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Review + Gallery: Golden Plains 2019 was a momentous celebration of unity and togetherness

Aunty Meredith produced another bottomless, unequally diverse and magnificent lineup that was inclusive of everyone on this land.

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Tiana Koutsis

The two Meredith festivals are warm, generous and liberated events. There are plenty of similar festivals, but none that quite compare. This opens the door for copious self-satisfaction. Aren’t we clever for contributing to a microcosm of belonging and understanding? For participating in a weekend of indulgence but never stooping into dickhead behaviour? Isn’t our music taste just so refined and intersectional?

My answer is yes. I love this place, this weekend, these people, and that appreciation partly stems from feeling like an enlightened one, for knowing to be here. But gloating self-satisfaction is never a good look; it’s healthy to keep a critical eye on the things you love.

Saturday

Saturday morning the buses and carpools rolled into Golden Plains shire, past the Happy Hens Egg Farm, through Meredith town and into the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre. It was prime filming weather. Everyone looked freakin’ beautiful. Instantly it felt like a treat to be here.

Welcome to Country kicked off proceedings in the ’Sup mid-afternoon. A Wadawurrung elder oversaw an emotional ritual advocating for unity and reconciliation while also acknowledging the pain inflicted on Kulin Nations people over the last 230 years.

After a five-minute smoking ceremony it was time for the official opening ceremony, which brought Meredith founder Chris Nolan to the stage. Love and happiness was already in abundance, providing a squishy platform for Oakland’s Shannon & the Clams. A favourite among local audiences, the band’s smoky garage doo-wop summoned couches and eskies to the amphitheatre, most people already clutching the quintessential Golden Plains accessory: a tin of beer.

 
 
 
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There was a time when Carlton Draught and VB cans dominated the hillside, but folks aren’t too jazzed about apathetic corporate producers anymore. Craft beer reigns supreme and there was a colourful selection on display. Sour beer is in vogue, likewise local outlets Stomping Ground and Mountain Goat. Frothy and Furphy were also prevalent – craft-style beers owned by Lion and CUB respectively.

I ain’t here to judge people’s beer choices, but the sweeping embrace of independently made beer is unquestionably positive.

Shannon & the Clams closed with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, the druggy themes forecasting the night ahead. Local collective Raw Humps delivered the weekend’s first dose of funk-soul, marrying heavy grooves with a political conscience. A provocative banner featuring the text “Sugar Slave Babies” hovered around the stage and the band’s co-frontperson suggested his payment for performing was a bit of a sham considering the event’s held on stolen land.

I do an awful lot of raving about the inspired programming at Meredith and Golden Plains. I’ve likely spent more time talking about the two festivals than actually being here, but once again the sequencing was top notch.

Flohio is a clubby, metallic grime artist from South London. Is that really what we wanted to hear at 4pm on Saturday afternoon? Hell fucking yeah. The 25-year-old born Funmi Ohiosumah was one of the festival’s major revelations, giving us 40 minutes of unrelenting rapping supported by electronic beats. The athletic MC and her male DJ were stone cold professionals and farewelled us with an expression of mutual gratitude.

The tempo dipped but the feels kept coming with the arrival of Rhye. Canadian musician Mike Milosh brought an extended ensemble, including horns and violin, to accompany him through tracks from 2013’s Woman and last year’s Blood. Woman’s elegant lead single ‘Open’ caused a selection of punters to remove their shoes and wave them in the air. Respect.

Marlon Williams has been making crowds swoon since his Sunday morning set at Meredith 2014. Back then he was a jaw-dropping morning sunrise, these days he’s a seasoned pro. The New Zealand songwriter’s voice has lost none of its gravity, though. With his savvy crew of musos-musos, he juggled country and soul and occasionally swerved into noise rock territory. The band’s cover of the Bee Gees ‘I Started A Joke’ made me do a headstand. Beautiful.

Magic Dirt, founded in 1991, most popular at the turn of the 21st century, missing in action since 2008. This performance would be all wrapped up in nostalgia, right? Nope. Led by one of Australia’s foremost rock stars, Adalita and co. gave us a seed-ripening set of melodic rock music. The band have only recently returned to the stage, still reeling from the death of bass player Dean Turner in 2009. “We’ve done a bunch of shows without Dean now,” said Adalita, “but this is the first time I’ve felt like balling my eyes out on stage.” They each had a shot of tequila and got back to rocking the shit out of this place. It felt real and it felt good.  

You hear Beach House playing in a lot of cafes. My mum likes to have them on while she works. Hot chance their music features in plenty of ads and movies. So, it’s background music, yeah? Uh-uh. This omnipresence is indicative of the US duo’s status as one of the bands of our generation, a claim backed up by the tingly familiarity of their setlist. Victoria Legrand’s vocal mix was sensational, emphasising the husky low tones in ‘Drunk in LA’ and allowing the chorus of ‘Myth’ to soar.

It was a bit late, but dinner seemed like a good idea. Plenty to choose from – burgers, Indian street food, sweet treats, souvlaki, fish and chips, or just sixteen bloody marys. Couldn’t go past a vegan roti wrap, though. Reenergised and full of legumes, the dancefloor waved us back in.

The Internet are cool and so they were a touch confused about driving through the Victorian country on a Saturday night. Probably sensing a come down after performing at the Sydney Opera House nights earlier, they were greeted by a full house amphitheatre. People in gold lycra and animal costumes, faces painted with glitter and hips swivelling like it weren’t nobody’s business. Their sleazy slick neo-soul was just the thing that we needed.

Honey provided a disco soundtrack to a few pink flamingo cocktails. A look upwards revealed a gobsmacking number of stars in the sky. Convinced of our good life decisions and feeling secure in a commune of kindred spirits, the night swirled and twirled until it was time to drink six litres of water and brush our teeth.

Sunday

Day two began with Gregor. Well, a shower and a coffee and then Gregor, whose quirky new wave re-imaginings were like a soothing breeze. DRMNGNOW was behind the most moving and uncompromising performance of the weekend. Songs like ‘Australia Does Not Exist’ and ‘Ancestors’ reminded us this is Indigenous land and sovereignty was never ceded. It was an emotional way to start the day, a stark reminder of how we’ve benefited from violent atrocity. The rapper’s words and visual messages were sincerely embraced, a jolting provocation to do better.

 
 
 
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The winds grew gusty and an announcement warned of heavy rains. Liz Phair was unlucky to be on when most were either taking refuge in a tent or squashed into the Pink Flamingo drinking midday cocktails and sharing humidity. Lo-fi guitar anthems ‘Never Said’ and ‘Stratford-on-Guy’ did compel a number of loyalists to brave the rain, something for which Phair was appreciative.   

Amp Fiddler was a delicious surprise. The former George Clinton collaborator jived behind a selection of synths and sample pads, exuding disco-ball energy. The sun returned during his set and so did everyone’s commitment to getting down. The momentum persisted with the arrival of Ugandan-born, Gold Coast-based reggae and dancehall act SK Simeon.

Shit was about to get real. Festival-wide there was a lot of anticipation for the one-two bliss hit of Four Tet and Khruangbin. Some were mystified by Four Tet’s mid-afternoon slot, but it proved the perfect fit. Drawing heavily from 2017’s sun-dappled New Energy LP, Kieran Hebden balanced the melodies and bass lines of the recorded output with fleshier deviations and moments of glitchy experimentation. ‘Angel Echoes’ made hearts ache all around the amphitheatre, while the Nelly Furtado sampling ‘Only Human’ was pure joy.

 
 
 
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People might have a hard time pronouncing their name, but Texas trio Khruangbin are a unifying force. It’s funk music, essentially, or instrumental guitar music, but the band’s impact isn’t dependent on your existing appreciation of these genres. The set revolved around solid grooves from businesslike drummer Donald Johnson. Laura Lee’s bass playing encouraged elastic body movement and there was a bit of a sci-fi silliness to her vocals. The screams of affection were deafening and you’ve scarcely ever seen so many boots in the air.

The sun set and the tempo had to shift. People were hanging on picnic rugs and lounging on pimped out sofas. Some were exercising their dazzling hula hooping skills. A two-day festival can be tough on the body and mind. Being surrounded by this many people and feeling impelled to enjoy every moment can easily breed anxiety, but tension felt almost entirely absent.

Time has made The Jesus and Mary Chain sounds less revolutionary than the Scottish band likely did in 1985. Their set consisted of a number of fairly rudimentary rock songs. It was hard to not to sing along to ‘Just Like Honey’, but it did feel like a lull.

Happy Mondays gave the people exactly what they wanted: the entirety of 1990’s Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches plus ‘24 Hour Party People’. Shaun Ryder is notoriously loose, but he he’s still reasonably capable. He couldn’t have held it together without the contributions of backing vocalist Rowetta, though.

Confidence Man made a serious impression during their last Meredith visit. Although they wowed most people, some objected to their ironic, character-based dance-punk. Any reservations felt unnecessary during this Sunday night headline set, however. Their music is fun and bassy. The songs are amusingly detailed and well put together. The lighting was neon and over the top. The band members’ rehearsed dance moves set an imposing standard, prompting some kilojoule burning in the 'Sup.

There is a certain point on the second night of these festivals when everyone seems to become one. Of course, some people were a little bit fried or couldn’t quite focus, but a feeling of connection permeated the amphitheatre during Danny Krivit and DJ Harvey.

On a weekend like this, where the threshold for pleasure is monumental, it’s worth examining the foundations of our hedonistic good time. What had to happen for us to enjoy this privilege, to indulge so indiscriminately, to witness all this wonderful music?

The demographic might be skewed towards Anglo-Celtic Australians, but it’s a good bunch. And rather than getting lost in mindless self-indulgence, this experience provides examples of love and acceptance and caring for anyone struggling. We’re thankful for what we got.