Meredith Music Festival 2018

Maybe we left later than planned or perhaps many more sensible minds had taken note of the oncoming 38 degree heat and made sure to arrive while the sun was still a distant threat. For a brief moment we feared that the site had been evacuated and we were currently headed towards raging bushfires. For whatever reason, we encountered not a single other car waiting to enter Meredith Music Festival, cruising from the town to the gates to the leafy suburb of Sebastopol, which was to be our home for the next few days. The sun was unforgiving, my friends, but soon we were sipping cold beverages under the shade of the trees lining Inspiration Point, as a breeze rolled across the gully carrying with it the sounds of a kick drum being checked.

At 4pm we shuffled into the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre to catch a legend of Australian rock’n’roll kick things into gear. The Aints! primarily perform songs written during and around Ed Kuepper’s time with The Saints with the directive of capturing that same energy combined with brilliant songcraft. It was an inspired choice as opening act, the driving horn section blasting through the PA while the rhythm section propelled things along underneath. Kuepper himself would not be an obvious choice as lead singer, with his unassuming, raspy vocal serving as an equal component rather than the focal point, but it definitely worked. His fuzzed out Gibson SG was also tastefully low in the mix, and the strict timing of the other instruments allowed his thrashing rhythmic work space to stretch out and inject the set with a looseness and attitude that was pure punk rock.

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Mambali

Having travelled 4,000km from Numbulwar at the top of the Northern Territory in east Arnhem Land, Mambali looked understandably thrilled and slightly stunned to be performing in Victoria for the first time before such a large and mainstream audience. Their sound drew heavily on ‘80s new wave rock and ska, with their two vocalists, whose contrasting tones added extra depth to the sound, singing primarily in Nunggubuyu language. The drums, bass, keys and two guitars were complimented by two dancers dressed in traditional paint who also played percussion and didgeridoo, and the overall effect was a joyous party.

Laura Jean’s Devotion is one of my favourite albums to be released in 2018 and it seemed fitting that she should grace the Meredith stage with her extended band in order to recreate the layered textures of the record. Dressed in a faded T-shirt and shorts, LJ cut an unassuming figure onstage, which is completely inline with her laid back and deadpan stage persona. Not a note was missed as the band, which included drums, bass, guitar, two backing vocalists, two dancers, and LJ herself on keys, vocals and saxophone, whipped through the songs from Devotion, tellingly not touching on any of her more folk-orientated releases from the previous 15 years. The whole crew nailed the performance, and special shout out to the dancers who certainly earned their keep throwing shapes in the early evening heat.

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Laura Jean

Already a pleasingly diverse lineup at this stage, Mim Suleiman then took things in another direction, pumping out house beats over which she sang in Swahili. With the sun still shining but by now less threatening, the ‘Sup turned into a day rave for Suleiman’s set, with her DJ Carista moving to congas at times to flesh out the rhythm, which at times pointed towards afrobeat. It was another tasty choice from Aunty and a welcome introduction to a previously unfamiliar artist.

Taking a break during Panda Bear’s set to investigate food options and replenish our cups, the sun had retired when we got in position for the run of headline acts, which kicked off at 9:25pm with beloved ‘90s rock outfit The Breeders. To be perfectly honest, though I was looking forward to this set I found it to be a little underwhelming. The band, led by Kim and Kelley Deal, dutifully delivered a set of classic material from across their releases, but dominated by their most successful record, 1993’s Last Splash. Something about the performance seemed a little stilted, like they were holding back instead of investing the energy the material required. Nevertheless, there were plenty of classics to be enjoyed, including their biggest hit ‘Cannonball’ and the set closer, ‘Gigantic’, which Kim — still grunge’s smiliest ambassador — originally recorded with her previous band, The Pixies.

The Seven Ups have come a long way in a relatively short time, with this year’s Commandments seeing the seven-piece move beyond their afrobeat beginnings to embrace The Rock in a way that would make George Clinton proud. Clearly pumped to be taking the stage at such a prestigious timeslot (10:45pm), the band moved together like an elastic band: tight, malleable, yet loose in just the right way. The diversity in their sound was downright impressive, moving from the horn driven funk of last year’s Drinking Water LP to the newer, overdriven psych-rock guitar sounds.

Though they set the stage up for the more famous psychedelic rock of Pond that followed, in my opinion The Seven Ups stole the show from the Perth four-piece. Nevertheless, Pond sounded epic in the setting of the ‘Sup and certainly seemed to have the crowd onside.

The long day in the sun was by now taking its toll and so I enjoyed the funky R&B inflected hip hop swagger of Canberra’s Genesis Owusu from a distance, as the rapper and singer seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy. Though I was determined to make it all the way through the night, soon it was 2:30am and I was merely nodding along to Yaeji from the campsite, the FOMO fighting with the messages my body was sending that it was time to go to bed.

 

Sipping refreshing liquid from a coconut, we ambled back into the ‘Sup at midday to watch The Native Cats. Comprised of Chloe Alison Escott and Julian Teakle, the minimal sounds created between Teakle’s bass guitar and Escott’s drum machine and pocket synth/stylophone were diverse and mesmerising. Escott’s dry wit came across in her poetic lyrics and comedic stage banter, which helped to ensure that the dark and minimal sound of much of the music was never too intense.

Taking the stage shortly thereafter were another band of Hobartians, the resurrected and never bested Little Ugly Girls. It’s difficult to describe just how incredible this four-piece is live, but it’s suffice to say that they came on blasting at full capacity. Linda Johnston’s voice is a weapon of nuclear capabilities and her attitude onstage is all conquering, screaming with an incomparable full throated force that at once showed depth and expression. Musically the set also blended hardcore and doom, but the overall message was out and out punk. In fact, the years since their first go-round in the early ‘90s have only made their attitude more pronounced, with Johnston gleefully flashing her underwear at the crowd and the rest of the band pummelling their instruments with determination. This was one of the most punk things I’d seen in a long time and they got my boot.

Now that we were fully awake (shout out to Jerry’s Vegieburgers for providing sustenance and being consistently tasty), the eccentric ‘70s-influenced soft rock of Montero suffered by comparison to the in-your-face energy of the previous acts, though they ramped up towards the end.

Taking the now well-established Old Mate slot at 3pm, Mental As Anything quickly had the crowd onside as they delivered a surprising number of well-known anthemic songs. ‘Live it Up’, ‘Mr. Natural’ and of course ‘The Nips are Getting Bigger’ all resulted in huge sing-a-longs, with vocalist Andrew ‘Greedy’ Smith alternatively putting on comically odd voices and crooning like Bryan Ferry from behind his keyboard. Who would have thought we would know so many Mental as Anything songs? Aunty Meredith, that’s who.

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The Pharcyde

The Pharcyde provided another of the festival’s highlights, Imani and Bootie Brown bouncing onstage, clearly meaning business. The group, rounded out by their DJ who deftly cut between classics from their catalogue and other’s, barely paused as they rocked the crowd like the veterans that they are. The flavour was old school, inclusive and fun. Highlights included ‘93’s ‘Ya Mama’, ‘95’s ‘Hey You’ as well as sections of random covers by Spandau Ballet and Bob Marley to keep the crowd singing along. The inclusion of the Gorillaz’s Bootie Brown featuring ‘Dirty Harry’ won a lot of boots from the crowd, and they rounded out their set with their two undeniable hip hop classics, ‘Runnin’ and ‘Passin Me By’.

Billy Bragg seemed an odd choice for the 6:10pm slot, and though he played a set of crowd-pleasing classics from his back catalogue, the change in energy from the previous acts was pronounced. Completely self aware, Uncle Bill was both charmingly daggy and stoically earnest, performing a decidedly laidback folk set accompanied at times by a guitarist/pedal steel player, and including plenty of his well rehearsed impassioned political speeches and comedic routines.

Mildlife have had what you might call a breakthrough year, their 2017 album Phase earning them critical acclaim and even spawning a remix EP. Bringing to mind BadBadNotGood’s phenomenal set on the same stage in 2016, the Melbourne four-piece delivered funky jazz and upbeat fusion in the best possible way, with the amphitheatre packed with dancers. Vocoder and clavinet sounds nodded towards their obvious ‘70s influence, but the drums also hinted at dance beats at certain points.

As a relatively unknown artist Clypso was a bold inclusion at the after sunset time of 9:10pm, and unfortunately I didn’t feel like it worked. Clypso and the backing dancers did a good job of injecting some visual energy into proceedings, but the vocals and synth were very low in the mix and the electro-pop beats were not enough on their own to get it across the line.

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Sampa the Great

Having first graced the Supernatural Amphitheatre during an afternoon set in 2016, it was such a pleasure to see Sampa the Great return to perform a well-deserved headlining slot. Even before she took the stage, as her name appeared upon the giant screen and microphone stands were revealed to be adorned with garlands of flowers, the aesthetic hinted at the detail and professionalism to come. The stage was soon filled with her big band, comprised of drums, bass, guitar, keys, a three-piece horn section and three-piece backing vocals. Kicking off with the new single ‘Energy’, Sampa burst onstage clearly meaning business and spitting raps in her grittiest voice. With several years of touring under her belt since her last appearance in the ‘Sup, Sampa’s artistic confidence levels are now at Queen level as she strode across the front of the stage inciting the crowd like a superstar. The sound was expansive and soulful, including cuts from her acclaimed Birds to the BEE9 album as well as new arrangements of tracks from The Great Mixtape and a couple of loosies. ‘Rhymes to the East’ sounded huge, a cover of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was an unexpected delight.

The Presets picked up on that energy and carried it through a crowd pleasing set of dance pop, the synth and big house beats pleasingly nostalgic while they also proved to have enough well known bangers to keep everyone on side.

Resplendent in a sparkly diva dress, Lady Erica’s DJ set was very eclectic, moving through well known dancefloor fillers, a touch of funky techno, UK grime, a little drum n’ bass and even a jungle track. Seemingly on a mission to educate as well as footwork-motivate, there were plenty of moments that worked really well and some that didn’t, but she kept people up and dancing and warmed up for Lil Louis’ lesson in classic Chicago house.

 

Time For Dreams provided a blissful soundtrack for a difficult Sunday morning. The Melbourne duo’s sound, drenched in reverb, filled the space, their huge low end enveloping us like a warm aural hug. The overdriven guitar was dramatic and atmospheric while the delays on the snare claps of their drum machine injected urgency to the sound. It seemed a shame that they were playing to a depleted (in multiple ways) crowd on the Sunday morning and I couldn’t help wishing they had swapped set times with Billy Bragg.

The Ooga Boogas delivered some ‘60s garage rock, which was okay. Zeitgeist Freedom Exchange were an unexpected pleasure, providing some deep jazz soul grooves and dance beats. By the end of their set they had a large portion of the crowd up and dancing, which is no small task for early afternoon on Meredith Sunday.

Feeling in desperate need of a shower and some vegetables, we decided to make a break for it pre-Gift, successfully beating the traffic and living to review another day. Big thanks to Aunty for providing a safe space, a diverse and high quality lineup once again, another Meredith done and very dusted.

Originally published in Beat Magazine. Images by David Harris.

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