Clash goes Down Under to sample festival culture...

It’s 38 degrees in Meredith, near Melbourne, and the wind is blowing at an alarming speed. Days earlier bush fires had roared through the surrounding countryside but today, despite the gale force winds, fires are nowhere in sight.

Instead the dominant feature on the landscape of Meredith Festival’s Nolan Farm is, in fact, sofas… Hundreds of them.

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The festival site sits on a hilltop overlooking the one and only stage of Meredith. Lovingly named The Supernatural Amphitheatre or ‘Sup for short, the grass slopes down at an angle so ideal it’s as though Mother Nature herself designed it.

The site belongs to The Nolan Family and has done for generations. Chris Nolan founded Meredith Music Festival with two friends back in 1991. Five years later Chris suffered a brain injury and slipped into a coma which led to Locked-In Syndrome. In recent years he learnt to blink again and since then has officially opened each Meredith Festival.

He’s asked onstage “Do you declare Meredith Music Festival officially open?” Chris blinks twice, the crowd roars, the party begins.

Aunty Meredith expertly curates the line-up each year; a mix of local artists, unknown names and international headliners. With just one stage the responsibility of choice is taken away, a welcome relief from overcrowded line-ups.

UK-based artist Mim Suleiman plays a joyful array of her eclectic portfolio, belting out vocals in a mixture of Swahili and English. Songs from Tungi explode with culture - from tribal percussion to Chicago House. Long-term Meredith attendees have dragged sofas from sun-drenched Melbourne porches and deposited them atop the ‘Sup. Ice boxes (or ‘eskies’ as the Aussies say) full of ice cold beers and a clear view of the stage creates an easy meeting spot and personal living room.

The festival stress of losing your mates disappears, replaced with a simple “See you back at the couch.”

“That’s the beauty of Meredith,” one Hawaiian-shirted festival-goer explains “It’s just like going to a massive house party with all your mates.”

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The house party leans back, legs up on eskies, ice cold beers in hand to watch Panda Bear perform a soulful experimental electronic set. Standing in skinny jeans behind his synth, sweep fringe in place circa Myspace ’06, he belts out bangers from 'Tomboy' and 'Person Pitch' as well as new tracks from his anticipated new album. His energy doesn’t quite match that of Mim Suleiman and his set falls a little flat.

But The Breeders pick it back up again with a joyous, ageless punk set that gets the entire audience bouncing and head-banging like turbo-charged teeny boppers. Yaeji delivers a magical set of pounding house rhythms and pure, stark vocals with a persona somewhere between dorky and serious.

The crowd dances joyously to 'passionfruit' and 'One More' but the set truly crescendos at 'raingurl'. In a second power move from Mother Nature the heavens open as the first notes kick in.

Saturday morning and the heat is savage. A thin layer of clouds doesn’t stop the sun searing through that pesky hole in the ozone layer. Traditionally today is when attendees must wear fancy dress. One group dress as a news reporting crew. Every five minutes one snaps “action”, another heaves a cardboard camera on their shoulder and another dressed as a 70s news anchor starts chattering nonsense.

Afterwards a woman in a business suit asks anyone in the background to sign a fake release form. With a collective sense of humour as dry as the farmland they stand on, the release forms are signed and the group gallivant off only to repeat the process a few minutes later.

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Another group dressed as chefs lounge on a sofa. It’s only later, overhearing a conversation, that it all makes sense.

“How ya feeling, Jono?”
“Yeah pretty cooked mate. What about you?”
Takes a drag of a joint. “Yeah I’m baked.”

This light-hearted silliness is the essence of Meredith. The best acts of the festival “get the boot.” When an act blows you away, you take your shoe off and wave it in the air to show your appreciation. 4pm and the calm is interrupted by “Meredith Festival!!! I’m Nadia Rose and I’m from South London!”

Dressed in paramedic trousers and a fluorescent matching crop top the Croydon gal explodes onstage. Her talent is raw and her confidence bulletproof as she belts out banger after banger, gyrating to 'Tight Up' and 'Skwod' with irresistible charisma.

“Let’s bring it up a gear shall we!” On comes BOOM! And the crowd loses it. A couple of chefs dangle from a tree and the News Anchor stands ‘70s wig askew, punching the air with his microphone. People can’t get their shoes off quick enough.

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By evening it’s clear the female acts are dominating Meredith. Sampa the Great steps up to the role of global superstar expertly pumping the crowd up for songs including 'Blue Boss' and 'F E M A L E'.

Mildlife’s set gets the most shoes of the festival. The Meredith veterans push boundaries with their irresistible, indefinable slow indie music, harnessing the energy of the crescendoing crowd with 'Zwango Zwop', 'The Gloves Don’t Bite' and 'I'm Blau', expertly improvising between each song. The Meredith Light Show kicks off at 11pm.

We gaze up as pounding base rhythms resound over the ‘Sup. A light, hazy rain starts to fall as blue, green, red lasers penetrate the night sky, setting alight the Giant Pines in an almost over-stimulating experience.

As the laser show ends The Presets enter stage, seizing the energy of the crowd and officially transitioning Meredith Festival from disarray to pure carnage. A table holding a group of friends dressed as underwater creatures collapses midway through Martini - they continue dancing in a pile on the floor. Aunty Meredith spares a thought for our mindsets on Sunday. She’s arranged sets from Time for Dreams, Ooga Boogas and more to give us time to recover from our hungover haze.

The final hurrah of the festival manifests in The Meredith Gift - a nude race that anyone can enter to see out the festival in style. Sofas are dragged out the way to make room for a racetrack spanning the circumference of the ‘Sup. As a blur of butts, penises and boobs shoot past, the crowd cheers and whoops encouragement - a fitting finale to a festival that refuses to take life too seriously.

Two chefs sum it up over a final beer on their now wrecked sofa. “I might be absolutely fried mate - but that was fuckin’ incredible.”

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Words: Alice Austin

Photos via.

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