Meredith Music Festival is held on a farm somewhere between Geelong and Ballarat. for years it’s been beckoning but the lineup has never been quite right. This year it celebrates its 20th anniversary which means that by now it should have worked out all its kinks and once you add the kindness of Rat Vs Possum who’ve offered me a pass, well it’s all too good to pass up.
Puta Madre Brothers kicked off proceedings with their scuzzy Mexi maelstrom of dirty rock and roll. We knew it was dirty because their faces were all blackened, like they’d already been at Meredith for a week. Ever since catching their debut album Queso Y Cojones I’d been needing to see this trio of one man bands, each with his own kick drum, and either guitar or bass. They began by showering the audience with corn chips and yelping in their dodgy Mexican accents. “They’re not Mexican they’re from bloody Colac,” screams a guy next to me, but it doesn’t matter, Meredith has begun and Puta Madre Brothers brought the party. No one could have done it better. Or with more flair. Next up were my hosts Rat Vs Possum, a local five piece capping off a great year that’s seen them release their debut album. tour with Regurgitator and now slot into their favourite festival. Overcoming some initial sound difficulties and perhaps some nerves they conjured up these immense faux tribal almost krautrock jams heavy on the percussion, big on the noise that had the crowd really jumping early, dedicating their song Pills to the festival and welcoming everyone to ‘the best fucking festival in the world.’ I’ve seen these guys play a few times and today it was like they were possessed, at home on the big stage and taking no prisoners.
Kimbra is a pop chick who really didn’t do much for me so I ended up back at the campsite to get more beer and check in with Rat Vs Possum who were still coming down from their Meredith debut.
We made it back in time for Broadcast who began in amazing style, this UK duo weaving synth soundscapes with loose loops and textures of voice that were nothing short of incredible. It was really psychedelic stuff the sounds just enveloping each other becoming one evolving textural drone. The visual too really built upon this aesthetic, tripped out patterns and swirls. Unfortunately it was when they did away with the synth and picked up conventional instruments that they lost their magic and appeal. In this sense it was a really uneven set. Equally touching genius and averageness within 40 odd minutes.
The remainder of the bands for the evening really didn’t seem that interesting, in fact I was warned off by people in the know. From a distance Reverend Horton Heat was almost intolerable, it’s possible I would have poked out my own ears if I had’ve been closer. We did the Pink Flamingo bar, even drank one. But then something magical happened. We discovered the cinema. It’s just like going to the drive ins, except you can just sit down on a log and watch sans vehicle. It was a place I would return to repeatedly throughout the weekend when the music hurt me. It was programmed by Jim Knox, a man who delighted in the bizarre and wrong, so much so that you could be assured that no matter what time you dropped in your mind would be blown. Tonight it was a doco on Vali Myers and later a film starring perennial weirdo Crispin Glover who travels to the desert to bury his cat in the perfect spot where he is joined by an annoying salesman in Rubin and Ed. The film manages to marry existential drama with terrible dialogue over the top acting and kitsch wrongness in equal measure and is a dead set classic. Providing you think inept movies are classic.
I managed to tear myself from this opus in time to catch The Field who were the highlight of the first day, with a big audio visual show, electronics, drums and guitar that moved between these epic locked grooves, building almost intolerable crescendos and getting everyone crazy. I’d never heard these guys before but they were really something special. They reminded me a little bit of Trans Am before they lost their minds. It was like the music had been synthesized down to the most important elements and everything else just excluded. Genius.
I woke to the sound of a brass band and a certain expected seediness. Even still I managed to drag myself down to see KYU a sweet duo who marry electronics with a little bit of percussion, who had provided some extra backing vocals to Rat Vs Possum the day before. Their vocals are quite angelic, at times Bjork like and they provided a really nice entrance back into the music for the weary, somewhat struggling audience member. Washed Out were hyper cheese, they played like a session band, smooth yet soulless. They were the epitome of yacht rock, the kind of band you’d expect on a cruise ship. Once you start to understand what they’re going for you start to hate them less and enjoy their bland inoffensive music. CW Stoneking however was amazing. Not just because he was so different from the remainder of the acts, but with larger than normal horn section he really seemed to relishing his time on the stage. When they got out the tuba all hell broke loose. This is the first time I’ve seen him with a full band and he was incredible. You can’t help but love his old time troubadour schtick. Girls offered a noisy sort of pop, a little like the Posies but without the melodic gifts and after a while became grating causing me to return to camp in search of further inebrients. Then came El Guincho playing waaaaaay too early. But it didn’t seem to bother him or his cohort on guitar. This spaniard really started the party. His set was hyper, his tunes catchy and everyone just went crazy. It ended with a one shoe salute from the majority of the audience. And in the dirt this definitely means something.
Next up were the Fall. The legendary UK group who I had never heard before. The band kicked in and out wandered Mark E Smith, almost falling over his microphone before releasing a crazy howl. He appeared to be speaking/ singing in English but it was impossible to decipher. “He apparently fell out of his tour bus,” offered to person next to me when I turned to her incredulously. I had figured that he was just retarded after years of alcohol abuse. In fact it seemed like he sang the same lyrics for the first four songs. I wondered if he even knew he was fronting a band. He sounded like William S Burroughs after downing a bottle of Red wine, all sneer and slur. It was crazy. He missed cues, knocked over microphone stands, fiddled with EQ’s and attempted to grab a stick and play along to the drummer. Throughout I didn’t understand a word he said. In fact the band wouldn’t let him speak. Whenever he started a tirade they just kicked into the next song. It was hilarious. Their taut post punk tunes contrasting with the blurry inebriated singer. It was amazing. I kept waiting for him to mug an audience member for their drink but I don’t think he even realised there was an audience. He definitely missed the paramedics working on the guy who passed out in the front. And the band, their faces told of being trapped in their own private hell, waiting for their paychecks and told not to interact with the pissed idiot. Absolute genius. One of the best performances of the festival.
Given Custard make me angry and the films hadn’t started yet I decided to check out this farm. I moved up the hill and found an amazing grassy plain to right of the stage. The clouds were huge the wind gusting and it just felt beautiful to be out in nature. The problem however was that I could still hear Custard. So I went to the other side of the property, through the thousands of tents and cars that just seemed endless until I was able to walk through the bush, down the steep gorge and stick my feet in the water, This was a Custard free zone and the property is nothing short of gorgeous. As I moved around I heard the sounds of Combo La Revelacion who are total cheesballs, super kitsch but at least they’re having fun pumping out their Latin grooves. Neil Finn was also tedious bringing the crowd singalongs, but it was during his set that I worked out Meredith. The landscape is incredible and where you decide to stand changes everything. You could stand in front with the masses or find somewhere infinitely more interesting, so I walked out into the field on the side of a hill and listened. There was something incredibly powerful about the whole of the hill singing along to Neil’s hits and when he did a bit of Cortez the Killer type guitar it really worked with the way the wind was hitting the grass and trees. Despite this his set seemed to go for three years. When he brought Warren Ellis on for one of his hits it was one of the sappiest musical moments of my life. I was embarrassed for both of them.
Despite the classiest opening of the festival Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings earnest soul just didn’t work in the rural environment, though the Dirty 3, subject to the most anticipation after their near mythical performance some years ago really did deliver. I’d last seen them play over ten years ago and whilst they haven’t changed too much they are all amazing instrumentalists and Warren Ellis is a showman without peer. They seemed to delight into getting into near atonal noisy improvised spaces tonight and after a few patented Ellis kicks I figured I’d seen everything I needed to and returned to my field to sit, ponder and listen in the night. Dirty Three are parts of my youth and hearing tunes like Sue Last Ride or Everything’s Fucked just erupt into space was something quite special. The wind would grab the music, twist and distort it while I stared up at the stars. This was how music should be outdoors.
Appalled by the lameness of the ‘special’ light show I returned to the cinema where I was greeted with a truly bizarre and nonsensical stoner movie called Smiley Face that was unbelievably wrong in a myriad of ways. A girl mistakenly swallows a bunch of hash cookies and all kinds of silly shenanigans happen. It sounds terrible. And it is. But very very funny and very very wrong.
The Heatwave did some DJing and some dancehall vocals but the real highlight of the day/night/ festival was Pantha Du Prince. By 3am all the substances had kicked in and everyone wanted the doof. But the Pantha refused to provide it, offering these crisp minimal sublime beats, evolving slowly, he played with a subtlety and grace that was missing in most of his cohorts. “Worst DJ ever!” Pronounced the guy next to me before slipping on the carpet of crushed cans underfoot and landing at my feet. Even his friend didn’t help him up. But the Pantha just continued onwards slowly building, a kick drum only appeared about 3/4 through his set and by this stage everyone was really moving as if in a trance. When he finished another DJ kicked in and I returned to the cinema. When I finally made it to bed as the sun was coming up, the doof had arrived and I heard Magic by Olivia Newton John put to big beats and I realised that these were not my people. I left early the next day.