Many festivals aim to foster a feeling of escapism and being outside of society (for a long weekend at least), but the reality is that very few manage to pull it off. Meadows in the Mountains manages to achieve this disconnection from reality, year on year, just by the very nature of its existence.
Perched at the top of Polkovnik Serafimovo, a tiny, one-road-in, one-road-out village deep in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains and accessible only by foot or 4×4 (though I hear donkey and cart was the preferred method in earlier years), the festival can’t help but be impressive, due to its wild location and the efforts its dedicated team go through every year to make it happen. Their commitment to sustainability and minimising its environmental impact should be noted – a blanket ban on single-use plastics and reliance on re-useable metal cups and bottles meant the site was probably the cleanest i’ve ever seen at a European festival. While Meadows has expanded greatly over its nine-year existence, the 2019 edition felt like any growing pains were firmly in the past and the team were able to hone in on the festival’s USP – having a rave on top of a mountain in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Heading to the Woods Stage on Friday evening, Albeit Records boss Marlon Clarke set the bar high with a pitch-perfect selection of UK-flavoured rollers. Fellow Bristol boy Dr Banana followed, delivering a masterclass in the best garage you’ve never heard in your life. Following them over on the Sunrise Stage was SNO, who played quite possibly the set of the festival. The Manchester-based DJ rattled through an incredible and diverse selection of African-centred sounds, culminating in the one-two finisher of Aaliyah – Rock the Boat and Addictive by Truth Hurts & Rakim.
Taking over from SNO, booker and resident Bruno Schmidt led the assembled crowd effortlessly towards the first sunrise set of the festival. As the sun crept over the distant mountains and the misty clouds splayed out below us, it became clear to me why this festival is now routinely talked about as one of the world’s best.
The following two days were a blur of sunsets, sunrises, alarming amounts of prosecco and, of course, extended periods spent on dancefloors across the mountain’s ridgeline, leaving me both drained and revitalised. Saturday’s highlights included the freeform jazz excursions of London eight-piece Kokoroko, the reassuring weirdness of Ed Banger alumni and Bongo Song legend Zongamin, and the bass-heavy, low-slung house grooves of Anna Wall and Thoma Bulwer, while Sunday saw two of the UK’s best DJs – Gwenan and Truly Madly – tear up the Woods Stage in their own uniquely thrilling ways.
Meadows in the Mountains is a festival built on shared ideals and a sense of genuine community that extends far beyond its boundaries. Polkovnik Serafimovo and those who live there welcome its annual visitors with a warmth and kindness that’s heartening to experience, and leaves me in no doubt that the festival will continue to thrive as it heads towards a decade in the game. See you up there in 2020.