Meredith Music Festival 2012

Diary of a Meredith Rookie

In The Beginning…

It all started with a peaceful drive through the Victorian countryside. Gazing out the back window of my friends car (we’ll call her The Priest) as she and her sister (The Priestess) chatted about past Meredith memories, I wondered what adventures lay ahead of me as I set off on my own maiden Meredith voyage. As trees and farm animals flicked past my field of vision, I imagined myself in a fantastical world, where people expressed themselves freely, and were embraced for it; where every note of music that emanated from the stage was appreciated, no matter how diverse; and where strangers became friends, because let’s face it, there’s a LOT of alcohol involved.

In the end, it was everything I expected and more. A shining example of why Aunty Meredith has been in the game for over 20 years, and why in a festival market that is so oversaturated, Meredith is still one of Australia’s most beloved festivals.

Dust, Tinnies and Anticipation…

After a missed turnoff and an illegal freeway U-turn, we finally make it to the town of Meredith, and it’s not long before we come face-to-face with the ass-end of the dreaded car queue. But with a staff lane vehicle pass haphazardly jammed into the passenger window, we defiantly zoom past the 13-plus kilometre line of cars, caravans, trailers, and other miscellaneous vehicles, leaving drunk and dusty would-be street cricketers in our wake.

We arrive to an almost fully-erect campsite, thanks to our well-prepared teammates and Meredith veterans Whitey and The Beard, as well as fellow newcomer Fergalicious, who all kindly woke up at 5o’clock that morning to snap up a good spot. The first cans of Coldstream and Melbourne Bitter were cracked, and we all settled comfortably into a feeling of blissful anticipation.

Friday I'm in love…

It wasn’t long before we all hit the Sup to check out Snakadaktal – arguably one of the years most hyped up-and-coming bands. Their chilled indie vibes aren’t exactly a party-starter, and despite the clear enjoyment of many in the crowd, the youngsters still seemed somewhat timid in their surroundings. Nevertheless, a large group of bodies danced and swayed happily in front of the stage as the sun smiled down on us, with one blissed-out guy saying: “I’ve been coming to Meredith for years and that was nice. That was NICE”.

Running on nothing but booze and a banana, we decided it was wise to get a feed down early, and as we waited patiently for our burgers from the Beatbox Kitchen, we listened to the grimy, progressive rock of Earthless as it echoed out across the amphitheatre. The San Diego 3-piece have a largely cult following, but with the majority of their stuff being instrumental psychedelia, it was almost the perfect set for that particular time. Each persons poison of choice was kicking in, and the ethereal light of dusk was slowly washing over the grounds, making it feel as though we truly were in another world.

After freshening up and re-stocking the stubby holders, we weaved our way to the front of the crowd again for another one of the more hyped acts on the lineup – Grimes. With faces painted in freakish zombie-panda fashion, the pint-sized Canadian dynamo and her two stage dancers bounced and smiled their way through an incomprehensible but upbeat set of celestial electronica. The leading lady looked like she was having just as much fun as we were, as she expertly manned all of the keys, samplers and vocals herself.

There’s always that one nostalgia act at a festival, for old and young fans alike, and this year the honours went to Sunnyboys. The pop-rock band from Sydney recently reunited after a whirlwind career back in the 80’s, and their Meredith set marked the first time the original lineup have played together as Sunnyboys since 1984. Although the fellas played with a decent amount of excitement and conviction, sampling a good selection of hits including the ever-popular ‘Alone With You’, it really was one for the fans, as many of the younger audience members appeared to treat the set as background music.

Space-rockers Spiritualized received a similar reception, with a throng of adoring fans seemingly enraptured by their progressive, layered compositions, but the rest of us using the time for other things – like getting even more fucked up than we already were. Nevertheless, it was a well-played set, and seemed to fit the slowly building mood of the crowd at the time. The interstitial DJ decided to mellow things out a notch at that point though, which seemed to put the crowd in a bit of a slump for a while – once again signalling an opportunity to hit those lovely composting loos, or grab another drink and some food.
Not long after midnight, it was time for perhaps the most anticipated set of the whole festival – Tame Impala. The Perth boys have truly earned their spot as one of Australia’s greatest exports, with their ‘70s-vibe psychedelic rock providing a sound that is both reminiscent, yet distinctly of our generation. Even though it seems a lot of people love to hate Tame Impala because of their minimalist approach, the Sup was bursting at the seams ahead of their set, and the further into their set they got, the more those preconceptions seemed to dissolve away. Playing a solid selection of tracks from both of their highly acclaimed albums, the 3-piece had the intoxicated crowd singing and swaying along with hits like ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, as illuminated palm trees and jellyfish hovered above our heads in the now-black sky.

Admittedly, by this point we were all so far gone that anyone could have come onstage and we probably would’ve loved it, but I’d like to think that even if we were sober-as-day, Omar Souleyman still would’ve received the enthralling reception that he did. In full Arabic garb of robes and a Shumaq, the Syrian dance-maestro looked like he should’ve rode in on a camel, and his traditional Middle-Eastern vocal wailing made you feel like YOU should be on a camel in the desert somewhere too. Although nobody had a clue what he was singing about, the excellent electronica-inspired beats that drove the songs were enough to get everyone dancing manically, resulting in one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable performances of the weekend.

By 2:30 AM we'd lost and found team-mates, danced ourselves silly, met Elvis, and drank our way into Saturday’s booze-rations, so with the final ounces of energy officially drained, we headed back for camp and passed out rather ungracefully in our respective canvas palaces.
The wrath of Mother Nature…

Ahhh Mother Nature. She can be so temperamental. One minute she’s blessing you with clear skies and a warm evening breeze, the next she’s ripping your shelter down with furious gusts of hot wind. Waking up on Saturday presented all sorts of challenges…like figuring out where we were and what that awful howling noise outside was; peeling ourselves out of our sweat-soaked sleeping bag; searching dry-mouthed for a water bottle that actually contained water and not some horrendous vodka-concoction from the night before; and wondering how on earth our tent hadn’t collapsed on top of us, burying us in a nylon tomb.

Apparently, old Mama Nature had some mercy, as we lay sprawled outside on an inflatable mattress an hour later, the palace now a flapping heap of material and poles on the ground next to us. As guests to the campsite raved about Four Tet’s set the night before, we tried to snap ourselves into action. It was hot, our heads hurt, the showers weren’t working (apparently – we never bothered to check) and the campsite was a mess, but the day had only just begun. So we doused ourselves in sunscreen, downed some water and painkillers, and made our way over to the Sup to start all over again.

Hot heat, hot beats…
We arrived to a jam-packed amphitheatre, as the hoards eagerly awaited indie crooner Chet Faker’s arrival onstage. In the end, it seems we were lucky he showed up at all. Hobbling his way to the keyboard on crutches, main man Nick Murphy explained that everything that could possibly go wrong ahead of this set had gone wrong. Apart from the broken foot (which Murphy copped after a skateboarding accident), the band was also a drummer down, and had experienced one equipment failure after another. Fortunately, they decided to play the set regardless, styling it as a bit of jam-session instead. This actually worked quite well for the band, as it allowed for a raw and honest showcase of Murphy’s exceptional vocal and songwriting skills. ‘I’m Into You’ and his popular cover of ‘No Diggity’ proved to be highlights, as did ‘Love & Feeling’, which Murphy playfully preceded with: “this one’s for everyone who had sex in a tent last night”. It was possibly the shortest set of the weekend, but Chet Faker put in a good effort considering all the drama.

If there’s one name that was on everyone’s lips at the end of this festival, it was Big Jay McNeely. The 85-year old “King of the Honking Saxophone” may have been sitting for most of his set, but he sure had everyone else moving. Those that didn’t’ retreat back to their campsites for a sweaty afternoon nap were treated not only to some tremendous old-school rhythm & blues, but also a good dose of Big Jay’s charismatic storytelling, which he delivered in a true-to-form gospel manner, starting every sentence with a hearty “now listen children!” His eyes bordered on crazy at times, and he often had to pause for breath between playing, but by God the man still knows how to entertain. As anonymous audience members generously sprayed the overheating crowd with water, Big Jay ensured there were enough call-and-response sections in the set to keep us all focussed and involved.

It was around this point that the wash-basins outside the composting loos seemed to run out of both soap and water, meaning that we were now deprived of even washing our hands – the one thing that was making us feel like we hadn’t just crawled out of a sewer. Feeling dirty and sun-stroked, it was time to retreat into the shade and re-erect our tent before we became too inebriated to do so.
Meredith crowds don’t seem to be that big on hip-hop, as I failed to convince anyone to join me for Rahzel’s mid-afternoon set. That said, there was a fairly decent crowd when I arrived, and although a sun-drenched farm is hardly the ideal setting to watch the world’s best beatboxer do his thang, one can only work with what one has got at times. Unfortunately, Rahzel found this concept to be a frustrating one, as he awkwardly launched a tirade against the people running the afternoons proceedings. “Can’t get a towel around here…can’t get a water, a juice…treat me like a hooker,” he moaned. “I just want to come and put on the best show I can for ya’ll. I don’t roll around with no entourage…all I ask is for the motherfuckin’ sound to be right.” Thankfully, once he was done complaining (which in all fairness, he had every right to do), he got down to the business of showing off that superhuman mouth of his. It felt a bit jolted at times, as DJ JS-1 would play part of a song, and then stop so Rahzel could beatbox the same beat, but the choice of songs were good enough that people were still having fun. And when ‘Zel performed the now-famous ‘If Your Mother Only Knew’, it became clear that there were actually a lot of old-school hip-hop fans in the crowd. Even The Priest (who had decided to come down after all) was impressed, saying “how can one person’s mouth do all that?”

We listened to The Toot Toot Toots as we hung out in the shade of the giant gum trees, and although the country-rock style of the music was full of charming western character, frontman Danny Eucalyptus’ rough, growling vocals seemed completely out-of-place in the songs. Obviously, this wasn’t as bothersome for everyone as it was for me, and the band clearly had a solid collection of fans present.

Into the wild…

Sitting on a rock up on Sunset Strip, Fergalicious, The Priest and myself savoured our Turkish gozlemes as we watched the last beams of sunlight wash over the valley. We were feeling refreshed, and as we weaved our way out of the cold and back into the relative warmth of the crowd, it seemed everyone else was too. People were dressed in all sorts of resplendent costumes, and as night set in and illuminated props returned to hover above the crowd, you truly felt like you were in another world. The energy in the air was palpable. The time to unleash your inner freak was now.

Enter Regurgitator. The ‘90s rockers haven’t exactly been absent of late, having only recently come off of a national tour, but there’s a reason they’re so well-loved, and the crowd didn’t hesitate to display that love for one second. From start to finish, the hoards were in sync with the band as they tore through a good cross-section of their catalogue, with a vast majority of the tracks coming from their hit album Unit. The energy and professionalism with which these guys still play is impressive, and finishing up with ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’, they left us happy, out-of-breath, and with no doubt as to why they’re still such a force in the Aussie rock scene.

Watching Turbonegro was an unsettling experience – let’s just put it that way. The Norwegian purveyors of deathpunk were imposing in every sense of the word, and although it was fun for a while, eventually, you began to feel like this perhaps just wasn’t the place for them. Lead singer Tony Sylvester AKA the Duke of Nothing was borderline scary with his ramblings about nihilism and a five-eyed tiger-tattooed gut bursting out from his leather vest. The band tried numerous times to connect with their Aussie audience, at one point even jokingly singing the national anthem (they just sang ‘Australia’ a few times and then abruptly stopped and said “We’ve been lied to!” after receiving an underwhelming reaction), but apart from the throng of moshing fans up front, people seemed to be slowly tuning out. Teammates The Priestess and The Fox (who had been shamefully sleeping at the campsite the entire day) headed to the Sup at this point, and after seeing the punk-rockers on stage, swiftly returned back to the comfort and safety of their sleeping bags.

It seemed like hours before Turbonegro finally finished up, and ironically one of the best moments of the whole festival happened between sets. All pumped up on booze, punk rock and other miscellaneous substances, the crowd (or at least those in our vicinity) literally lost their shit when the DJ played Rage Against the Machine's ‘Killing In The Name’. Jumping around defiantly and screaming along to every word, it was a beautiful, synchronised release of energy, restlessness and anticipation. It was one of many occasions where it seemed like the DJ must have been psychic – playing the perfect song for each and every interstitial moment.

After the raucous intermission, the main event of the night was finally upon us. Primal Scream were surprisingly fantastic at keeping the mood going, and unlike some of the other acts of the weekend, it didn’t matter who you were or how well you knew the band and their material, everyone seemed to get right into it. With Bobby Gillespie leading the way, the seasoned Scotsmen performed with an air of charm and professionalism that only comes with being in the game for close to 30 years. Accompanied by some entrancing light-work, the band played a good chunk of tracks from their breakout album Screamadelica, as well as a handful of later hits like ‘Rocks’ and ‘Swastika Eyes’. In essence, it was everything you could want from a festival set.

For those of us well-lubricated and still kicking, the Meredith Sky Show was like a euphoric climax of sorts – the bursts of colour shooting all around you, priming you for the descent into the early hours the morning. DJ Flagrant and his VJ show were fairly well-received, despite the fact that half the people weren’t actually facing the stage, and a lot of the playlist consisted of the usual dancey pop-crap you hear at any given club in the city on a Saturday night. In that moment though, it was exactly what we wanted, and we relished it.

After that, we didn’t make it too far into Itch-E & Scratch-E’s set, as the mood shifted from light-hearted partying to full-on drug-trance. It all got a little bit intense, and unless you were on acid, or some kind of crazy hallucinogen, you were probably going to call it a night at that point. That’s exactly what we did, as we filled our water bottles, donned our thermals and tucked ourselves into our bags, sheltered at last from the icy-cold air outside.

It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life…

Stumbling out of the tent on Sunday morning evokes a mixed bag of emotions. I'm sad that our countryside shenanigans are nearing the end, but also relieved that I've made it out alive. Not alive enough to join Master Jin Son Han for Tai Chi, mind you. It seems you rarely have a choice in when you're going to wake up at Meredith. Inevitably, something or someone will always do it for you. Usually it's the dudes driving around the campsites hollering tempting offers of hot bacon and eggs from the back of a ute. A bacon and egg sandwich from the Community Tucker Tent....now that's something I'll wake up for!

5 wet wipes later and we're ready to drag our dust-encrusted bodies back to the Sup. As I try to fob my regrettably purchased blood orange granita off to anyone who will take it, my teammates and I flop onto the grass and contemplate our surroundings. It's warm, sunny, and everyone is in high spirits...there's a pleasant sense of contentedness hanging over the amphitheatre. Our little circle grows and shrinks as friends come and go, sharing tidbits from their weekend.

All the while, Fraser A Gorman is perched onstage, playing his old-worldly brand of rhythm and blues, supported by his colourful backing band The Big Harvest (which on this occasion includes Stu from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard). There could not have been a more perfect act for this particular timeslot, and Gorman plays with a gently timid ease that I'm sure soothed even the harshest of hangovers.

After some more lazing in the sun backed by Melbourne garage crooners Boomgates, we decided it would be wise to get back to the site and pack our shit up. The tents were down, car full, last bits of alcohol drunk, and we were ready to hit the road. Then, at the last minute, we decided to go back to the Sup one last time. And boy were we glad we did.

After we were introduced by a video collage of Leon, the potty-mouthed black character from Larry David's hit comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, the man behind the mouth and Meredith emcee, JB Smoove, bounded onto the stage and began a half-hour onslaught of hilariously quickfire standup. Those who knew him as Leon loved it, those who knew him as one of the writers for Saturday Night Live loved it, and those of us who had never even heard of the guy loved it. He barked out Aunty's announcements ("Take your motherfuckin sofas with you when you leave!"), ranted about how lazy koalas are ("I was watching a video of a koala once...I thought it was a picture!"), gave a dude called Pierce (or "Piss") the shirt off his back after confiscating his unacceptably unstylish flannel, and probably set a world record for saying "Tim Tam" the most times in any one half hour of speech. He even got a cute indie girl in a Paddington Bear-style raincoat to hop up on stage and give old Piss a pash. It was a quality laugh, and just what we needed to lift our tired spirits before heading back to the big smoke.

Despite the fact that the Meredith Gift was extended to a full circuit of the Sup this year, allowing for far more spectators of the famous nude run, the thought of watching people's wobbly bits and unmentionables flailing about in the hot sun was less than appealing to my teammates and I, and we decided to try and beat the traffic instead.

As I lay in the backseat of the car watching the trees and farm animals flick past me just as they had two days ago, we quietly sang along to golden oldies from Nat King Cole and Alanis Morissette on the radio. Winding down, my mind wandered through the memories of the weekend - the friends, the laughs, the music, the dancing - and I smiled to myself.

Another weekend gone, a new tradition found.
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