Music

7 slivers from Meredith Music Festival’s silver jubilee

MARCUS TEAGUE went to MEREDITH MUSIC FESTIVAL 2015 and returned depleted and enriched in equal amounts.  Photos by KATIE FAIRSERVICE.

1. The ‘90s were strong with this one

Friday Meredith kicked off with a five-hour celebration of ‘90s guitar rock. Through the proto-Oz grunge of mulleted trio Power, the melodramatic glam-gaze of Pearls, the grunge crunch of Bully, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore back-to-back with Steve Albini’s venomous Shellac, Friday’s first half felt like an unconscious homage to the earliest of Meredith’s 25 years.

Despite that style of music’s inherent angst — when Albini crooned Fucking kill him, kill him already, kill him, fucking kill him, fucking kill him, kill him already, kill him, just fucking kill him!” at the end of ‘Prayer To God’, several groups of fun-lovers on the hill just up and left — vibes were up. “We’ve only heard suspiciously positive things about this festival,” said Bully vocalist Alicia Bognanno between throat-shredding screams, and Moore took time to introduce a “new one about spreading collective consciousness through peace”. It was called ‘Sea of Fire’. Some things never change.

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2. You can choose your friends but Meredith will choose your neighbours

On arrival early Friday, we plonked down in Blue Gums with plenty of leafy space around us. A soothing alcove of serenity, even in the afternoon pockets of rain. Fast forward a couple of hours and those precious spaces were filled in by a) a party tent of dozens blasting out My Bloody Valentine at max volume b) two couples with months-old babies in bawling tow c) a dude wearing hi-vis and rattling around in a giant work trailer. We got white noise from the first two but some much-needed gaffa tape from the latter, so begrudgingly a rewarding combo.

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3. Hip-hop stood up

For all the guitar riffage, the most exciting sets at Meredith are often hip-hop. After the aforementioned five-hour wave of guitars on Friday, Bed-Stuy OG and 47-year old icon Big Daddy Kane came on at 9:20pm like a rush of blood to the face, leading old school hip-hop chants, accepting jewellery from a bling-sharing member of the front row, and forcefully insinuating the festival was just now getting started. The following day Shepparton hero Briggs did the same in the 2pm slot, the big man’s voice booming across the festival site like Thurston Moore’s collective consciousness turned rogue. With live band in tow – featuring Frenzal Rhomb’s Lindsay McDougall on guitar – ‘Rather Be Dead’ had the sizeable crowd shaking their fists, bums and boots. ‘The Children Came Back’ was a low-key emotional note to end on, but licked with the stinger, “See you later you beautiful motherfuckers,” to roars of approval. Brigg’s welcome bombast underlined the obvious – the carefully curated afternoon hip-hop set hasn’t just become a staple of the Amphitheatre, it’s become sort of vital.

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4. The golden hours glowed

If there’s an amorphous quality that Meredith asks of its performers it’s a lick of authenticity. Alan Palamo – aka Neon Indian – with his cute po-faced stare, artfully buried vocals and unintentionally hilarious faux-Prince mincing routine over his backing track/band, scans like crimes against good times. But his day-glo synth-rock was eventually somewhat charming in the mid-afternoon slot. Without dry ice and darkness to work with, Palamo’s stoic refusal to drop out of character at least hinted at good night times to come, even if he couldn’t quite engineer them himself. Closer ‘Polish Girl’ found the sunburnt getting nice and loose, but Palamo’s refusal to get off stage at least 10 minutes after his allotted playing time gave the increasingly annoyed stage crew po-faces of their own.

With a little more than five minutes to clear the stage of samplers, local yob-rockers The Peep Tempel reset the mood in a blaze of barely concealed disdain. I’ll keep saying it — the most profound Amphitheatre experiences happen when the crowd collectively clicks to the act being up to the task, around the same moment the act discovers it for themselves. That moment stirred several songs into The Peep Tempel’s set — you could tell when sneer-faced frontman Blake Scott began banging his guitar between songs for the hell of it — but it finally came to a head in second last tune, ‘Carol’. A perfectly arranged screed of tension and release, by the time the crowd were done screaming “I DON’T THINK TREVOR IS GOOD FOR YOU”, the entire hill waving their boots at song’s end, Scott spontaneously ran across the stage and gave bassist Stewart Rayner a headlock-hug in an adrenalised display of brotherly love. It was something you’d never say of The Peep Tempel’s spit-fizzing firepower – beautiful.

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5. You snooze you (nearly) lose

With eyes firmly set on early morning entertainment, we decided it was okay to forgo some of the mid-morning jewels. On late-night Friday, having locked in on Tkay Maidza (musically perfect for the boisterous 1am party slot but unexpectedly lacking that unquantifiable lift-off it demands) and Lucy Cliche (excellent buzzsaw techno) in the early Saturday morning, Julia Holter and Moon Duo sounded perfect from our shady tent come daylight Saturday.

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After scrambling for accessories against the sun to attend the off-chops, off-campus space party in bush camp Saturday afternoon, which ran complete with giant dancing cakes on the back of a flatbed truck, confetti cannons, costumes, and a space-themed soundtrack that included Babylon Zoo’s terribly applicable ‘Spaceman’, an unscheduled late afternoon nap stupidly cut into Father John Misty’s headline set. Waking with a start to Josh Tillman’s soaring voice, we made it down for his second half, fresh pillow creases still etched into our face.

By then Tillman and his band of beards were in full preacher mode. Misty’s arch humour and classic FM melancholy proved a slightly weird mix for Meredith, right at a time when the audience is looking to connect, but damn his voice was wonderful. ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ was robbed of its usual dashing outro, but Tillman embraced closer ‘The Ideal Husband’ as the moment to shimmy in flagrante, expelling his, and perhaps our, composure into the cosmos. Hell, it verged on spiritual. Rumours that Tillman explored the crowd and their over-eager generosity in the hours after his set remain unconfirmed by editorial sources.

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6. It’ the small things

There were a trio of ringed-lights that looped around the entire amphitheatre. Can’t remember if I’d seen them before, but it was the first time I’d noticed them flashing in pulsing fashion around the entire ‘Sup. They lent the wooded landscape a sensation of being deep inside a vivid dancefloor, and, lo, it was awesome.

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7. Everyone is the navigator of their scorecard

As much as one is vibrating in unison to the masses at all given Meredith moments, individual results may vary. I expected Ratatat to be a gilded danceable-supernova at 11:50 on Saturday night, but — with the exception of the achingly perfect “Cream On Chrome” — I couldn’t find the funk in the dance-metal duo’s dark-hearted thud. Hordes stayed but hands were down. Unknown Mortal Orchestra also seemed flat, more slacker-guitar than hands to the stars.

stupidly missed Sydney party machine Levins but if people think him dropping a Bieber track in peak hour constitutes one of the “worst moments in Meredith history” then no one remembers MGMT in 2008/has listened to modern music over the past five years/understands that kind of reaction is precisely why he was right to play it. When Meredith fails to surprise and challenge, all is lost.

Thank you to the deity who looks over the Hare Krishna food truck/Community Tucker Tent for Floating Points – the weekend highlight of after dark. Sam Shephard’s 2015 LP Elaenia was a slowly unfolding exploration in mood and tone, but in DJ-mode Shephard applies the ear for such shifts to artful edits – his 2:30 slot one of the most masterful I’ve seen in the ‘Sup. From minimal tech, to disco touches, through jazz, and back to a harder tech-edge woven through all, Floating Points was a series of constantly opening envelopes – each an invite to the next via a kiss to the previous. Shephard’s journey was a little overly reliant on hi-pass filter drops, but for the first time this Meredith it felt like we didn’t know where we were going but sure of making it safely.

His set underlined a given creed – though the narrator may be sometimes unreliable, Aunty herself remains a most singular and rewarding author for the ages.

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