Meadows In The Mountains
And down comes the lightning once again, marking the fifth instalment of one of the most ludicrous festival projects in Europe.
Three hours by plane, a further four hours by coach, twenty minutes east of nowhere, to a spot on one of 100 identical green mountains above the clouds. On paper, we’re in Bulgaria – but sat there at sunrise, surveying that blanket of white and green and nothing else, it seems closer to some kind of purgatorial non-space from a lesser-known Enid Blyton book. Simply put, the most grounded part of the weekend was hiding inside a giant wooden horse. This is seriously abroad – yet with a crowd as tightly knitted as this, it almost feels like home. Crack is here for a second consecutive year. We were dumbfounded last time. There’s about twice as much going on this time around.
There is the village: almost a hundred houses re-appropriated for the a few days of the year, this year more than a few kitted out into bars and restaurants, easing some pressure on the local stores’ wheat-based snack stocks. Sitting and watching from the veranda, warm, as the rain pours and forked lightening darts about harmlessly somewhere, giving the nod to a poncho’d neighbour on the right feeling the same contentment, ready to hop on the shuttle and horse and cart up the hill. A similar nod the neighbour on the left, who calmly scythes away at a patch of crops. The locals are generous, agreeable and calm. We ask at a bar in the village for some eggs and are the barwoman dashes next door to pick some up for us.
You don’t come close to becoming a part of the local community but there’s an incredible amount of mutual understanding considering the vast gulf between the lifestyles of the visitors and the visited and how closely the two cooperate for this festival. It’s a tiny, utterly remote cluster of residences with very few jobs and the locals like to tell stories of their children, almost all of whom have headed off with their chin high with hopes of success in the city. Basically, the opposite of London. Maybe that’s part of the attraction.
And then there’s the festival site, which feels unearthly rather than foreign. For the rest of the year there’s a dog sanctuary up here and there are a lot of dogs and puppies frolicking about during the festival too. Meadows has been praised in the papers over the past few months and the site has been vamped up a notch. It stretches about a third further and there’s a whole new performance area which starts stirring the earliest with hula-hooping and low-key acoustic sets. There are more bands this year and the set times have been pushed back to allow a proper festival day-time experience and not merely curious wandering (although there’s more than enough of that to go around too). It’s not a festival at which you follow the names although a few Boiler Room-ers were dotted about and Kele Le Roc’s solid gold garage classic ‘My Love’ did re-invigorate some slowly wearying legs as the last track of a genre-spanning live set on the Sunday evening. Wyles and Simpson occupied a similar slot on the Saturday and impressively took the crowd up in a dreamy swoop with some gently progressive synth pop house.
The bass drum thud deepens and broadens from 10pm to midnight, at which point you might cross over from the Sunset to the Sunrise stage which hits just a little harder this year. Bruno Schmidt and Club der Visionaere’s Binh mark big and interesting minimal house movements on the Saturday and Meadows’ own veteran Jane Fitz blows the place away as the penultimate act from midnight to 5am on the Monday morning with a concourse through the harder backstory of house music, acid and techno. It’s as if she was born here. One more communal sigh of contentment as the sun comes. And no pestering anticipation of sweaty Brits on the summer London underground just yet– instead, of sweatier Bulgarians in the sauna a couple of hours down the road at the Orpheus pool party.
On the Monday, a handful of the DJs occupy a hotel resort in a place called Devin, which is a bit like Fawlty Towers on growth hormones (“yellow cheese pane and frightened potatoes” really does go down so smooth). You can either party or not party – the music goes on until 6am. It’s a really brilliant and surreal comedown all day and night, and it’s what you wished you weren’t too stingy to do after every festival you’ve ever been to. The red blotch of the Bloody Mary, the blank white fog of the steam room: what an incredibly gentle reconfiguration, and the last surviving memory of the obscene party that is Meadows in the Mountains: an insane and impossible festival miraculously hitting its maturity, tying together a thousand unmatching strings through a certain administrative hell, but ending up with a web which makes it work. And works better this year.
For more information see the Meadows in the Mountains website here