Meredith 2015: The Gift That Keeps Giving
(Photo above: Steve Benn/MMF)
Is Meredith the best music festival in Australia? So many festivals fail to last more than a few years before they dissolve into a social media abyss of dead-ended hashtags and archived pictures of punters in problematic festival get-ups. So why has Meredith Music Festival stood the test of time?
After 25 years in business – the festival celebrated its silver jubilee this year – there’s a few things that Meredith has always done right. First and foremost, there’s the “no dickheads” policy (which sounds simple, but if you’ve been to almost any other festival you’ll know how hard it is to find a crowd as friendly and considerate as Meredith’s). Run on the Nolan family’s farm, Meredith is just that – a family affair – with its elusive figurehead “Aunty Meredith” cultivating the festival’s characteristic neighbourly and no-bullshit tone in her communication with attendees every year.
The festival has no advertising or commercial sponsorship, BYO is always welcome (just don’t bring any glass), and most importantly of course – the line-up is always good and diverse, appealing to all kinds of music fans. Add to the mix a huge array of food stands, a bunch of great onsite bars, a Ferris wheel and of course the ascending lawn of the Supernatural Amphitheatre – known to Meredith denizens as the ‘Sup – and you start to get an idea of the magic Meredith has become known for. It speaks volumes that in 25 years the festival has never felt the need to open up a second stage, and it’s likely thanks to this decision that Meredith has managed maintained a healthy communal attitude among punters over the years.
Friday, December 11
Rolling in at around 10am, my buddies and I secure a nice spot at the top of Bush Camp and begin assembling our tents, while a noncommittal drizzle turns quickly into an elemental temper-tantrum. I overhear my new neighbours, undeterred by the weather and eagerly reminiscing about the rainy Merediths of yore – the legendary Dirty Three set amid a diabolical electric storm in 2004 and the muddy delirium of the skies opening up on Holy Fuck’s late-night slot in 2008. After 25 years of the festival a bit of rain is nothing, and nobody is going to let this little greeting from the gods spoil the first day of the festival (except maybe our gazebo, which gets picked up by the wind and flies away mere hours after being assembled – RIP mate).
The rain clears up just in time for high-voltage Melbourne three-piece Power to kick off proceedings. The aptly named band is the perfect choice for an opening act, with vocalist and guitarist Nathan Williams pacing frenetically up and down the stage and the band’s energetic live show clearly appealing to both new and hardened rockdog contingents alike. Pearls continue the local theme with their glam-tinged melancholic pop; the majority of their set taken from their debut full-length album Pretend You’re Mine, released at the start of the year. The bellowing acoustics of the ’Sup prove to be the perfect setting for the quartet’s reverb-heavy sound, with their set drawing punters to the stage in droves.
When Thurston Moore performs later that night, expectations are as high as the music stand the lanky guitarist hovers over for the majority of the set. A forcible abridged version of ‘Cease Fire’ is a highlight, but overall the performance leaves something to be desired, despite Moore’s all-star accompaniment: Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and James Sedwards on guitar. Maybe it’s just a case of everyone here being Sonic Youth tragics – it’s tough to sustain your attention with songs you’re less familiar with – and even though the band’s set is mesmeric in parts, I find myself walking away wanting more. I’m similarly underwhelmed by Shellac – who I’d hugely been looking forward to – though Todd Trainer is captivating as ever to watch pelt the drums and Steve Albini’s red Chappelle’s Show t-shirt is an entertaining juxtaposition to the solemnity of the band’s distinctive sound.
With the sun now well and truly set, enigmatic Swedish mega-band Goat take to the stage in a confused array of seemingly “tribal”-inspired costumes. Remember the time Heidi Klum dressed as the Hindu goddess Kali for Halloween? Imagine eight masked musicians adorned not dissimilarly to that, only drawing inspiration from all manner of cultures and with one member in particular embodying actual minstrelsy with his face painted entirely black. Look, to a point, I get it: psychedelic music has long drawn on non-Western influences and Goat acknowledge that by wearing it crudely on their sleeve. They’re clearly aware of their provocativeness (their first album is called World Music, ffs), and objectively I can actually enjoy their music, but mates – it’s nearly 2016. If Goat is a political gesture or a prank (nobody really knows as most of the band keep their identities secret and the only accessible member, Christian Johansson, rarely gives straight answers in interviews), I’m not sure at all what it is trying to achieve. What I do know is that I saw more culturally problematic costumes onstage during Goat than I’ve ever seen in the crowd over almost a decade of attending Meredith – which speaks volumes about both the band and the crowd Meredith attracts.
The rest of the acts on the first night of the festival prove utterly divisive. A huge turnout for Unknown Mortal Orchestra during the primetime Friday night slot seems partially let down by a less than desirable mix for the first part of the set. But by the end nobody seems to care, no doubt thanks to Ruban Nielson’s commanding stage presence – he really is a pleasure to watch. Later, Adelaide rapper Tkay Maidza holds her own amid a busy stage setup bursting with flashing lights and a colourful cartoon aesthetic. The high-energy set proves she’s a world-class talent worthy of all the hype, with the fast-paced ‘Finish Them’ a highlight of the night.
By the time the 4am music curfew rolls around, much of the crowd is ready to retreat and regenerate for a second jam-packed day of tinnies and tunes.
Saturday, December 12
No matter how dire my hangover-induced existential dilemma, I always look forward to the soothing morning sets on the second day at The Sup. At Golden Plains earlier in the year this came in the form of Aldous Harding; at Meredith 2k15 it’s the crystalline sounds of Jessica Pratt, and if anyone and their guitar is gonna help me finger-pick my way out of this Saturday morning haze I’m glad it’s her. (Shoutout to the panzerotti tent for also helping me get through the morning – couldn’t have done it without ya). The beautifully understated set proves that Pratt is one of the most exciting voices in modern folk music, and as the sounds of ‘Greycedes’ ooze eerily into a somewhat sparse crowd in the ‘Sup, I quietly wish that more people had been awake to witness it.
The more day two rolls on, the more it turns out to be banger after banger. My surprise highlight of the festival is Shepparton rapper Briggs, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the crowd agrees. At one point everyone’s arms are raised in the air, many with boots in hand (for the uninitiated, that’s a sign of utmost respect in these parts) while the Shepparton contingent make an “S” with their hands (I’m later told this is called ‘Sheppresenting’). Joined onstage by a live band featuring Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall of Frenzal Rhomb/triple j fame, Briggs finishes his explosive set with arguably one of the hugest songs of the year, ‘The Children Came Back’ – a sequel to Archie Roach’s ‘They Took the Children Away’ (incidentally released one year before the very first Meredith) and an incredibly emotional conclusion to perhaps the best performance of the festival yet.
Though “The Boot” is often regarded as a Golden-Plains-only tradition, you’ll often see it at Meredith – and it wasn’t just Briggs who received the mark of honour on the Saturday afternoon. The crowd seemed to become more liberal with their boot-giving behaviour as the day went on, with Melbourne rockers The Peep Tempel inspiring an unexpected sea of dirty footwear with their song ‘Carol’ and Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) getting the boot treatment for his sardonic piano ballad ‘Bored in the USA’. The reaction even inspired Tillman himself to take off his own boot and wave it at the crowd.
When the sun fades away Mighty Duke and the Lords quickly appear, horns at the ready. I want so badly to hate this band – they sound like the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies for god’s sake – but I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the set I’m dancing to the most out of everything that night. Is it the catchy tunes, or is it the dancers dressed as giant pink flamingos? Or is it just cooked-o’clock in the Sup? I’ll never know. But I do know I’m having a bloody good time.
Similarly, in the lead-up to Ratatat’s midnight set, nobody at the festival preemptively doubts them more than me. I loved their 2006 album Classics when it came out, but – to be brutal – have considered them somewhat irrelevant ever since. Nek minnit I’m front and centre, nodding my head recklessly to ‘Wildcat’, mentally #tbt’ing all the way back to the last time I saw them almost 10 years ago and loving life. There’s almost a campy element in the way guitarist Mike Stroud carries himself onstage as he headbangs and rock-postures his way through the instrumental set, and it certainly helps the crowd keep their energy levels up enough to make it through the rest of the night.
Bringing in the post-midnight dance party is Sydney DJ Levins, who completely divides the crowd when he ingeniously drops a Bieber track halfway through his set, declaring through the microphone “fuck every person here who doesn’t love Bieber!”A lot of rockdogs get angry about it – and it’s marvellous. The moment (which has become quite the ordeal since the close of the festival) and some of the negative reactions that followed make me think that maybe Meredith needs a “no snobs” rule as well as its famed “no dickheads” policy. Sure, I wouldn’t want every DJ at Meredith to drop Bieber, but if the timing is right (and trust me, it was) – why the hell not?
Some people regard this moment as the worst in Meredith history. Everyone else isn’t a complete gronk. Where do you stand?
Posted by DJ Levins on Monday, December 14, 2015
Later, Floating Points (aka Londoner Sam Shepherd) takes the stage in perhaps one of the most anticipated early-morning Meredith DJ sets in a while and does not disappoint, with a two-hour vinyl-only set spanning bangers from all kinds of genres. It’s one of those magical moments of Meredith programming that has punters who’ve never heard of Floating Points before blissing out to the set just as much as the die-hards. It’s the perfect beginning of the end, before Scottish DJ duo Optimo takes over for the coveted sunrise set. It’s a tough gig to keep the crowd going until 7am, but Optimo manage it well. They drop some unexpected hits (AC/DC’s ‘TNT’) and receive a smattering of double-deep-fried boots in the air for their efforts.
Somehow I make it to the end of Optimo’s set and find myself walking back to my tent at around 8am. Across from the toilets, I spot one loose unit in an ill-fitting Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt unsuccessfully attempting to play totem tennis with himself (not a euphemism) under the harsh morning sun. It’s bleak. It’s time to go to bed.
Sunday, December 13
I begin the final day with my usual Sunday-morning-at-Meredith ritual: lying to myself about my intentions to attend the Tai Chi sesh in the Sup, having a swig of red Powerade and going back to sleep. The sun heats up the tent quickly though and I’m forced outdoors by 11am to face the final few hours of the festival.
I wander down to see Jess Ribeiro and her band show us all how it’s done (special mention to bassist Jade McInally for being the freshest person in the Sup that morning – possibly the freshest of the entire festival – in an all-white getup like some kind of invincible bass angel. I must know her secret). Like Pearls on the first day, Ribeiro seems very much at home on the Meredith stage and her dark and intimate style of folk music proves the perfect antidote to the last-day Meredith blues. The same can be said for Melbourne’s Totally Mild, who top off a cracking year with a powerful and nostalgia-tinged set that’s more than fitting for the final hours of Meredith’s silver jubilee.
Reckon we can just leave our tents here and come back in a few months for Golden Plains?