A feeling of uncertainty hung over Meredith the minute the 2019 lineup dropped. Before you knew it, festival tickets, originally being sold for more than $400 each, were advertised on Facebook for $200 and below. It didn’t inspire much confidence in me as a first-time Meredith festivalgoer, but my concerns, and the concerns of other I’m sure, were quashed only hours into the event.
The hours preceding the first handful of acts were spent setting up camp, making new friends and sinking a tinnie or two. Following an emotional Welcome to Country and the festival’s first-ever smoking ceremony, Brissy-based hip hop artist Jesswar kickstarted the hype that would consume us for the next three days.
Turning it down a notch afterwards were funky bunch Karate Boogaloo and Julia Jacklin in a fantastic pink satin gown. This energetic ebb and flow was commonplace throughout the festival.
“Are you all sober?” Jacklin asked. The crowd cheered. Liars.
Before we knew it, the headliner arrived.
Here’s the thing about Liam Gallagher: you want to hate him because he’s so easy to hate, but you’d be a fool to deny that he puts on a damn good show. Of course he did. Of course ‘Wonderwall’ was a phenomenon. Fuck that guy.
I say all this, but multiple people who volunteered backstage informed me he’s actually a pretty sweet guy when he’s not on stage. I guess it must be exhausting being an asshole all the time. Even though he’s traveled the world 12 times over, he hasn’t lost a lick of his Manchester accent and I missed every third word in translation.
Enter: the bangers. Close Counters brought vivid visual displays to the midnight time slot and a swathe of beats and looping vocal samples. Special guest Elle Shimada’s violin solo weaved through the crowd and hypnotised all who heard it. Each face shone a rich purple from the overhanging stage lights and the flickering incandescent bulbs above raced around like spirits in a current, desperate to escape and party with the rest of us.
By some miracle, I was able to witness the final act for the night (morning?), New Zealand native Vanessa Worm. Certainly one of the more eccentric acts on the Meredith bill, Worm marched and screamed around the stage to a hard-hitting backing track. Perhaps it was the collective sleep deprivation, but it didn’t seem like people were keen for a shouty show at three in the morning.
Saturday’s listening began with Melbourne synth rockers U-Bahn, who are the kind of people that can say they play in a band and get away with it. The group’s lead single, ‘Right Swipe’, was a sure-fire standout from the show with its unpredictable rhythm and tension-building buzzes. Rumour has it they two brought two makeup artists along to the festival – this is uncorroborated and I don’t care.
German club scene veteran DJ Koze was a late-comer to the Meredith lineup, being asked at the last minute to fill the slot left by Steam Down. This was a nice save from Aunty Meredith. Koze managed to deliver a soul-rejuvenating, sole-destroying 90-minute set perfect for a sunny Saturday arvo. Naturally, everyone lost their shit when the rumblings of ‘Operator’ started to ring out.
Welsh indie pop icon Cate Le Bon sauntered onto the stage not too long after and kept a fairly reserved performance presence throughout the set. ‘Home To You’ might seem like a walking-paced track, but its playful instrumentation and repeated wailing still had the crowd hooked. Le Bon’s more chaotic tracks flowed nicely from U-Bahn’s unconventional time signatures and the brief energetic set from DJ River Yarra.
One of the dumbest revelations I had, however, was much later when Amyl and the Sniffers took over the amphitheatre. Having never seen them live before, I quickly came to realise what they – and punk in general, to a lesser extent – were all about. How could I’ve slept on them? Where the electronic artists delivered energy that was filtered and considerate, these pub punk legends slapped you back and forth with it. Absolutely non-stop.
Then came electropop queen Roisin Murphy. Every costume change (of which there were at least four) pulled a series of screams out of me, screams I didn’t realise were as loud as they were until the friend beside me told me later on. Her 2019 single, ‘Incapable’, felt like it went on for hours, but I relished every drop of it. Roisin Murphy is like the eccentric aunt you only catch at Christmas gatherings, draped in printed fabrics, sunglasses and sleeve-length gloves.
There’s nothing like a bout of Sunday morning tai chi to truly realise how much lung capacity you’ve lost over the span of two nights. Hopefully my poor attempt at the lotus relaxation exercise unfolded some of my internal organs for the final stretch of the day. On the cruisy third day, Melbourne artist Sweet Whirl was the perfect soundtrack to a late Sunday morning lounge. Frontwoman Esther Edquist’s alto vocals reset my pH levels and were easily soaked up by the crowd before Gordon Koang went on stage and convinced us to muster as much energy as we had left.
Before we knew it, it was time for the Meredith Gift. The premise is simple enough, and certainly nothing I hadn’t seen at university before, but there’s something about cheering while swarms of naked festival-goers race each other that really lifts your mood. Herein lies what sets Meredith apart from the rest, a careful devotion to the spiritual alongside the cultural.
It’s quite easy to whittle a festival down to its lineup, but if you’re doing it correctly, you know it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Perhaps, like I was, you’ll know hardly anyone at the start but be welcomed into a pre-existing group of mates, holding them close when the first strums of ‘Wonderwall’ echo through the audience. You’d be hard-pressed to spend every waking moment at the Sup – and why would you want to? The exhaustion-fuelled campsite shit-talking only added to the glory of the three-day stint and what’s goes up must eventually go down. The bus ride home was silent, completely devoid of the energy we brought into the grounds, but the sound of Cate Le Bon’s marimba rang through my ears even after disembarking.
(All photos taken for Beat Magazine by David Harris)