There’s a distinct, if not entirely easily definable reason that Meredith (and its half-sized but not half-hearted sister event Golden Plains) amasses devout new converts every year without fail.
Though not exactly culturally diverse (unless you consider Brunswick and its satellite suburbs ‘cosmopolitan’) its gorgeous location, the patented ‘no dickheads’ policy, the eclectic, hand-picked lineup – they all add up to much more than the sum of their distinctive parts.
But still there’s an imperceptible quality – a unique set of conditions honed and crafted by the intangible Aunty Meredith across 22 years to deliver arguably the nation’s best music festival.
It’s that spirited atmosphere that revellers chase each year, checking their inhibitions in – not at the loosely policed gates- but as far back as the town of Meredith, as the potential curse of a 15km traffic jam turns into a warm pre-event ritual of rehearsed sing-alongs, bouts of Frisbee, and many early morning tinnies.
It only helps that the glorious weather has done its duty in providing painterly blue skies and matching heat.
The same backdrop that remains as punters begin erecting the mini-community of tentscapes across the lovingly named, musical referencing campgrounds (“I’m at the corner of Highway To Hell and The Long and Winding Road”).
It’s here, against the sound of inflatable mattresses being aired, paired with calls for a hammer, that the veterans are separated from the newbies. Those that have waited hours, even a day ahead, to nab the perfect site to construct their makeshift home away from home: marquee, military-grade tent, and mass esky-lined spread.
While the late-comers march their tyres across gravel to settle for the further, leaner patches of ground with naught but a furry costume and a few plastic bottles of spirits.
With hours passing before the afernoon’s first act, it’s the perfect opportunity to drink in the picturesque scenery. The skyline-piercing ferris wheel that is the Meredith Eye providing the central landmark to the glorious beating heart of the three day festival, the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre.
The ‘Sup, as it’s lovingly nicknamed, is quickly dotted by coaches and blankets from the tanned, but not yet tanked, as the buzz of anticipation begins to settle across the air.
The singular main stage – flanked by eateries, merch, first aid, and a few extra toilets – boasts a screen projecting a countdown, further adding to the excitement. While the nearby Erics restaurant and Flamingos bar (complete with camp neon signage) offer protracted, but no less beautiful views of the stage.
It’s a glorious, iconic vista. A rolling hillside of gumtrees, thick beds of grass, and modest but impressionable stage providing the memorable backdrop to punters flowing like ants to the sweetest honey stash that the December music calendar has to offer.
Drawing forth the crowd, file by file, and first to the stage are Perth side-project now fully fledged concern, Pond.
Their ability to draw a sizeable crowd is as much for being the virgin band to the ‘Sup as is it is for their obvious connections to Tame Impala and in turn 60s rock. They spare little time for banter and dive straight into their flange-driven swirls of woolly guitar harmonies and chugging grooves.
Selections from their breakout Beards Wives Denim LP go down a treat, but some rougher takes, along with a smattering of newer material, shows that placing them early was actually a blessing in disguise.
Despite the boyish Nick Allbrook’s wiry vocal delivery, and Jay Watson’s feisty performance, the group are a little rough around the edges, and not in a charismatic way, showing why they still remain in the shadow of Tame Impala.
Regardless, the mob are still easing into proceedings – either snoozing off their early escape to the festival, or too busy chatting and meeting amongst friends to notice.
But some are certainly getting into the spirit, as evidenced by the distinctive fug of pot – the first of many fragrant clouds for the next three days – drifting its way above the Amphitheatre.
Triple J darlings Snakadaktal follow and give a doable job of fulfilling the fairly large shoes required to fill their cherished afternoon slot.
The five-piece are still pigeon-holed by their age (re: really young) and not their music, though there’s promise in their mix of airy folk, dreamy chilled guitars and boy/girl harmonies, but they’re a bit too waifish for their own good.
Still, there’s the age card to play again, whether inexperienced with such a large attendance or yet convinced by their own tunes, there’s still time to grow into something professional, if not wholly unique.
The same accusation can’t be levelled at San Diego’s Earthless, the trio having found their niche long ago – namely long, tunnelling psychedelic jams – and have stuck ferociously to it.
From a distance their 50 minutes sounds like one, long smear of fuzzed-out guitar noodling, low slung stabs, and the drumming of Mario Rubalcaba (to appear with Hot Snakes the following day) all drilling stoner-rock revelry into a tight screw of jagged, churning wig-outs.
Their appeal is obvious – it’s either time to test your spinal column’s headbanging durability; or an early dinner.
As the sun slowly yawns towards its final ascent, perfectly placated behind the main stage, criminally underrated neo-chanteuse Sophia Brous follows, along with her stylish black ensemble and gravity-defying headwear.
Glamour is the word, as evidenced by Shags Chamberlain’s sleeveless white catsuit nearly upstaging his svelte bass shapes. He is just one key component of Brous’ talented, tight backing band – so flexible to the diverse curves of her music. That her daring fusion is outlandish (and good) enough to lure guitar luminary Mick Harvey to helm her ensemble speaks enough of her quality.
The sweeping Italo-pop of ‘Streamers’ and ‘Little Ticket’ are playful yet polished, and while her playful scatting and caterwauling whoops, dappled both across and between songs, occasionally get away from her; there’s no doubting the delirious concoction of her tunes.
Like a series of Bond themes that were rejected for being too outlandish, or because they were far better suited to 60s Spaghetti Westerns; albeit ones content with thumping subs and pooling, tribal rhythms for a score.
As a shirtless man up the front whips himself into a warped one-man Flamenco, tipping his dreadlocked bones to a punter filming him, you realise there’s a lot that Brous captures – consciously or otherwise.
Next up is the the one-woman futurist neo-pop of Canadian native Clare Boucher, but before that it’s time for a little housekeeping.
As one of Aunty Meredith’s many mouthpieces takes to the stage to promote the festival spirit, yet another ritualistic tradition takes place.
With Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ crowd-selected as the soundtrack, festival-goers take the time to pick up rubbish while reminded that “we help each other, that’s the Meredith way.” It might seem like cliché (or a nostalgic throwback to school camp) but it’s actually a minor, breathtaking moment that capitulates the uniqueness of Meredith.
Speaking of unique, a pair of dancers smeared in Heath Ledger’s Joker make-up herald the appearance of their skull-painted queen, Grimes, to deliver her musical skulduggery.
In a year that’s seen her swiftly transcend from the fringes of Montreal’s DIY scene to one of 2012’s most globally recognised acts, Grimes has more than a bit to live up to – not least for being one of two acts announced in the lead-up to Meredith.
It quickly becomes apparent however, that only half her set is suited to the festival atmosphere.
As Boucher fizzes behind her small set-up of keys and sequencers, she appears beholden to her podium like a DJ-come-singer, trapped by creating her specifically genre-defying pop rather than free to bounce the stage delivering her little sister, helium-tinged vocals.
But the obvious peaks – such as ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’, with its new dubstep intro – are deliriously high. Turning The ‘Sup into a mini-rave well ahead of the planned AM schedule.
She breathlessly thanks her crowd unintelligibly before delivering bubbles, lights, and a stomping 90s house number for a closing, proving she’s far more matchless hit than hyped-up miss.
The beauty of Meredith is indeed in the contrasts provided across the stages, but it can sometimes be quite a stretch – and so it proves in the dramatic crossover from alternative dance poppets to the flannel-wearing mature audience that take over as night falls. Guitars click into amps, snares echo, and the stage is ripe for The Sunnyboys.
Though there’s the 80s heyday of the newly reformed quartet’s muscular rock to enjoy, it’s also a clear attempt to recapture the zeitgeist of previous attendees like The Church and Icehouse.
Jeremy Oxley and co are thoroughly rehearsed, and there’s no sign of a cash-grab slouch, but “Happy Man” is nowhere near as familiar as “Under The Milky Way”, nor “Alone With You” a sure-fire galvanising anthem like “Electric Blue”. Post-Grimes, it’s nice to see grown men lash at their instruments with a brute simplicity, but many take the opportunity to *ahem* ‘prepare’ for the late-night marathon ahead.
A bliss-inducing run from the drugged blues cathartics of Spirtiualized at 10.30 all the way to Four Tet’s smeared set closing at 4am.
Spiritualized probably scares as many as they seduce. Opening number ‘Hey Jane’, from latest Sweet Heart Sweet Light, sets the template for Jason Pierce and his space-suited backing band’s set.
Large crescendos docking in tandem to gospel-tinged revelry or tumbling even further into a rabbit hole of white walls of dissonance. All the while strobe lighting conspiring to achieve sensory overkill.
It’s dazzling stuff, occasionally rapturous, but also exhausting. Still, Pierce offers gracious respite, allowing the audience to indulge in a charming sing-for-all of the the title track to 1997 masterpiece Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Now Floating In Space (complete with a few bars of ‘You Are So Beautiful To Me’).
‘Electricity’ and ‘Come Together’, from the same record, also get an airing, and if the whole amphitheatre isn’t bellowing to every rattling phrase, it damn sure feels like it.
Still there’s a sterile quality to Spiritualized that feels more like the sharp-end of the comedown, but where those not in on the blissful tones may have been bummed out – Tame Impala came along and inverted the bell curve with a dizzying ascent.
Though they lacked some of the all-important Magical Mystery Tour-era production of their albums, the crunch of Kevin Parker and his fellow cosmonauts still hit deep and hard.
With their dizzying yet melodiously accessible pastiches, with a kaleidoscopic light show to match, they charged through a euphoric set that kept both Innerspeaker and Lonerism loyalists happy.
A band that’s terrifyingly efficient, more so that they may not yet be at the top of their powers, they’re perfectly content to indulge in rippling, psychedelic breakdowns. As they do on ‘Elephant’ and encore(ish) ‘Half Full Glass Of Wine’, both rumbling and cartwheeling into certified festival-sized anthems.
A quality that was hiding just beneath their surfaces, but comes to fruition as the Meredith grounds turn into a carnival of ecstatic, flailing bodies. If you didn’t have to be so close to the action to enjoy it, Tame Impala would have seemed, from a distance like a hill-sized cosmic event.
Providing yet another patented Aunty Meredith contrast, Syria’s Omar Souleyman is charged with the daunting task of following up. But his fast-paced, four-to-the-floor dance quickly eviscerates any straggling concerns.
His is a simple gimmick, dressed in traditional garb – sunglasses, robe, and keffiyeh, like some sot of dancehall tzar (or a character from a TinTin adventure – call me racist); Souleyman performs little, says even less, and is content to simply clap along to the rhythm, spread his arms like a pre-match wrestler; or bellow chants that sweep up the Meredith vista to wake anyone silly enough to take the opportunity to retreat to their campsite before midnight.
The music too is almost entirely one-dimensional: processed beats, clattering synths, frilled with twanging, faux-exotic Middle Eastern strings and steel-drum percussion. There’s long winding breakdowns and an incessant, booming undercurrent. But it’s a formula that works, and wondrously at that.
While it seems that Souleyman’s counterpoint, Rizan Sa’id, is the one doing the lion’s share of the work, it’s Souleyman’s presence and distinctive vocals that get the credit (take note Grimes).
His set is consistently fun, high energy, alien yet accessible; and the perfect segue to the more restrained tones of the UK producer to follow.
Pitched somewhere between hypnotic ambience and deep house daydream, Four Tet, or Kieran Hebden to his mates, is obviously a man in complete control, and perhaps even a little obsessed, with the subtleties of his music.
While many complained that his live show was “boring”, “poorly mixed” or simply “shit”. The broader canvas of his 90 minute showcase was a cerebral game of build and climax, that simply delivering a dance-happy mix would not have achieved.
Starting almost painfully minimalist, trembling bass and the lightest of touches lapping against a wash of blue lighting. The deeper arcs build ever so gradually into throbbing arcs of mesmerising sound.
Within the seamless thread there’s recognisable selections from his catalogue, snatches of 2003’s Rounds, a taste of Pause’s ‘Glue Of The World”, but the biggest pleaser is an epic take on the already lengthy ‘Love Cry’.
While his cerebral take on electronica isn’t appreciated by everyone, but the selected few who are enchanted by Four Tet’s spell wind their way back to their campsites, with the cupid’s spell of textures and subs still drumming in their weary heads.
That there is still two more days of Meredith’s musical magic is not something anyone even considers at this point, besides there’s still that foreboding 37 degree day to contend with, let alone the delights that Saturday’s proceedings have to offer.
Stay tuned for Meredith Day Two.
Check out all the snaps from Day 1 in our Meredith Music Festival 2012 photo gallery.