Arriving at Meadows in the Mountains is not like arriving at most festivals. Our five-hour ascent into the mountains of Southern Bulgaria took place late on Thursday night (2nd June), as the event was whirring into life. After navigating wild horses, stray dogs and long-abandoned vehicles on roadside verges, we emerged blinking out of the starry, rural darkness into a party like no other.
This year, Meadows in the Mountains celebrates 10 years of parties on the wooded slopes rising up from the village of Polkovnik Serafimovo. Programmed across four days and four stages, the Bulgarian festival is wild in every way – from the rugged beauty of the green mountain setting to the unselfconscious hedonism that ripples through the performances and punters. The line-up is eclectic and international, with emerging and underground talent prioritised over the pull of a handful of headliners, and refreshingly most of the crowd has not come with a checklist of artists they want to see. Instead, the emphasis is on shared moments and collective experiences, and each morning, DJs soundtrack the mesmerising rise of the sun over the mountain tops on the Eastern horizon.
A standout set on Thursday came via Stella Zekri’s warm, jazz-tinged house and electronic disco as disparate pockets of opening-night ravers explored their new home. As the night gradually turned to day, the crowd morphed into a single swaying forest of humanity ready for the sun to burst over the horizon and flood the festival site, bathing the Sunrise stage in a warm euphoric glow.
Friday saw Alvarezz open the main stage, with a rumbling set of stuttering bass, clicks and distorted spoken word loops. By contrast, the good-vibes-only policy at the Prosecco Pines tent ensured things never stayed too serious for too long; and this undercurrent of daftness became a recurring theme as the weekend unfolded.
The double header of London’s Alabaster de Plume and Soccer96 – with members and remixes shared between bands – was some of the strongest programming on the main stage. De Plume was a man possessed, commanding his band, his saxophone and the crowd with a demonic charm and surreal lyrical twists, wrapping up his set with the drily dark I Was Gonna Fight Facism. Soccer96 (who co-wrote the track with de Plume) followed soon after, their raucous synth work and ballistic drumming creating a churning, electro-prog assault.
Throughout the weekend, the Woods stage – where light shows and lasers created the perfect forest dancefloor – was packed. Fabric resident Anna Wall and Athens-based K.atou both delivered sets full of dark energy, with K.atou also stepping up on the larger Sunrise stage with a more textured approach.
Some of the best moments were also some of the least expected. On Saturday afternoon, an elderly Bulgarian choir drew a bemused but happy audience into a tight circle, with photos being taken in both directions as performers and the crowd tried their best to work out what was going on. The most captivating set of the weekend came from Bruce, the Bristol-based selector and producer with a reputation for playful but razor sharp tune selections and blends. As the sun set and the moon rose on Saturday night, Bruce summoned the wild-eyed spirit of the mountain directly. With some spooky alchemy, Bruce transformed an empty mountainside into a churning mass of carnival freaks in a few short hours, moving from mutant dub and lolloping bass to darkwave camp and messy industrial electronic cuts.
Many hours later, this time with the sun rising again, Ivan Smagghe built a swell of rising acid-tinged synths into a crescendo before handing on the baton to Block9’s Gideon, who rewarded the sunrise with a spannered, washed out, but nonetheless hands-in-the-air edit of Loretta Holloway’s Love Sensation, famously sampled in 90s mega-hit Ride on Time.
Sunday was a time to regroup, but with a popular programme of wellness activities, and artists like Wayne Snow soothing and rejuvenating the main stage crowd with his soulful, sun-drenched electronic jams, there was enough in the tank for one more dance in the woods before the journey home began.
Every party crew has a version of the same utopian vision, summoned through a hundred late night conversations: putting on their dream line-up in a remote, otherworldly location. Most of these visions dissipate in the morning light. But the Meadows team made good on theirs, and if you’re lucky enough to join them, their take on the party utopia is something to behold.