Features

Report: Meredith 2012 Day 1

Our report from day one of the 22nd annual Meredith Music Festival, which saw performances by the likes of Spiritualized, Tame Impala, Brous, POND, The Sunnyboys, Omar Souleyman and Grimes. Introduction by DARREN LEVIN*. Band reviews by **DOUG WALLEN** and **LAWSON FLETCHER**. Photos by *KATIE FAIRSERVICE. Day two report [here](/articles/4542980).

OK, so it’s not held in the middle of the desert and both cash transactions and mobile phone usage are acceptable (unless you’re with Optus), but Meredith Music Festival is rapidly becoming an Antiopedean Burning Man. People don’t just rock up to the Supernatural Amphitheatre with a sleeping bag and a six pack. They arrive here in huge convoys (some even sleep in their cars the night before to ensure prime position in the wilds of Bush Camp) with enough raw material to build a temporary city that rises in the early hours of Friday and disappears by the time gates close at 4.30pm on a dusty Sunday afternoon.

They meticulously plan every last detail – from custom costumes to custom cocktails – and check in all their inhibitions and real-world insecurities at the door. They build eight-metre high tepees and create their own bars (complete with wood panelling), and even bring mailboxes to add that homely touch to a campsite they’ve decorated with lanterns and solar lights and lined with rubber flooring.

As for Aunty, she provides the consistent template for which this pop-up city emerges. The changes are subtle but always well-considered: Fake grass benches in the pink flamingo bar, a shake-up of the food stalls (Gumbo Kitchen FTW), extra toilets, a misting tent and an ice truck behind ?The Eye? for the campers in Top Camp who in previous years would have to lug the bags up a hill. Aside from that, she’s omnipresent, but barely seen. You might hear the odd announcement from one of her disciples from the stage, but the rules she’s laid down – most notably the ?no dickheads? policy – are self-policed and for the most part sacrosanct.

Meredith’s 22nd year on the Nolan family farm couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The weather conditions were perfect for once, the crowd was in good spirits (relaxed and relatively young), and the scheduling of acts (as opposed to day two) was diverse and well-rounded.

#The Bands

Doug Wallen: They’ve been talking about it forever, says guitarist Jay Watson, but this is Pond?s first-ever gig wearing suits. Granted, most of the guys are missing jackets, and between the combination of his diminutive frame and oversized shirt, Nick Allbrook looks like Tom Hanks? character in Big* after he reverts back to a kid. He’s an unlikely frontman, but the feminine streak to his vocals works with the glam influence on ?You Broke My Cool? and ?Fantastic Explosion of Time?. The breakout tunes on the latest album, those two are the highlights live, too. The band preview a bit of the next album, tentatively titled *Electric Sex Wizard (though a couple other choices came up) and play a long older song that hardly ever gets an airing because of its difficulty in pulling off (they struggle with it). These guys are very likeable, with more goofy touches and sprawling classic-rock wanderlust than sister band Tame Impala. This is a cool set to absorb and nod along to, but it makes for a decidedly soft opening to the weekend.

Then again, it doesn’t get much softer than Snakadaktal, a triple j-anointed five-piece that don’t feel ready for this festival. They’ve only got an EP to their name, and nothing in this set proves that they’re anything more than a mild-mannered hodgepodge of past and present trends (Cure-ish guitar effects, watery synthesisers, vocals drained of conviction).

Compared to the last band, San Diego trio Earthless immediately offer a much-needed centre of gravity. Isaiah Mitchell’s constant, triumphant solos get right down to business, and Mario Rubalcaba busily fills in a lot of the spaces most drummers would leave empty. It’s a fairly limited thing they do, distilling stoner-friendly heavy psych down to the equivalent of a funk band playing only breaks. It’s great for the first (looong) song or two, but repeats ad infinitum.

Sophia Brous could be a stylish widow, in a black dress and wide-rimmed black hat. Fronting her eponymous crack band Brous (now complete with [Mick Harvey](/articles/4264859), she continues to fuse suave, adventurous pop with restless vocal quirks. The latter are more pronounced live, taking the form of tics and riffs as well as Kate Bush-like leaps and flutters. There are nebulous eastern tinges in a couple songs, and Brous plays well to the crowd despite all that clever fixation on detail.

Grimes? devoted following seemed to grow with each second of the weekend, and her set attracts a groundswell of bodies up and down the hill. Armed with just dancers and her personal station of electronics, the Canadian-born Claire Boucher has to fight to make this feel like more than just a DJ set with vocals. But those vocals, with their instantaneous bubblegum appeal, go a long way towards offsetting the herky-jerky, post-everything, internet-made-corporeal melange of her music, which for me can go in a split second from provoking a shrug to inciting happy loyalty.

As melodic and traditional as they are, the revived Sunnyboys sweep their songs up in a quite urgent volatility. Few power-pop quartets could manage the ever-present briar patch of prickly melodies, which can easily take a turn for the serrated. Jeremy Oxley’s bity guitar leads are a big part of that live, even more so than his vocals and lyrics. ?Happy Man? is easily the day’s highlight thus far, and ?Alone with You? inspires a surprisingly amount of giddy dancing. How many guitar bands could follow Grimes and sound so completely fresh, let alone one that put out its most loved album three decades ago? Welcome back, boys.

Holy shit. Spiritualized put on one of the best sets I’ve seen in this space. Certainly the best-sounding. Opening with the thrilling suite of a single ?Hey Jane? from their rejuvenated Sweet Heart Sweet Light*, Jason Pierce and band achieve sensory overload right away and maintain it for the length of the set. Even though he’s seated for the duration, it has a monstrous, all-consuming power. It’s a wall-of-sound symphony, like multiple bands of multiple genres (gospel, rock, drone, psych, etc.) stacked in a layer cake. *Sweet Heart?s ?Freedom? and ?So Long You Pretty Thing? are extra gorgeous, and the inclusion of ?Electricity? and ?Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space? (with the album-excised Elvis bits lovingly restored) only magnifies the dense, healing depths of it all. With white light strobing throughout, the set caps with a cleansing instrumental that goes from streamlined melodic runs to rave-y, over-the-top excess. Immense.

From up the hill, right in front of the mixing booth, Tame Impala sound wrapped in cotton wool. They’re wispy and lacking definition compared to Spiritualized’s meticulous saturation. Still, there’s a lot to appreciate, from a line like ?I try so hard to be myself? delivered to such a huge and adoring crowd to the outright spaciousness of ?Apocalypse Dreams?. ?Elephant? is welcomely burly, but quells its momentum with a prolonged side-track before the end. ?Feels Like We Only Go Backwards? is all too fleeting, marked with an odd, reggae-like bass presence. Without that signature production and mixing in full effect, the band seem more terrestrial – at times pedestrian – than on Lonerism. But they’re not exactly trying to recreate that experience; they’re happy to tweak and extend whatever they feel like, as in the exploration tacked onto set closer ?Half Full Glass of Wine?, the Cream-ish breakout single from before either of their albums.

Lawson Fletcher: A couple of hours before Omar Souleyman came on, he was told that government warplanes had bombed the rebel-held border city of Ras Ayn, Syria, his hometown. He broke down, but determined to go on stage anyway, halfway around the world, and face a blissfully unaware crowd, who he preceded to enrapture and delight in a set that affirmed the sometimes transcendent, redemptive power of music.

Souleyman’s version of traditional dabke music is a globalised, retro-futuristic fever of synthesised Syrian wedding music and relentless, frenetic rhythm. Tonight, he is backed solely by one-man-machine Rizan Sa’id, who after triggering layers of rapid-fire, looped beats, coaxes high-pitched melodies from his Arabic-modified synth with one hand and improvises frantic steel-drum solos on the Korg’s drum-pads with the other.

Adorned in trademark chequered keffiyeh, dark thobe and gold-rimmed sunglasses, Souleyman himself absolutely commands the crowd. Pacing the front of the stage, his Arabic vocals shift from rapid and guttural to almost spoken-word appeals, everything caked in echo. He even works as his own hype man with his cries of appeal to the crowd. Intermittently, he tucks the mic in his arms to clap along or blow regal kisses to his new-found fans. Undeniably charismatic, he exercises an alien authority over the crowd, and his set is the kind that Meredith used to be known for – totally incongruous but totally brilliant, a surreal delirious culture clash of the best kind – a total fuckin? blast.

Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet cuts an unassuming figure as he takes to the stage with little more than a laptop, a mixer and a wordless wave – and it’s a sign of what’s to come for the next hour or so, as he delivers an apt dance set to close out Friday night, with a lightness of touch that’s pleasantly bereft of superfluous gimmickry.

Setting the pace at an unwavering 120 BPM, he focus on the dynamics of texture and bass, balancing the more crystalline elements of his sound with more insistent, heavier thump that emerges towards the end of the set. Four Tet, it seems, is as close as you’ll get to ambient rave. ?Love Cry? is case in point, taken well past its already 10 minute running time on 2010?s There Is Love In You, its propulsive but never overwhelming.

It’s this lightness of touch that defines his set, which drifts perfectly into the quiet of the first night’s break. Well, maybe not for some punters, who seemed keen to keep the dream alive – Silence Wedge remains one of Meredith’s most divisive acts. You could even say they split the crowd.

REPORT: [Day two](/articles/4542980)

MORE PHOTOS: [Day one](/galleries/4542513)