A question I didn’t foresee asking myself during Meredith Music Festival’s 27th iteration: If Mark Seymour and Samuel T. Herring had a punch-on, who would win?
Seymour has a few decades on Herring, but he looks fit. A staunch unit, built like a terrier. Herring, however, is a bulldog, sporting Lemmy-meets-Wolfman facial hair setup. The Future Islands frontman has a fire in the belly that would comprehensively get him across the line and put an Australian legend into hospital, I decide.
The hypothetical (purely hypothetical, Meredith is no place for punch-ons) was raised as Seymour, with his band The Undertow, indulged in running over allocated time on the festival’s singular stage, leading Herring to spit during Future Islands’ following set “Those motherfuckers cut into our time. Let’s go.”
Much has been written over the years about what makes Meredith, Meredith. It’s an objectively very good festival. It has existed for over half the years music festivals have existed in Australia, impervious to a climate that usually calls for music festivals to cease existing. There’s been zero evidence that it will waiver from this status. The improvements are incremental – new structures subtly pop up, a newer bar next to the new PA towers for the new, more reliable (to an extent) PA. It grows more and more colourful after dark each iteration, a breathing painting set to music. The quirks and traditions are difficult to relay to the unfamiliar (see the worldwide proliferation of the golden boot), and some, such as a 'no dickhead,' policy transcend into general life philosophy.
Meredith is a good place to enjoy songs. It doesn’t need to be intellectualised beyond that.
It’s a level playing field. Even for terrible songs. The Micallef Program featured "Throw Your Arms Around Me" in its nightmare scenario season one finale – the Hunters & Collectors anthem being shorthand for bad taste. Justifiably so. It’s shit, an impossibly sexless tune about having a root. It didn’t matter, as the crowd clambered onto each other’s shoulders while Mark Seymour defied his set deadline. It meant something, to a lot of people, in that moment. Playing "Throw Your Arms Around Me" and "Holy Grail" is an obligation for Seymour, but omitting "The Slab" is unforgivable. Meredith flirts with the daggier edges of taste, and often comes out victorious.
In between the acts on stage, interstitial DJs cut loose with similar abandon. Big Rig captured something – the mood of the festival, the mood of the year – with Our Kylie’s "Love At First Sigh"’ as primetime Saturday approached.
The festival began with rising pub rock heroes Amyl & The Sniffers belting it out to a backdrop of vintage footage of Sharpies at train stations, cut with AC/DC’s iconic "Jailbreak" clip. The backdrop wasn’t needed to invite comparison between Bon and the brashness of Amyl & The Sniffers singer Amy Taylor, but it works in the band’s favour all the same. They did what they say on the tin, or Jungle Juice jar to be more exact – which were gifted by the crowd between songs. “Do ya reckon Pissed Jeans will actually piss their jeans?” Amy challenged in terms of literal band names.
Pissed Jeans did not piss their jeans, as far as I could tell. They did open with a cover of Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s "Get Up Morning", then closed their set by reprising the song’s frenetic breakdown. Singer Matt Korvette managed to rip a couple of shirts in between, exposing what we call in Australia an ‘ordinary rig’ (no rig shaming intended). Downtown Boys also busted out a cover: Springsteen’s "Dancing In The Dark". Singer Victoria Ruiz was powerful in pre-song oration, despite vocal chords nearing the point of blow-out.
On Friday, Total Control released the 12-inch Laughing At The System, and then performed at Meredith. Most, if not all, fans at Meredith would not have heard the record, due to being at Meredith. The title track, which was out in the world for only a few days, managed to elicit crowd participation on the chorus all the same. It was a clinical set, memories of "Paranoid Video" regularly falling victim to a malfunctioning synth were distant. The open air suits Total Control, depressurised, any sense danger within their control. Draped in an AS Roma scarf, Daniel Stewart guided the setlist from the croon of new wave "Glass" into the bark of "Retiree".
Later that night, Various Asses crafted a tantric workout of Meredith’s sub-bass setup. The release was set to be the dizzyingly great "Hood Team", but the potential energy build-up was lost as the PA shat itself under the overload of bass (as it did during HABITS’ set at Golden Plains earlier in the year). Silence diminished momentum, with SHOUSE’s uplifting "Love Tonight" patched over the soundsystem as a compromise. Power to the PA was restored, launching straight into a course-correcting unreleased track featuring Lakyn Tarai of Kandere.
It’s not vital for international guests to validate that Meredith is special. When it happens, it does feel genuine, and not a ploy to shift tees at the merch stand. Aldous Harding, during my favourite set of the weekend, was taken aback by the crowd response. “I really don’t ever say this, but I love you too,” she responded, to a declaration from the crowd. Warpaint were similarly impressed with the setting. Noname, with full band, commanded the amphitheatre with charm and ease. After a sea of boots of approval were raised (the second most comprehensive boot showing of the weekend), the rapper admitted she braced for a barrage “Who was that president? George Bush? I thought it was gonna be like that type of situation.”
ESG were irrepressible as ever, magnetic grooves of the classic "Dance" drawing many (not all) away from the custom of cheering the sunset at Inspiration Point. On Sunday, Japanese Breakfast celebrated her first time in Australia, and her first time on a stage flanked by "big TVs", the timing right for dream-pop haze. Rounding out the weekend, Suss Cunts put their hand up for a Meredithian return with the forthright "I Can't Believe I Fucked An Anti-Vaxxer".
RVG won the weekend’s boot count, deservedly. Their debut A Quality Of Mercy has the makings of Australian rock canon. Romy Vager’s voice connects straight to the ticker, even more so live, and rips it out. Album closer ‘That’s All’ did just that, wrenching out hearts as the crowd wrenched off boots. Earlier, The Stevens were impeccable, with understated guitar pop-rock from this year’s Good a gentle reminder of their status as one of Melbourne’s most underrated live gems. Later on Saturday, Brisbane rapper Miss Blanks rose to the occasion with down and dirty anthem "Clap Clap", wielding a lascivious brand of star power.
Meredith is a good place to enjoy songs, and Todd Terje’s "Inspector Norse" is a rather large song. A kaleidoscope of colour pulsing through chains of lights overhead, and bobbing with lit up totems throughout the crowd. Terje and his band, The Olsens, weave together a live performance with DJ credentials on show – beat-matched live instrumentation carrying momentum. The studio version of "Inspector Norse" opens with a widely oscillating wash, any hint of which would have triggered pandemonium. Instead, the plodding beat was bluntly dropped upon our heads – the first abrupt transition of the performance. It was brilliant madness. The song’s melody has never worn out its welcome, straddling a knife’s edge between noxious and obnoxious like a funky snail. After five years "Inspector Norse" is the anthem of the 2010s. What else comes close? What else has, or could, endure undiminished past its five-year anniversary? It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning monster. For that moment, we basked in its benevolence. And its disco ‘pew-pews’, finger guns in the air.