of a letdown, but perhaps expected from a festival that is primarily rock focused. Evening approached and Hermitude played various remixes of popular tracks. A keyboard ballad missed the mark completely, but it they made it back again with a synth and drum machine session, and a “run the trap” vocal sample thrown in set the crowd off.
Then came a perfectly timed sunset break. Does Aunty really know our wants that well? Hundreds flocked to a picturesque lookout and cheered the vanishing golden orb, as though nature had put on a good act. Some guy in an animal headdress maniacally bellowed, “Bring the night!” to enlivened cheers.
Aussie rock stalwarts Spiderbait played after dark with funnelling guitar and a light show fast enough to induce a fit, pumping out short, loud tracks. They graciously included the old stuff punters wanted, and finished on a rendition of ‘Black Betty’ that had the crowd in a head banging fury.
Next was one of the most unexpected international headliners I’ve seen yet – late-70s disco act Chic, with super-producer Nile Rodgers, ever cool in white suit and beret. Numerous calls of “are you ready?” and “I can’t hear you!” heralded a string of party hits from Rodgers’ career, like ‘We are Family’, and ‘Like a Virgin’. I’d put the approximate number of times ‘dance’ was said or sung at around 75. It was all a bit like dancing at a family wedding – daggy as fuck but everyone’s drunk so who cares. Dancing to “Freak Out” with several thousand in a storm of glitter and dust was a surprisingly good experience.
Tranter began the DJ sets with choppy dance, in between remixed hip-hop tracks tied to one thundering beat. Strangely he took the last 15 minutes of his set to play a set of pop tracks straight, with a polarising finish on Mariah Carey’s ‘Sweet Fantasy’. Some loved it while others, disgruntled, came out of their reveries and protested that they were dancing to the shit offered by tacky nightclubs. Redemption came for them via Tim Sweeney who descended into euro trance, facilitating detached dancing once more. All turned tribal as stick-on jewels and facepaint were worn and handmade pole decorations were waved like totems to the festival gods. A laser light show cut out across smoke haze as the amphitheatre turned into a seething pit ‘til the early hours. A few lone dancers clung to the edges as Derrick May and Andee Frost followed, but it was all a little hazy from here.
Sunday dawned and early risers got a lesson in Tai Chi, which was probably very zen amongst the bush, but I found my inner balance by sleeping through it. Crowds descended into the ‘Sup for one last morning, and while food and shade healed physical ills, Sydney’s Oliver Tank soothed psychological hangovers in a much-needed spiritual uplift, his deep blissful electronica allowing the haggard to come to peace with whatever they’d done the night before.
My own ease was cut short by the Davidson Brothers’ bluegrass banjo twang, while a lone dreadlocked dancer twisted like Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes. Beaches brought relief with their distorted dreamy rock tracks, rolling drums and breathy vocals. Then things took a looser turn as annual nude race the Meredith Gift saw the ‘Sup transformed into a makeshift sporting arena, while 60 naked participants dashed around the track in flashes of flesh.
The last act at a festival can go out with a bang, or with a fizzle. The UV Race wobbled unsteadily but brilliantly in between. The rowdy set was a fitting end as frontman Marcus shook his naked bulbous belly, while the track ‘Pig’ was met with cries of “Oink oink oink oink”. It was chaotic and a bit feral as people shook that last bit of festival out, caked in a thick layer of sunscreen, dust and sweat. Littered cans piled up and the odd nude runner was still wandering, but it was all over in a big, dishevelled mess. It was time to leave it behind, taking fond memories that will continue to emerge over the next few days alongside little bits of glitter that are bound to as well.
Overall it has to be noted what a huge feat went down in putting on a festival of this size with no fuck-ups, while others seem to be dropping like flies. The ‘no dickheads’ policy seemed in force, apart from the odd mullet-wig wearer. The strong lineup of local acts was supported by some great internationals, though some of the timeslots seemed out of whack. But let’s not question Aunty, for at this 23rd Meredith, her wisdom is as old as me.
Thanks go out to the Tucker Tent for providing cheap eats – those $5 barbeque options went down a smug treat compared to friends’ $10 veggie burgers. Cheers to the lost, spaced-out guy in a banana suit for providing my camp’s entertainment on Sunday morning. And to the mysterious Aunty Meredith, in her ever-watchful, all-knowing wisdom, for pulling off another year with nothing but good vibes, and facilitating my re-entry into the festival circuit, with not a flag-draped bogan in sight.
Words by Hannah Scholte