I should really be in bed by now but I want to write this down before the dark spectre of work and life back in London eradicates the memory of a long weekend spent far, far away at Meadows In The Mountains 2012.
Three of us took the Friday morning flight from Gatwick in truly apocalyptic weather. We were greeted in Sofia by blue skies, strong sunshine and a six-hour coach ride to the festival – the first of many harsh realities to have been glossed over by the event’s organisers on their website. Spectacular scenery reminiscent of landscapes I know in the South of France were enough to placate us even as the coach grew hotter and stickier with each twist in the road.
Fortunately, the process of locating our accommodation was expedited by G&A who, having arrived a day earlier, were able to walk us straight up the road from the village square to our guest house. Owned by an aged Bulgarian lady without a word of English called Maria, the house was remarkably cool even in the heat of the day and came complete with a bar, outdoor seating area, functioning shower and a range of terrifyingly huge six-legged residents (carpenter bees, anyone?).
The festival site itself was a good 30 minutes walk away (harsh reality #2) up a mountainside and was only half set up when we made the ascent on Friday evening. After some barbeque food, a quick explore and an even quicker dance we headed back down for a good rest before the festival proper. The quick dance was to the hideously earnest CD-disco of Bicep, who prompted in me a brief period of hand-wringing over a gut feeling that they were far too ‘straight’ to be playing that sort of music with any success…I hate having that reaction (how can I reasonably proclaim someone too ‘straight’ to play any sort of music?) but I couldn’t deny it when faced with a set so lacking in any sort of pizazz. I mean for fuck’s sake…PLAY THE VOCAL YOU IDIOTS.
Saturday morning we ate the first of a few huge breakfasts cooked by Maria, consisting of: cheese, olives, peppers, bread, sausages, eggs, bacon, more bread, jam, honey…lethal. As far as I can remember most of that day was spent alternately drinking Calsberg in the sun and retreating inside to cool down, conserving energy for the night ahead. We headed up for some more kebabs before trying the stage at the top of the mountain. This festival was a bit of a lame celebrity spotting exercise for someone like me – i.e. someone who recognises faces from parties but has never actually made the effort to talk to any of the people. The place was crawling with DJs I recognised – e.g. Jane Fitz, Northern Purpose, Kit, Homepark – and on the Saturday afternoon it was a few of these who decided to embark on an EPIC SOLO-OFF, each trying to outdo the other with harrowing offenses against the rules of good taste and decency in house music. Amidst all of the awful noodling there was one truly acceptable moment, when Carl from Northern Purpose visibly came up behind the decks and had to rely on another DJ to graciously mix in his record for him: the mercifully solo-free ‘Kinda Kickin’. The party was go.
It’s a close run thing whether I’d prefer good deep house with awful solos over it, or contemporary ‘tasteful’ ‘house’ that’s really nothing of the sort, i.e. the Visionquest-or-whateverelse style that seemed to dominate much of the weekend’s programming. But since we’d started taking our drugs we just went with it, so by the time the proper music came round we were ready. Cue Brendan from Northern Purpose playing the set of the weekend on the main stage from about 11.30pm, including my personal highlight:
Herbert – Friday They Dance (Phono, 1996/1997)
The main stage funktion one soundsystem was out of this world, something I understand demonstrates a marked improvement on last year’s festival. Both that Herbert record and ‘Going Down’ sounded completely new, and the whole group of us repeatedly turned to each other to register our delight that Brendan was playing the kind of music we know and love so much, rather than the endless stream of Rick Wade records we had mistakenly expected. Sign me up for more of this if it’s representative of your average Northern Purpose night.
Brendan was only matched by Jane Fitz, who came on later to play a two-hour set of the sort I have now come to expect from her, and which she seems to deliver without fail every time she gets behind the decks. Huge records linked with ease, building up to a sense of enjoyment that in some way exceeds the sum of the constituent parts. Which is what you want from a DJ set, isn’t it.
That concludes the sensible part of the story. At about 6am we somehow came to the decision that we should take a load of acid, which resulted in me experiencing one of the most enchanting (shamefully there’s no other word for it) walks of my life down the mountain as the sun rose through the clouds that had settled over the village. Think My Neighbour Totoro in super high definition and you’re halfway there. Several hours later in the guest house and I had read some six pages of a crime noir (not a suitable genre for tripping, to be honest), spent quite some time analysing the acceptability of my various limbs and, finally, found myself in a state to have a nap before heading back up to the festival. Consider this the biggest mistake of the weekend, since we were subjected to an evening of abysmal ‘bands’ on the main stage (what a waste of that soundsystem) before heading back far too early, thus missing out on more Jane Fitz early on the Monday morning. Lesson learnt for next time, I suppose.
The rest of our time was spent as before: drinking beer, eating food, reading trashy magazines and generally talking shit. Our journey home on Tuesday was a mixture of bliss (outdoor swimming pool in Devin – yes please) and anxiety (choice quote from a fellow traveller: ‘I never turn up to the airport more than 40 minutes before the flight leaves’ – this coming from a girl who had missed her flight the day before).
On this last point: the whole festival comes with a big fucking pinch of salt, and if I go again next year I will prepare myself mentally for many of these issues to remain unfixed, since the organisers may have the chutzpah to put on a festival up a mountain in the middle of fucking nowhere, but do not have the organisational powers to make sure it goes smoothly. But despite it being a complete shambles I sit here happy and satisfied with the whole experience. It was a cheap holiday and all worth it in the end. And there were a few undeniably brilliant elements: Herbert on that soundsystem under the milky way; meadows covered in cobwebs picked out in the moisture from the surrounding clouds; for once, meeting some genuinely lovely people at a festival; and finally being able to come back to work and tell my boss deadpan ‘Oh I spent the weekend dancing in the Bulgarian mountains.’