The town of Meredith in Victoria is known for a few things: cheese, wool, and the eponymously named Meredith Festival.
The Meredith festival is located about an hour and a half drive outside Melbourne, yet feeling like a whole different world from Australia’s hipster capital. Rural Victoria is certainly something to behold with its omnipresent gum trees, worryingly large (and venomous) ants, and a liberal amount of mullets (whether these are worn ironically or not I have no idea).
This is my first time at Meredith festival and there has certainly been a lot of hype. It seems to be a widely accepted fact that this is the most Victorians favourite festival. Compared to many of the relatively large (and occasionally huge) European festivals I’ve attended it’s certainly rather cozy. There’s one stage, located in a natural amphitheater, and only a five-minute walk from our campsite to the main area. Comparisons with Glastonbury are inevitable: the festival is held on private farmland, forefronts eco-responsibility, and doesn’t feature any corporate sponsorship. These things plus a bluntly Aussie “no dickheads” policy which discourages moshing, blocking other people’s views or generally aggressive behavior. Alongside the festival’s chill vibes are its quirks like the naked sprinting competition and even a cleaning period after every few acts soundtracked to Todd Terje‘s eternal “Inspector Norse”.
The first act I see is Cass McCombs who I enjoy more than I imagined. He seems like a scruffy take on American Beauty-era Grateful Dead with both the earthy Americana of his songwriting and a fondness of the occasional loose jam.
The Swedish psychedelic band Dungen is the first act I’m paying active attention to. Their knotty, jazz-inspired sound provides a beautiful soundtrack to the festival’s easygoing vibe. They are clearly in no rush to compromise their sound as their set starts with the beautiful instrumental “Fredag”; a set that mostly skews away from their occasional psych-pop sensibilities. The Swedes are certainly one of the best I saw throughout the whole event. Essentially it sounds like they’ve taken inspiration from the most tripped-out parts of a 70s stoner’s record collection from “Bitches Brew” to “Close To The Edge” and synthesized it into their own genre.
Kelela is the next act to take the stage. Her late-night minimal R&B, to me, is perfect headphones music for nocturnal walks but can struggle to translate to an entertaining stage show. Many of her songs sound as if they’ve been whittled down to little more than heavy bass, a single hook, and an often plodding tempo. Saying this, with tracks like “Rewind”, the second half of her gig picks up significantly in tempo and intensity, sounding closer to the bass-heavy intensity of her frequent collaborators from London’s Night Slugs label.
Before Melbourne’s own King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard take the stage we are treated to a somewhat appropriate selection of songs from some of psychedelic and garage rock’s more intense acts. The PA system booms out “Movin’ On Up”, “Kick Out The Jams” and The Sonics‘ version of “Have Love Will Travel” as a way of getting the crowd into the band’s acid freakout aesthetic. King Gizzard end up being the most energetic act I see all weekend and the only one who has to remind the crowd of the festival’s “no moshing” policy. The band are having somewhat of an international breakout moment with their most recent album, “Nonagon Infinity”, having received a fair amount of overseas acclaim. The stamina level very rarely dips as they, and their two drummers, stitch all their set into a seamless loop even managing to repeat one song. The least aggressive part of their set features the band riffing on the jazz classic “Take Five” for a good few minutes before launching back into space. King Gizzard‘s nighttime psychedelic rave-up is the perfect counterpoint to Dungen‘s more mellow early evening set.
Sheila E is above all things an incredibly talented performer. Throughout her set, the former Prince bandleader played guitar and percussion as well as singing and dancing. Her performance was heavy in its nods to Prince, from her ‘love symbol’ shirt to some truly fantastic covers. Thankfully the set mostly avoided super-obvious choices in favor of some slightly lesser-known, but much-beloved classics, like “Erotic City”, “Alphabet Street”, “Baby I’m A Star” and the coda to “Purple Rain”. The set, however, was much more than Prince covers and featured some of Sheila E‘s own material and a few more standard R&B covers, including Sly & The Family Stone‘s “If You Want Me To Stay”. This high-energy set was mostly entertaining R&B played by a group of slick party starting professionals.
After this was Mount Liberation Unlimited who I can’t say I was really into. The vibe was somewhat like Stranger Things-style synth wave with a kick drum. Their ‘cosmic house’ sound was seemingly largely improvised on a few hardware synths and you could tell (and not in a good way). Although, during this set I was crashing pretty hard so it’s hard to pretend to be objective.
The next day started with the brass band from the nearby town of Ballarat taking the stage to gently arise festivalgoers from their hangovers/comedowns. The first band I seek out are Philadelphian lo-fi classic rockers Sheer Mag. On record, the band’s Thin Lizzy-ish antics are stopped from being full-on dinosaur rock by the protective spell of their blown-out-speaker production. Live, they obviously lack this layer. What I felt I was left watching was an unexceptional hard rock band with a series of songs that grew increasingly monotonous. The one song I really love by them, “Fan The Flames”, was played as an encore and remains both the highlight of their discography and the highlight of that set.
Canada’s BadBadNotGood are often understood as a jazz/hip-hop group due to their covers of rap songs, collaborations with Ghostface Killah and appearances at festivals like the Mad Decent Block Party. Live they really just come off as a very strong ’70s fusion band with a sense of fun and showmanship. Their energetic style seems to win over the crowd, even those that wouldn’t have any conventional interest in jazz. While, to me, their records can sound overly respectful of tradition (despite the occasional rap features), live they are really a powerful force and an act I would love to see again and again.
Angel Olsen is really one of those modern indie guitar acts that leave no resonance in my mind whatsoever. Although this isn’t specifically her fault, I’m just, as one of my friends put it, “picky”.
Southern sludge metal band Baroness are easily one of the unexpected highlights of the festival. I often find that heavy metal makes vastly more sense to me as a live music and they are no exception. Their tight riffing and beautiful harmonized vocals makes them basically impossible not to pay attention to. Frontman John Baizley is a formidable stage presence who seems almost possessed by the music. Songs like “Shock Me” transcend the shackles of their recordings and take on a beautiful new life. The next band I see is the Canadian anthemic punk band Japandroids. They are easily the band I am most excited for over the whole festival period. They open with “Fire’s Highway” and I instantly remember why I love them so much. Despite having lost all of my friends for their performance, I befriend some other fans and we instantly strike up a camaraderie based on yelling Japandroids lyrics at each other. This, I imagine, is an entirely typical experience at this band’s shows. While the band does play OG classics like “Wet Hair”, “Nights Of Wine And Roses”, “Younger Us” and “The House That Heaven Built” they also play three new songs (including the previously released “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life”). Having never seen them before it was slightly disappointing to not just have a set of screaming-fodder (especially considering their 45 minute set time). Vocalist Brian King is clearly slightly less strong on the vocals live but their live show is such an experience that it hardly seems to matter. Either way, the band is as ridiculously adrenaline pumping as you’d expect live. As I left, I hugged my temporary best friends and wished them a good night with my now barely-there voice.
Feminist electro-punk Peaches is an extreme artist to see live. Part electroclash, part rap show and part some sort of absurdist fetish show. Her set features as much audience breast-flashing as the average hair metal show (but, you know, in a different context). The show is as much a spectacle as anything and the songs certainly start to blur into each other but it’s an undeniably entertaining spectacle. Highlights include a giant inflatable penis that Peaches uses to navigate the crowd and, obviously, “Fuck The Pain Away”.
Aussie electro-psychedelic band Jagwar Ma are essentially the last headliner band of the festival. They come across as Soulwax with Panda Bear on vocals but never reach the same level of electro-rock transcendence as Soulwax nor the bliss of Panda Bear. This psychedelic/electro fusion should – theoretically – be right up my alley but something about the band has never quite clicked for me. Their set is entertaining enough but I find it mostly becomes fairly repetitive.
After this is London DJ Throwing Shade who I must say I barely remember but thoroughly enjoyed and Melbourne’s own CC: Disco who avoids the occasional disco purism of her sets to throw an enjoyable party.
Technically the Meredith festival [aka MMF] continues the next day but with much smaller acts. I’m in the kind of mood where your sleeping bag not fitting back into its sack makes you feel like you’re being teased by an Old Testament God. I go home and sleep for 14 hours.
Check on the Meredith Music Festival on the official website!