There is an excellent review on Pulse Radio that begins; “It’s hard to explain Gottwood to those that have never been” … as naff as this statement is I can’t help but agree, particularly in the context of a festival like “Meadow In the Mountains,” the 3rd installment of which I was recently invited to by the charming Sasse family.
“Meadows” inception was largely inspired by the Sasse brothers’ (Damian and Benjamin) love for the unfettered abandon offered by festivals such as Burning Man and Secret Garden Party. Their idea only came to fruition thanks to the efforts of their father Duncan, the bedrock on which this festival is built. I am forced to describe “Meadows” as a festival for want of a better word – calling it a party would be slightly underselling and describing it as a “rave” would be a touch demeaning … but it’s like no festival I have ever been to, and consequently has proved a bugger to review.
For starters, the festival is really tiny (it had a little over 400 people through the door this year.) And then there’s the unusual location. To get there, you need to be prepared for about 10 hours of travel … navigate Dante’s Stanstead Airport, avoid Ryanair’s Machiavellian efforts to ruin your trip, endure your flight to Bulgaria and then the long drive deep into the Rhodope Mountains to the sleepy mountain village of Polkovnik Serafimovo … but, it’s all worth it for the view.
The “Meadows” site is sprawled along the length of a hill a short hike/ cart ride above this village, overlooking a valley which possesses the sort of impossible beauty that would have Monet snapping his paintbrush and Wordsworth lost for words. There are 2 stages; the main stage and the sunset/sunrise stage separated by a series of clearings hosting individual bars and food stalls (the Happy Hippy was a favourite festival refuge … the aptly named tent was a bounty of unusual cakes and hot chai tea.) Scattered about the site were a selection of decorations and installations – despite obvious effort and some truly inspired creations, unfortunately the overall vibe was a little sparse. But, I don’t consider this scarcity to be wholly negative. In fact, it served to highlight one of the festivals more positive attributes – the personal touches.
Many of the erected display at the festival were created by a friend of the Sasse brothers, most of the folk helping out with it’s organization were doing it for free, some of the artists were there for little or no cost and a lot of the “Meadowers” were drafted in at some point to assist in the festivals creation … I know because I found myself helping with general construction, spending a few happy hours hammering bits of wood to other bits of wood (probably a first for a festival reviewer.) And I can’t tell you how brilliant the after-festival activities are … knowing you are going to need some post-natal care, daddy Duncan Sasse arranges for shuttle buses to take you via one of two locales on the way back to the airport – a beach near Thessaloniki in Greece for sun, sand and sleep, or the nearby town of Devlin which has an incredible relic of communism, the magnificent (but slightly decaying) bloc style “Orpheus Hotel/Spa” with 100’s of empty rooms and an accordingly delighted hotel staff who cater to your every detox whim.
Back to the festival …
Things kicked off late Friday evening … there was a fascinating medley of live bands, live sets and DJ’s on offer. For such a small event, it boasted an impressively large lineup, the majority of which was essentially a mystery to me. I was familiar with only a handful of artists and the lack of a programme meant that for 90% of the time I had no idea who I was listening to. This turned out to be remarkably refreshing … without an itinerary, I was free to wander the festival and “discover” new artists. Highlights I hear you ask? I had a few …
For pretty much everyone who heard him Cosmo Sheldrake was the highlight of the festival … Imagine the sample wizardry of Beardyman and the creative crazy of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs smooshed into one stupidly talented individual. Cosmo played a couple of original compositions and spectacular edits including the bizarrely wonderful “Pig In A Pen” (country music with a mashed in House beat) before finishing with “Rich”.
The Colour Movement (a rock ensemble worthy of Almost Famous) jammed their way into my heart with their long hair and longer solos. Their track “No Time To Sleep, No Time To Think” was apparently inspired by and written at “Meadows” and was a particularly appropriate accoutrement to the 100 odd revelers grubbing in the mud.
The ensemble Mt Wolf played an absolutely mesmerizing performance. The band had rare talent, crisp instrumentals and deep percussion woven into the soaring vocals of Kate Sproule, the volume of which were completely at odds to her diminutive frame. Keep an ear out for this bunch, they have the production talent of the XX but don’t suck live!
And now for the DJ’s (of which there were legion) … Elvis Costello once said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” with that in mind, rather than writing an individual critique of each set, I thought it would just be nicer to give you my highlights.
QVC when they played
Give Me The Night (Chrome Canyon Edit) – George Benson (Free 320 kbps Download)[audio:https://www.fluxmusic.net/flux/Files/MITM/Give%20Me%20The%20Night%20(Chrome%20Canyon%20Edit)%20-%20George%20Benson.mp3|titles=Give Me The Night (Chrome Canyon Edit)|artists=George Benson]
Tom Gilleron when he pumped things up with
A telling off from The Priory through the medium of Green Velvet
Dan from Just Jack throwing in this Disco roller
followed by James from Just Jack ramping up the bass with
Sebastian Voigt making the crowd lose control with
Moomin tolerating my incessant requests for Track ID’s
before welcoming in the sunrise with
Satisfaction – Navid Izadi (Free 320 kbps download)[audio:https://www.fluxmusic.net/flux/Files/MITM/Satisfaction%20-%20Navid%20Izadi.mp3|titles=Satisfaction|artists=Navid Izadi]
and finishing with
and finally Dead Echo when they left us begging for more with
I am a strong believer that a festival is only as good as it’s guests, it’s here that “Meadows” truly excels. I had attended the press event, so I knew that it was going to be predominantly British (which had been the cause for some concern given painful crowd experiences at Creamfields et al.) Thankfully, “Meadows” proved me wrong. Instead of the standard anaesthetised All Saints tank-top troupe, here was a collective of 400(ish) young(ish) professionals/creatives who really cared about making the most of their free time and each other … it was extremely refreshing to experience a festival basically devoid of douchebaggery!
“Meadows In the Mountains” is quite possibly the most fun you can have with your clothes still on. At times there were disappointments (a real need for more comfortable chill-out zones and I would have loved to have seen less House and more local Bulgarian bands) but the negatives were so far outweighed by the positives, that I am almost embarrassed to have mentioned them. I think Rob from Dead Echo had the perfect analogy for this anarchic adventure; “It’s like a roller-coaster, you queue for an hour complaining every step of the way and then the ride starts and you have that 30 second rush … once it’s over you only remember the good times!”