Never doubt the magnificence and splendour of one, Meredith Music Festival
17.12.2019

Never doubt the magnificence and splendour of one, Meredith Music Festival

Viagra Boys
Briggs
Cate Le Bon
Digital Afrika
1 / 8
Words by Alex Watts
Shots by David Harris

What a time.

Meredith Music Festival. An event that has grown from a handful of bands playing on the back of a truck in a regional paddock, to its 29th incarnation, hosting 13,550 punters, some of the world’s biggest acts, and a reputation as one of the best festival’s around.

There are those, and they are many, who will attend Meredith year in and out as a matter of course, but others are, understandably due to the hike in ticket prices over the years, more swayed by the lineup itself. Presumably, this was the reason that the event only sold out the week before, and upon arrival at 10am we discovered that the normally jam-packed Bush Camp still had plenty of space.

Boom boxes [can we still use that term? ‘Personal speakers’ is so dull, so I say yes] pumped out party classics from each campsite as people dolled themselves in their best glittery attire, had a couple of tins and prepared for the long weekend ahead.

Friday

Jesswar kicked things off with a welcome injection of energy. The Brisbane-based MC and her DJ immediately had the crowd nodding along to her hypey, modern style of hip hop. Next up, Constant Mongrel provided some scuzzy rock’n’roll, with the addition of trumpet and saxophone recalling mid-period Saints, which is a good thing.

Karate Boogaloo, the instrumental soul quartet comprised of the core of The Cactus Channel, were fun, charming and musically impressive, moving from quite sparse passages to spaced-out, trippy sections and all without taking a breath. The tight changes revealed how long the group have been playing together, with jazz, reggae, hip hop and classic soul all influencing their playing, often simultaneously. Carn the boogers (CTB).

With Crushing, Julia Jacklin released one of the best Australian albums of the year (in my humble), and the songs carry even more weight when delivered live. Jacklin’s delicate but expressive voice is such a beautiful instrument, her onstage composure anchoring the emotional turmoil of much of the material, plus ‘Pool Party’ is such a tune.

The evening was pressing upon us and it was time to regroup at camp, don a heavier jacket and prepare for the nighttime proper.

Briggs is such a charismatic performer, he easily had the crowd on side with his boundless energy and command of the stage. His aggressive rap style, and booming voice still manage to sound accessible to a wide, non-hip-hop audience, and the spare rock samples in many of the tracks also contributed to the crossover appeal.

Several blokes in bucket hats and English accents forced their way to the front with chants of “Oaaaaasisssssss” leaving no doubt of who was due next. Liam Gallagher was no doubt a divisive choice for this festival’s lineup, but is also an artist not only steeped in nostalgia from his time in one of the biggest bands of the ‘90s, but one also enjoying a career renaissance thanks to the commercial success of his two recent solo albums.

Taking to the stage in a trademark anorak and backed by a full band including three backing vocalists, Gallagher launched into ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’, the opener from Oasis’ classic debut, Definitely Maybe. His voice was undeniably rough around the edges, in fact, it could be argued that he was much closer to delivering the sentiment of the songs rather than the notes, but he did so with conviction and with enough classic tunes to get by.

Knocking out five numbers from his solo albums early on, the majority of the set was given to the back catalogue. “Does anyone here like Oasis?” he asked. “Good, ‘cos I’m about to play loads of their songs.”

The subsequent bracket opened, surprisingly, with ‘Wonderwall’, which, unsurprisingly, triggered a mass singalong. However from there the remainder of the set curiously favoured album cuts, such as ‘Acquiesce’ and ‘Stand by Me’, while skipping genuine hits, such as ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.

Catching up with friends and visiting campsites meant sacrificing the next two acts, but the Meredith experience is about more than just the music. However, LOGIC1000 put on an impressive set that was both musically interesting and a lot of fun to dance to.

Someone posted to the Meredith ticket swapping page on Facebook after the festival asking if anyone had footage of Vanessa Worm’s set “Because I still can’t work out if that was a nightmare or it actually happened”. As tongue in cheek as that question may be, the New Zealand producer’s set was decidedly challenging and perhaps not what many expected at 3:15am. Stalking the front of the stage and half speaking over the quite harsh electro-styled beats, the music was definitely not uninteresting, but just didn’t seem to connect with crowd. It was just quite a lot.

Saturday

Day two started off with one of my personal highlights, the triumphant return of Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. Having largely been absent from the live circuit for the past few years, the band have just released a new EP and sounded like they’d never been away. Frontman Craig Dermody’s laconic drawl and instantly classic sounding songwriting are the mark of a band that could easily be much bigger. It’s always great to see Melbourne bands play the Supernatural Amphitheatre for the first time, knowing that it holds a special significance for those, as a clearly emotional Dermody acknowledged, had visited the festival as punters over the years.

Retreating to Eric’s in search of strength in the form of spicy Bloody Marys, U-Bahn’s organ-heavy new wave rock was soon replaced by River Yarra’s low-key beats before our quesadillas were ready. Finding comfort in the form of an empty couch in which to collapse, Cate Le Bon’s dense, dramatic indie-pop soon had us on our feet, with the Welsh artist proving an engaging performer. Effortlessly cool, Le Bon’s romantic, European sensibility imbued the songs with an elegant restraint that was balanced against the busy arrangements and unexpected musical changes.

Taking things in a completely different direction, The Egyptian Lover’s set was pure party. Standing behind the DJ decks, the electro and old school legend rapped, popped and locked, his sound completely committed to the early ‘80s from whence it came, but, as is the circular nature of music, also sounding quite 2019.

Sweden’s Viagra Boys revelled in their own rock’n’roll excess, their sound loose and groove-based rather than short and sharp but was still delivered with an attitude that was unmistakably punk. Wailing sax solos and big dirty 12-bar riffs abounded, while frontman Sebastian Murphy owned the stage, his rallying cry of ‘Fuck ScoMo!’ drawing many onside.

Christine Anu took on the now-mandatory afternoon legends slot, and while it was nice to be reminded that she had more hits than her cover of The Warumpi Band’s ‘My Island Home’, her band’s sound was, for my tastes, a little slick and generic.

Changing moods yet again, Dead Prez absolutely nailed their set of classic, accessible hip hop. Their music and the locked-in delivery of stic.man and M-1 ensured that the crowd was rocking with them the whole way, their 23 years as a group evident in the way they bounced off and wove around one another. When it came, ‘Hip Hop’, their 1996 single, was an obvious highlight, and so they stretched it out, dropping the beat into The Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Juicy’ and back again, much to everyone’s delight.

Such has been the trajectory of Amyl and the Sniffers’ career that playing a headlining set at Meredith seemed such an obvious choice that you could forget that they were the openers of the same festival only two years ago. The band’s take on classic, AC/DC-style pub rock is unapologetically boisterous, while Amy Taylor’s manic, grinning persona and over the top sexualisation brought a refreshing take to a historically testosterone-fuelled genre. Dancing epileptically, rolling on the ground, screaming, grinding, and poking her tongue out at every occasion, Taylor’s act is pure punk rock and she was undeniably the star of the show.

Similarly, Roisin Murphy was a captivating and completely committed performer. Decidedly quirky but accessible, many of the songs seemed structured like dance tracks that evolved as they progressed, while the music took in electronic indie-pop, house, and hints of disco. Murphy’s voice has gained a lot of depth since her time singing with Moloko, and she used it beautifully.

Not only was the music catchy as hell, but Murphy herself did not seem to stand still for the entire 50 minutes, whether it was rolling around on the floor, crawling on her stomach or crowd surfing while singing, she gave the performance everything. Not to mention the costume changes, of which there were at least four, an unconfirmed Meredith record.

Sunday

Arriving back in the ‘Sup in time to catch the last song of Sweet Whirl’s set made me wish that I had prised myself out of the tent a little earlier for the last stretch of bands on Sunday morning. I was, however, right on time for Gordon Koang, who on this occasion was aided by a troupe of child dancers and two disco dancers with mirror ball heads.

Hailing from South Sudan, where he apparently is a household name, and playing what he introduced to us as a thom (a plucked lamellophone for those playing at home), Koang’s music is upbeat and joyous. Dedicated to a message of love and happiness, the irresistibly positive vibes were perfect for the timeslot. What a legend.

The time-honoured tradition of The Meredith Gift was as always a great way to end another beautiful weekend at Aunty’s house, with scraps, scrapes, triumphant and nudity. See you all next year for the festival’s 30th birthday.