Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria
7 - 10 June
It’s approximately 1am on Friday morning by the time we complete our journey to the site following a five-hour shuttle from Sofia to the village of Polkovnik Serafimovo and a bumpy taxi ride up the single-track road to the entrance. The sight that greets us feels akin to Glastonbury’s South-East corner filtered through Stranger Things’ Upside-Down: the entire hilltop is shrouded in mist, with a hodgepodge of wooden sculptures and structures looming out of the trees uplit dramatically with coloured spotlights. It’s clear this is going to be an unusual weekend.
Meadows is feted for the outstanding beauty of its surroundings, and returning to the summit the following morning via the half-hourly shuttles that run from the town centre it’s easy to see why. In fair conditions (which fortunately hung about for the entire weekend with blazing sunshine during the daytime the norm) the lush Rhodope mountains sprawl off into the distance, and the various installations and chill-out areas constructed from locally-felled timber create a bucolic, peaceful atmosphere during the quieter afternoon hours.
Besides the view, one of the most striking things about the site is the almost complete absence of litter thanks to a rigorously-enforced zero-plastic policy. This consideration for the environment extends to the residents of the village itself too: the security personnel and many of the on-site traders are locals, and those who aren’t crewing the festival are welcome to attend on free residents’ tickets.
As far as the visiting audience goes, it’s an eclectic mix of glittery festival types and slightly more reserved ravers from across Europe – picture sequinned capes rubbing shoulders with Hard Wax tees. The vibe is universally friendly with a sense of camaraderie no doubt aided by the lengths most have taken to get here. Most opt to pitch tents on the mountainside a stone’s throw from the festival site although it’s also possible to stay with a host family in the village for a reasonable fee – it’d be naive to say that this creates a sense of perfect symbiosis but it’s a practical and worthwhile choice, one of many efforts taken by Meadows’ organisers to ensure the local area sees a net benefit from their endeavour.
Meadows’ diverse musical offering is split across four stages each with their own distinct feel: The Main Stage, which hosts the majority of the live acts across the weekend; The Temple, tucked away towards the back of the site on an improbably steep slope; The Woods, situated in the shady forest at the end of the festival, and The Sunrise stage, which faces an abrupt drop-off affording an amazing view of the horizon.
A combination of high heat and late nights mean that things are a little slow to get going during the daytime (although Laraaji and Ramzi prove uniquely uplifting with their afternoon sets on The Temple, coaxing smiles and whistles from weary dancers resting in the shade) but it’s from evening until sun-up that the festival really comes into its own. Friday night’s highlights include Little Gay Brother’s cabaret-cum-dance-party, the blistering jungle and footwork selections of London party crew Bubble Chamber in The Woods followed by Bristol’s Rough Draft, who reset the vibe with Sagat’s Funk Dat before launching into an immensely enjoyable genre-hopping set that elicited many hands-in-the-air moments.
The early hours of the morning see most of the festival converge on The Sunrise stage as its namesake begins to peek out from behind the mountains in the distance and on Saturday night things reach fever pitch as Dan DNR and Noodles cycle through well-loved classics including Functions on the Low, DJ SS’ Lighter, and We are I.E.. A curious thing happens around 4am – the 600-or-so dancers assembled turn their back on the booth to face the horizon and one another as the sunrise begins in earnest. It’s a rare sight to see at a DJ-centric festival, and neatly illustrative of how Meadows’ remoteness and unique scenery create a departure from the norm of its UK contemporaries. When Noodles drops Rip Groove as the sun breaks over the cloud and it’s fair to say people lose their shit.
Sunday continues in much the same vein, with stand-out house and techno sets from Gwenan and Joe Delon on The Woods stage and Nick the Record and Idjut Boys taking The Sunrise through well into Monday morning, and – having elected to skip the Monday night pool party that takes place a few towns over – we stumble down the mountain to catch our transfer happy and sated. Adventure and escapism are some of the most readily drawn-for tropes in festival marketing, but Meadows in the Mountains is the real deal. The crowd and crew alike were amongst the friendliest you could hope to encounter, and coupled with its on-point musical programming and ludicrously beautiful setting it’s a trek worth making.