A Weekend At Aunty’s, II

Photo by Beth Atkinson-Quinton. Yo, what can’t she do?

1.

When I wrote about Meredith last year (shortly after which, for mostly but not entirely unrelated reasons, I decided I probably never wanted to write about music ever again) I wrote about age. When you’re 23, everything you like seems impossibly great. Because it is apparently possible, it takes on the gravity of being an essential truth. The tone of my reviews when I was 23 was, “Music makes it worth being alive, and being alive is intrinsically great because it allows one to experience something as transcendent as music.” Even at the time I thought: this is getting a little played out. I am not 23 any more. I have woken up on over one thousand mornings since I was not 23 any more. Now I am not preoccupied by the impossible greatness of what I like. I am preoccupied by wondering: do I like the same things now as much as I did then? Or more accurately, do I like things now that bear a superficial similarity to the things I liked then as much as I liked those superficially similar experiences then? Is music really less interesting because Dick Diver aren’t a fixture of it any more? Is a 23 year old having as generation-defining a moment right now as I did between Calendar Days and Melbourne, Florida?

(Yes, to RVG.)

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t 23 when Dick Diver played at Meredith, but I definitely felt, if not explicitly thought, “This band playing at this music festival is a) the best thing to ever happen, b) as metrically important as whatever the Real Music Press was paying attention to, and therefore actually more important, and c) the reason being alive is intrinsically good.” I had the same feeling during Chic. I have had that feeling so much at Meredith and Golden Plains it occupies a subfolder in my brain’s file structure labelled: That Nolan Farm Feeling.

Meredith and Golden Plains have been the backdrop for some hot shit, I’m saying. If you’re new here, you just gotta know. And also, sorry, you picked up the flick right when Peeta strangles Katniss. Try to enjoy the Mockingjay: Part 2ness of this review anyway.

A neat magic trick that kind editors will immediately kibosh is when a writer can’t find anything interesting to write about a thing, they write around a thing. We’re stretching to Kaufman levels of obnoxiousness now in service of softening the following blow: Meredith this year wasn’t very fun.

Even just writing about it bummed me out so much I didn’t want to finish writing this review. But a while ago I asked some nice people if they would give the editor of your favourite magazine free tickets to their generally very good and nice music festival in exchange for a review. They said yes, and if we don’t honour such contracts, the world is truly in direr straits than most of us anticipated. So to bum everyone else out less, I cut out 4,192 words describing in laser-guided detail the badness of so many sets in a way that was, frankly, prosaic. Yeah, that’s right. You’re getting off easy.

Let’s keep this loose.

About the only thing worth saying about Kikagaku Moyo is they pioneered a new flavour for Meredith, the act of having two bands playing on stage at the same time. It was only one? Someone oughta tell the drummer. Amyl & the Sniffers represented a new low. If you’re a 70s fetishist, about the most 70s thing you can do is try so hard to shock you go all the way back around to being about as threatening as a PlaySchool host. Except I’d actually feel compelled to stay for Noni Hazlehurst fumigating her way to a headache on a stage. Rumour says a member of the band got so drunk later that night they hoofed it to reception and asked if they’d take them home ‘cos they couldn’t be bothered setting up their tent. Nice of them to try self-enforcing the No Dickheads policy.

Pissed Jeans’ self-serious gruffness was trumped by Gretta Olsen dancing at the Pink Flamingo to inaugurated housekeeping song ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ while a wary security guard watched (safety first.) Aldous Harding’s anodyne, quasi-art-pop pretensions moved me to move my chair around so I was facing towards conversation about who people were more excited to see later that night. Various Asses, arguably the most staggering dance act to come out of Melbourne recently with a well-earned rep for sweatfest shows, was totally overshadowed by Dave Boyd Smiley dropping SHOUSE’s ‘Love Tonight’ during an ambiguous break in the set. Rings Around Saturn were a vaguely approving shrug. Hey, I was kinda relatively sober for this whole thing. I definitely had barely touched a beer all day. It kinda sucks when you have a thought like, “I wish I was more fucked up and not bored” about almost a whole day of music.

I couldn’t believe how hard I had squandered every opportunity given to me, from the cosmic accident of my birth through to a free ticket to what I still believe is The Greatest Music Festival Still Alive, with ingratitude.

Future Islands came off more canned than the Village People did playing the same stage. “Whoa,” I thought, “I’ve totally, definitely seen this on YouTube before.” Mark Seymour, uh, I’m the kind of psychopath that still thinks Neil Finn is unforgivably bland: that was never gonna be my set. Part of the Meredith special sauce is the one stage and another part is the relatively respectful culture fostered by (at least age-wise) diverse crowds. There’s a major contingent of Meredith-goers who go all in for Mark Seymour and they ought be as catered to by that one stage as I felt when I heard Total Control was on the bill. I might go hard on the other acts because I feel like I should have been all in but was spited by something fundamentally wrong with that particular experience. Seymour’s songs are football ads to me — the most stoked I can get about it is being stoked how stoked other people were. “Meredith 2017: watching Mark Seymour fans hug-sing and sway was the most moving experience I had all weekend.” — Strine Whine.

The real drag was Total Control. There’s always been a sense that Australia doesn’t know how good it’s got it with Total Control, which is probably why they do so well overseas. Between the three LPs, Total Control might as well be three different bands. They’re ostensibly a punk band but their records are authentically stranger than that suggests. Pitchfork says they’re “dead-set on pumping life into the spiritual tradition of post-punk exploration with little regard for sonic congruity.” Which is an expensive way of saying: Yeah! They’re fuckin’ weird, man! And the new one, Laughing At The System, is their least consistent. Don’t mistake that for a diss: it juts at strange angles between songs, between verses. Calling them a punk band undersells the way ‘Luxury Vacuum’ pitches noisy dream-pop only to break into these gaudy folk riffs through the choruses, all overscored by Dan Stewart’s usual vocal glower. ‘Future Creme’ goes in for almost Ariel Pink-ish pseudo-Coke ad chic. ‘Laughing At The System, Part 2’ is maybe the only good reprise track committed to mp3. Stewart is the weft here: contrast the chugging and squalling but structurally familiar tracks of Typical System with the abstract dabbling of ‘Cathie and Marg’ or the pan flute and screeching mechanical build of ‘Vote Cops’. Stewart’s near-monotone posterific chants are the calm eye of this storm, and I guess that’s the whole point. When even your sanctuary is steeped in cynicism, how healthy is the world, really?

So, yeah, I was kinda bummed when Total Control’s set on Friday night had shorn these eccentricities down to Just Rock Music. Total Control are exceptional but even they aren’t exempt from the inconsistency that comes from playing an open-air amphitheatre. The best case was tracks like ‘Expensive Dog’ and ‘Systematic Fuck’ came off even more abrasive, shambolic, and played as the phrase is, epic, but so much of the charm of so many tracks is the melodic flourishes that weren’t carrying beyond the stage at all. Total Control always seemed to me like the absolute culmination of the members’ respective projects: you can hear the stomp and honk of UV Race in songs like ‘Vanity’ or ‘Systematic Fuck’, the clean guitar lines of Eddy Current on ‘Black Spring’ or ‘Retiree’, Mikey’s still growing fascination with the boundaries of the synth from ‘Shame Thugs’ or ‘Sunday Baker’ to ‘Cathie and Marg’ (please listen to his superlative solo album from earlier this year to see where he’s going with this stuff); the boiling intensity of Straightjacket Nation on ‘Expensive Dog’, ‘No Bibs’, and actually almost every other track — although it manifests as less explosive, it is no less pervasive. But that’s a lot of ground to cover for five guys in one hour.

I don’t know, man. I knew I was coming here as soon as I saw Total Control on the bill regardless of anything else. Maybe I owned myself.

2.

On the Tuesday after the fact, I was reflecting on two experiences. One: a few years ago I was at a music industry conference in another city having a beer with a friend. Slightly older, a radio host, a musician, a label owner, a dad, and a dozen other things. His various projects have all been incredible. His label is one of the best in this country. His bands are exclusively themselves, at least it seems that way to me: like any author he could probably unpack each nucleotide and explain their heritage from some formative ancestor I have never heard of. I’ve only met one other music fan as much of a music fan as this guy, and that music fan says this friend is the biggest music fan he’s ever met. While we’re drinking a beer, he tells me he doesn’t like going to live shows.

I’ve never heard a person in the music industry say, “I was personally responsible for your parents’ separation and the death of your childhood dog, and I did it for no other reason than my own sociopathic enjoyment.” But I imagine if I had, I would be roughly as shocked as I was when I heard my friend say he doesn’t like going to live shows.

This totally reorientated my entire world view. Why didn’t I foresee the resurgence of neo-nazis and the repeal of basic human rights in the year 2017? I already knew based on this experience that literally anything was possible. All I did was go to live shows. Wait.

Did I actually like going to live shows?

I have spent four years trying to answer this question, which should suggest the answer wasn’t immediately, apparently, yes.

Two: I’m standing on Phillip Island at a music festival a few years before that music conference. Yeah, I’ve been reviewing festivals for a hot minute. Maybe two or even three minutes, each hotter than the last. That’s not an appeal to authority, I’m just saying I have some basis for comparison in an allegedly professional context. Whatever conclusions are derived are for you to call your MP about. This music festival had more than one stage. Little Red is playing on the main stage in front of me. I don’t know what’s playing on the stage behind me. Chromeo, probably. Almost everybody is dancing to Little Red. It might be relevant to know that in 2010 I hated Australian music, categorically. This is the kind of funny thing you think when you’re at least one thousand mornings younger than 23. I am not dancing to Little Red.

An ecstatic, generous, smiling girl I’ve never met turns to me at some point during the set.

“Why aren’t you dancing?!” she says.

“I just kind of hate this band,” I say.

And she says: “You must hate MUSIC then!”

I’ve thought about this interaction roughly once a month since it happened, which means I’ve thought about it at least 84 times.

What if I do hate music?

I probably don’t hate music. ‘Rock It’ is an excellent song. In fact, it’s Little Red’s only excellent song. Maybe I hate feeling like I hate music? That might be a pretty powerful compulsion to want to not tell anyone about what music you do and don’t like. This is a pretty weird notion post-the era where ‘overshare’ was a word describing an exception, not a norm.

Describing what and how you love something in a 1:1 communicable representation of your actual feelings is non-figuratively impossible. If Baudrillard had lived to see Hi-Tec Emotions, he would definitely have written that book. The only possibility might be describing something by everything it’s not and arriving at the shape of a thing defined by the absence of it as something it isn’t. Believe me, I’ve written (let alone spoken) actually millions of words trying to describe what I like and how (kind of a lot for someone who hates music, probably?) and I’ve never left an interaction thinking “That person now does, or will at some point, experience that music the way I do.” These attempts are profoundly alienating. Lots of people celebrate sharing music and how it brings people together, but what we’re actually sharing is misunderstandings. Let’s not get too philosophical, but all language is an attempt to narrow these misunderstandings, and even working its best it only ever makes meaning as one person experiences it tangential to the way another does. Whether this matters depends on your degree of ruthlessness. If I see white and gold and you see purple and green but it’s actually blue and black, the dress can still be worn regardless. We can both Like the band on Facebook and to the algorithms building our shadow profiles, our Likes are identical. Society keeps on churning. It probably only matters if you’re the type of person to unironically believe that music makes it worth being alive, and that being alive is intrinsically great because it allows one to experience something as transcendent as music.

It probably also matters if your uncompromising conviction that a music festival will reaffirm the value of civilisation as it has in the past is, as it turns out, compromised. That’s a heavy load to push onto a bunch of bands playing on a farm (although I also know the organisers think of their festival, correctly, as much more than that.) Maybe the answer is that I do like live shows. Maybe I don’t hate music. Maybe I just don’t have a value system that makes room for something in between “feeling understood” and “feeling incontrovertibly alone.”

If I don’t like live shows and hate music, why am I standing on a farm at 3:30am waiting for my life to change? What if the answer is only ever: hey, I mean, what else am I gonna do?

There are so many songs at this hour at this festival that spend so long building to what must surely be an overwhelming breakdown, some ferocious release and realisation of an eternity of promise, suggestion, and tension, that in fact aren’t building to anything but a slight shift in melody and the same 4/4 beat. Oh, I get it now. Adulthood is a deep house set.

To put this in more concrete terms, I will never be able to explain to you why ‘City Nightlife’ by Macross 82–99 sounds perfect to me at 1:33am on a Thursday morning in a way that evokes the actual truth of the thing. The closest I might get is talking around its sample of Cheryl Lynn’s hook, how it reminds me of a lyrically similar sample in proto-vaporwave record Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, how deeply important disco music has been to me and my friends, how deeply important disco music has been to me and my friends because of Meredith and Golden Plains, and how the production creates just enough of the illusion of space and distance that it sounds like maybe it’s being played from a stage on a farm.

I don’t have an older sibling. The way I found out about Cool Music growing up was: the punk kids I worked with at Target, the other nerds in some IRC channels, and then tumblr. Let me tell you, those were all formative (Hello Rockview fans can add me on Facebook) but Meredith has been the proverbial Cool Older Sibling. Shit, between Floating Points’ DJ set and interstitials circa 2015–16 I learned more about disco and house than school ever taught me about anything. There is a direct line between Floating Points thrashing the high pass filter on the Nolan farm and me believing ‘City Nightlife’ by Macross 82–99 is a perfect song. I don’t know what else to say on this except to make it explicit that for a certain type of person, Meredith and Golden Plains are as much a part of the genetic code as real family.

Probably it’s okay if your family lets you down, occasionally.

3.

On the Saturday, there’s a small crowd gathered on the side of the path between Bluegums and Top Camp down to the Sup. They’re not meeting the singer from Japanese Breakfast or counting money for the Pink Flamingo. They’re watching a game of Connect Four. They’re watching multiple games of Connect Four. They’re watching a Connect Four tournament. It’s the middle of the day. It’s kind of mild outside. We’re at a music festival catered and run by the Militaires Sans Frontieres of volunteers, locals, and full-time puppeteers who have spent their year curating a comfortable and hopefully exciting place to watch some bands they hope people will like. What’s beautiful about Meredith is sometimes none of that matters, because a couple of people are playing the most intense game of Connect Four anybody nearby has ever seen.

Part of Meredith’s special sauce is cultivating enough blank space between the lines to allow this sort of thing to happen. Since before I’d ever even been to Meredith, I learned this phrase: “It doesn’t matter who’s playing at Meredith.” This is not entirely true, but what it really means is: Total strangers might play Connect Four as if it were pickup chess in Washington Square Park. And if such a thing happens, I want to be there for it, because if I am, I will never forget it.

On the Saturday also, I’m sitting at the campsite. It’s still day time. An older lady with a disposable camera walks by and asks if she can take a photo of some gold streamers taped to our marquee.

“This is a great idea, to keep the flies away!” she says. They were definitely not put there to keep the flies away, but also there aren’t any flies in our marquee, so maybe they were.

“Do you mind if I take a photo of you all sitting there?” she says. She’s really polite. She takes a photo of us.

“I’m taking photos for a photo book to give to Chris Nolan and the family. I want them to see people enjoying the festival as it is, enjoying what they created.”

Folks, I’m almost crying just recalling this memory. Without knowing what else to offer, we could only give her our fondest and most exhaustive thanks. She looked just like Mary Nolan.

4.

Yeah, now that I think about it, some of the sets were pretty good too. Check this: The Teskey Brothers kept saying their name between songs. Noname, playing after, asked the crowd “What’s my name?” and got unanimous reply. When you’re that good, you don’t need to tell ’em who you are. When was the last time an artist got that friendly that quickly with a crowd here? Freddie Gibbs? Harvey Sutherland’s Mike Katz, the by-design pseudo-anonymous leader of the Bermuda Trio, pulled off some canned-but-endearing chat and even looked like he was having fun playing the rockstar type. Meanwhile, Tamil Rogeon was downright vicious on the violin, especially slashing out the outro like he never wanted to leave. Suss Cunts were the platonic ideal of a band and felt wasted in the 3pm Sunday slot. From one vantage, they’re, I guess, untested? From another, they’ve only gotten better since their first show, and they were already pretty good then (you can read how in ISSUE SIX.) We’re gonna ignore the possibility of scheduling conflicts and say that when time travel is invented, our first adventure will be to go back in time and swap Suss Cunts with Amyl & the Sniffers. There were a lot of big personalities on this bill, but probably none were as sharply funny as Nina. There were a lot of rock bands on this bill, but probably none who did so much in their songs with so little. By which I mean, there isn’t much to Suss Cunts’ songs (I mean this strictly in the literal sense; you see a guitar, a bass guitar, a drumkit, and that’s what you hear), but they’re inventive and witty even when they’re trying to come off as scrappy and braindumb. This was one of the best sets of the weekend.

Late Nite Tuff Guy chased the Meredith Sky Show (no ‘Blue Monday’; fuck it, marks off.) If you got the impression this far that a significant part of the joy here is listening to songs people other than the artist created, you’ll get why LNTG’s reworks of Hall & Oates, Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson etc. work so well in the Sup. Unlike his younger and more maximalist contemporaries, LNTG’s specialty is a light touch. A hook looped here, a melody shifted there, the drums punched up, the best parts left just as they are. I evangelise the most garish remixes alive (any subgenre ft. anime girls and ends with -core) but listen to ‘Bless The Rains’ (LNTG’s ‘Africa’ remix, which he didn’t play during this set; shout outs to Lachy K for playing it for him last Golden Plains) or ‘Go 4 That’ (H&O’s ‘I Can’t Go For That’) or his rework of Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and you can hear the love for these songs. As far as communicating what and how you love something, Late Nite Tuff Guy’s remixes come closer than any review.

His remix of Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ might be the perfect example. In the original it takes 53 seconds to get to the chorus and it charges hard to it. But LNTG slides it in as the set closer, teases the hook with a crescendo (this is the part where everyone feels their face melt, slightly), and then streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetches you out for literal minutes. You always know what’s coming, because you know the same truth around which LNTG has built this track: there is only one part to this song that matters, and everything else is a conveyor belt towards it. It is multiple minutes until LNTG takes you there, you curdle your vocal cords shrieking it at the ceiling (or sky), and then that’s it. The set winds down. There is nowhere left to go.

Late Nite Tuff Guy’s edits are on some Green Destiny level of balance type shit. Making your calling card not leaving a calling card takes guts, and I mean, he’s not exactly new around here, so maybe it’s not surprising that he’s got them big time. But it also takes loving someone else’s work more than yourself. Hey, is it trite to say that selflessness feels short in supply lately?

Maybe it is.

But.

One can always find it on the Nolan Farm.

5.

There are dickheads. Yes. More of them every year, it feels like, although the consensus is we just notice them more now as a matter of contrast. Cynically, in moments, I think, “These are all Future Islands fans.” I mean, I’ll take whatever epithets you wanna hurl as far as being elitist, but I’m nervous looking at The Preatures and Grizzly Bear on the Golden Plains bill. Isn’t this thing meant to be more community radio than — gulp — triple j? (It might not be obvious that I’m only being 49% serious (and I like those bands.))

Rumour is a fellow mediaite took a shit in a bin because the toilet lines were so long all weekend. Bluegums was for sure a nightmare and folks were getting mean about it. Still, hey. Don’t shit in bins. Someone has to sort through that for glass.

But even with the dickheads, the ratio is still in our favour. The defensiveness people feel for this festival isn’t a toxin, even if the blindness it can spread is. It’s a natural impulse to hold on to the only thing in the world that makes any sense. Besides Falls and Bluesfest, is there any festival in Meredith’s heat that hasn’t died off? That was a good thing: they were cruel, indifferent experiences. Meredith has survived. This is a good thing: it’s a thoughtful, considerate experience. This is the world those protective of Meredith want to believe in. We build it six days a year at a time.

There are no tidy conclusions to draw from this experience, this festival, this review, this former magazine. There is only this: one day an asteroid is going to smash into us and kill us all, if Tesla and Alphabet don’t vaporise us in the oncoming AI war first. Before that, I’d like to believe I lived for something. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you don’t think about it at all. I’d like to believe I lived like a Late Nite Tuff Guy remix. I’d like to believe I lived like Meredith Music Festival. I’d like to believe I lived for you. ‘Cos even if all these are is misunderstandings, I had fun sharing them with you (music writing is sadism and masochism.) There are worse places to be bored than by your side. And hey, I mean, what else are we gonna do?

If you see me in the Sup, say hi.

That’s all.

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