Words by James McNeice // Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
If there was one phrase that was the unprecedented focus of the weekend it was “Oh my gosh, its so cold!’
As a thrifty boutique festival that’s soon to put Bambra Bowl on the map, By the Meadow returned for its sixth year running. Despite the rogue temperamental weather, its few hundred-odd partygoers still ventured out with raincoats, scarves and beanies to battle a cocktail of rain, sun, rain, icy wind, rain, hail, and some more rain. I knew little else about what to expect besides a dedicated crowd of reoccurring punters and an emu that frequented the perimeter of the grounds, namely an entertaining opportunity for people watching.
As I rocked up after dark still munching on lukewarm maccas (the Friday evening road trip staple), everything was breezy – no lines (not even at the toilets!), easy to follow instructions and a straight forward camping area. But in the few short minutes it took for me to pitch my pop-up tent, Mother Nature unleashed a preview of the icy wind and continuous rain that would unfortunately plague By the Meadow for pretty much its entirety.
As the thought sunk in that the only choice was to go hard or go home, I thought “fuck it,” grabbed a beer and headed to the where the action was. As I shivered my way down to the festival’s one and only stage, I could thankfully feel a sense of community flourishing – we were all in this together.
My first encounter was Melbourne based urban music guru Thando, who was getting things heated with her finger clicking soulful bops. In the midst of her set it became instantly apparent that standing deep inside the crowd was going to be the best source of warmth for the night. Next up, murmurmur‘s dreamy psychedelia shone like a sonic daydream of light, playing a tight set of articulately produced tracks. Yet the party didn’t truly start until The Vasco Era’s cheery opening song, an ode to the Elvis Presley classic ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love‘. The cover spawned a wholesome and hearty sing-along frenzy before Vocalist Syd O’Neil abruptly shifted gears, morphing the set into their noisy post-hardcore brand of mosh pit ready punk that had people shaking their bums and banging their heads. For someone who was not familiar with this act, it was a golden shocker to see this incredibly fun and joyous transition at the beginning of their set. It was also huge to see half of the festival suddenly going nuts – whether this was in the name of rock’n’roll or an exciting excuse to stay warm.
Bringing the stage to a close at a sensible 12.20am was Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange whose aesthetic of psychedelic visuals and deep-house-played-live was not only mesmerising but the most thought inducing set I have seen in a long while. There were many times I would fall into a deep hypnotic state, bopping my head and staring in a haze at the quartet – loving every moment of the music. It was the soundtrack for a million epiphanies at once, and just like that, night #1 had come to a close.
From that point forward, there were three options left – head back to your campsite to be rained on, the movie theatre showing back to back movies with sound, or join the renegade UE Boom party which emerged in a nearby shelter dome. Thanks to hearing a drunkenly sung version of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ wailing in the distance we politely opted for the latter. As we joined in on the sing-a-long, our mystery DJ’s role of selecting the next banger became one of immense pressure. The party’s population had just about tripled before the song had even finished. Thankfully they delivered, and after a few more tunes we decided to be sensible and hit the hay at the reasonable time of 2am.
Saturday morning kicked off with the inviting sound of light rain pattering on the tent top. Thank god, we had woken up dry. One coffee and a bowl of poorly executed Sultana Bran later, we found ourselves doing the morning admin by the car. As our Marie Kondo inspired campsite consisted of two fold-out chairs and nothing else, it quickly became our prime chill out zone, heater and all, where many front-seat tinnies were sunk in-between sets.
We got our shit together right in time to catch Hobson’s Bay Coast Guard in the early afternoon. Miraculously, the rain had fittingly cleared, and out came the most euphoric ray of sun that had ever hit my skin, perfect for the band’s progressive jam-sesh brand of indie surf rock. They kicked off the set with their ten-minute self titled track, which worked seamlessly alongside a unique harmonising blend of yell-y yet pop vocals that rode the sun-kissed twangy rhythms like a wave. If you haven’t had a chance to see these guys (whose debut album dropped literally a few days before the festival) then tack it on your to-do list. Hopefully next time we can see them as the Ronald McDonald quartet they intended to play as.
Brisbane’s Clea unluckily battled the relentless return of grim weather, particularly coming head to head with a seemingly never-ending gust of icy wind. Yet she still managed to lay down her lax chilled-out indie pop with a hint of mild psych. Her set was a haze of bliss, her vocals wistfully flowing through the nearby hills, like a solid glass of mulled wine by the indoor wood fire.
As the fierce rains reached their climax throughout the late arvo, watching the stage from the Marquee bar almost became a necessity, particularly for the people like myself who foolishly forgot to pack thermals. I sunk an espresso martini and kicked back to The Goon Sax, a band from Brisbane who could easily pretend to be from Brunswick and nobody would question them. Their fuzzy classically Brisbane indie rock was a perfect fit for that soon-to-be-dark evening piss-up vibe.
Another cocktail later and the marquee bar became a hideout for what felt like half the festival, and then the Sunset act began. This makeshift busking-like set had the whole tent at its capacity– whether this was initially planned for the main stage or not is a question that has gone unanswered. The band played an ode to Irish folk with some woodwind thrown in, reminiscent of something in between a cheery Christmas Day party in the trenches during the war and your cool Uncle’s 40th birthday party. It was this particular set that encapsulated what By the Meadow seemed to be aiming for – a communal, no shits given festival where you come across the same faces again and again as one big festival family.
As the rain had settled in for the night, Western Sydney’s Lauren brought a pumped-up set full of electro hip-hop bangers, at one point announcing that “this one is for the people who wanna fuuuck!” As a stark correlation, The Seven Ups followed, playing a largely instrumental set of groovy funk that commanded festival goers to dance. Headline act The Murlocs hit the stage in the midst of the fog which brought people out from under the covers to get up close and personal for their lively thriving set, aided with enough energy to direct a workout routine and an abundance of harmonica solos. Frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith ended each track with a signature yelp of ‘YOOO!’ to keep things amped up, and at one point indulge in a hands-in-the-air call and response of the Backstreet Boys classic ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)‘.
The night ended with subsequent trips between the stage and the movie theatre, where a screening of Die Hard drew in a surprisingly large number of people, as DJ Harvey Sutherland and Roza Terenzi pumped out thumping beats until the icy depths of rural 4am.
If you’re looking to make the move from other big league festivals then By the Meadow should be atop your list. The weekend felt like a once in a lifetime party your mate decided to sneakily throw on their farm while their parents were out of town. Rather than creating an atmosphere of competitive cliques that can easily be picked up in bigger festivals, By the Meadow felt always welcoming and never pretentious. People were there to see music; people were there to drink and dance and have a blast with their mates, and how these musicians managed to play dope sets in the freezing cold without their hands frosting over was a feat in itself. You’ll be sure to find me at next year’s festival, sporting a heavy rain jacket and new gumboots.
We talked to Cameron Wade who runs the music festival By The Meadow and are joined by musician Merpire who is also playing this years festival. We discuss the process of booking an international artist, why moving from Sydney to Melbourne was so important for Merpire, the difficulties of juggling festival set times, why this year’s festival will be particularly fun and we choose 10 By The Meadow artists for Cameron to describe on the spot.
The drive to By The Meadow doesn’t feel all that different to the drive to Meredith or Golden Plains. You head towards Geelong, you take the bypass and at some point, you take a turn off away from Geelong for 40 minutes. The first main difference that caught our attention was instead of going through a small town with a pub like Meredith, you read a green wooden sign that says Bambra Bushland Reserve – Removal Of Forest Produce Illegal. This sign sets the tone early, you now know you’re entering nature with some music inside, not a music festival carved into nature.
It feels like the location of the Shady Cottage 2016, on a farm in Trentham, except upon entry to Shady Cottage you went past the house on the property, reminding you that you’re on a farm. At By The Meadow, it took until 7 pm on Saturday for me to notice the location of the house on the farm, hidden back up the hill behind the back of the camping area. For 24 hours I could’ve easily have been in a National Park instead.
When you enter the festival site, there’s one woman checking the car for glass, but instead of the reasonably thorough search one would get at Meredith or the very thorough search at Falls Festival, there’s a trust by the woman. If you say you don’t have glass, she trusts that you’re telling the truth, no search is actually needed. This trust is important, like leaving your clothes by the side of a public pool; you’ll enjoy your swim more if you don’t consistently think somebody will steal your stuff.
By The Meadow has all the nice aspects of other Victorian boutique festivals. The area feels expansive yet close like Camp Casual 2015 in Gippsland. The divide between the tents and car area brings the friendly neighbour tents closer together like Inner Varnika 2013 in Ruffy. There’s an endless view as the sun descends like Paradise Music Festival on Lake Mountain. There’s a valley drop facing the sunset like Sunset Point at Meredith, except at this one you can also camp on it and make it your morning view from your tent. In the words of two overheard early comments “fuck it’s fucking nice” and “this feels like home, very calming.”
But no festival is perfect and there’s still some work in progress elements for By The Meadow. But first, the tunes:
Unfortunately, I missed Tram Cops, but he’s definitely an artist I’m curious to follow the progress of as he plays more live shows. The first band I saw was Totally Mild. If you were new to any of these artists, but you had some understanding and appreciation for hearing four individually talented musicians working together as a cohesive unit, creating something bigger than the sum of its parts, then Totally Mild would confuse you as to how they are still playing 500 people festivals. In another world where dream pop is pop, By The Meadow can’t snatch Totally Mild, because they are too busy headlining festivals worldwide. But instead we don’t live in that world, and lucky for us, because we get to hear them up close, with a quiet appreciation around us, on a sound system that’s 10 out of 10. Yes, the sound system was that good — it made hearing bands you’ve heard many times before a whole new experience.
Cameron Wade (who is behind By The Meadow) said in his interview that the sound was the most important thing to get right. I won’t get too technical, but essentially the sound system was the XD15 series by Martin Audio London with 3 stack X118 series (I think) subs on both sides. What that means was that bands had a full range of highs, mids and lows, and the wide frequency distinction was clear up close or up on the hill. You could hear separation between guitars, between different toms, it wasn’t quite like monitors in a studio, but it was an ear pleasure nonetheless. But the really impressive part was that because of the 6 subs, the electronic acts at night had a powerful low-end to work with, throttling your gut into the early hours. That’s hard to do and is rare at small festivals, to make both bands and electronic artists sound even better than most small venues in Melbourne.
Next up was The Harpoons, and despite having to restart one song due to I think laptop problems, they came home particularly strong and worked seamlessly as a segway into the Daydreams DJ set. Which is in part due to their latest album Amaro carrying a stronger house structure than their previous work, likely influenced by member Jack Madin’s latest side project Shouse, which dives into a variety of house genres.
Max and Mark of Daydreams (no Luke Pocock) know what time it is. They didn’t waste any time pretending this was a Sunday daytime Daydreams set at The Gasometer with light-outside house or disco. They got dark and hectic quick, taking turns whipping this party into shape. Then as soon as you thought you were in for a session of hard techno, they starting dropping lots of ’90s tracks and pop songs. Which isn’t my personal taste, but it’s a wise move to make at a festival, where people are generally more social and silly than in the club environment, but dropping Jimmy Barnes was surely too far. I know he’s relevant again due to that Kirin J Callinan collaboration, but I’m calling them out on that one, a very rare mistake. Almost as if they knew they pushed the boundaries a little too far, they won me back by dropping ‘On & On’ by Orbital, which again, on that sound system, had me lost in my head for at least five minutes
It also helped that the lighting technician was dialled in on every track drop and mood change. What a lot of big festivals do, is they tend to use their best technicians on the bands because they have a lot of pressure to not miss a cue, but then they generally tend to sub out and sleep when the DJ’s come on stage late at night. Usually, it’s either a young tech told not to use the best lights and save them for the bands or the sound guy takes over. Which often leads to bland and boring lighting just scrolling on a loop for the rest of the night. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the lights are cued throughout the whole night, the highs are way higher — after all, there’s not much to look at during a DJ set, so the lighting is how we process the journey. This minor detail brightened many sets throughout the weekend.
As the Daydreams set continued beyond its intended finish time of 1 am, the crowd began to walk on to the stage, with no objections from Mark or Max. After all, everyone at By The Meadow felt like family (or at least felt like they could be trusted like family). With smiles on every face, the pin was finally pulled on the Daydreams set after they finished with ‘Call On Me’ by Eric Prydz, everyone began the “big” 2-minute walk back to their tents. If night one was meant to feel like an opening ceremony, then they hit the nail straight bang on its shiny head.
On the walk back to the tents, there were some security guards present, but so far back and away from the crowd of people that you never noticed them during any of the sets — but you could easily find them just in case you needed too, which is how it should always be. At the tents, there was condensation, it was cold, but I guess being on a hill near the sea lends itself to those sorts of conditions. It wasn’t Lake Mountain freezing, but I do recommend bringing solid sleeping gear if you plan on going in the future.
In the morning we went for a walk down the hill, past the By The Meadow sign, opened the gate and meandered the Kangaroo track. I don’t know what counts as a Kangaroo track, but my friend who lives in the country assured me that it was one.There was a creek maybe 20 metres further down the steep ditch, but we decided to do some brief yoga instead. After all, the sun was out, and we had some pleasant shade under a tree with no wind, and not a person to be heard near us. After around 30 minutes we ended up back at the campsite — it wasn’t quite the exploration you can take at Lake Mountain, but at least you can escape, unlike the current Inner Varnika location. It’s probably not further of a walk than the one you can take at Hopkins Creek, but at least people can’t still see you at By The Meadow, especially when you just need some escape time that’s not sitting on a public toilet.
Back to the stage action and it felt like Stella Donnelly was the headliner, or at least the name most talked about. She’s been generating attention in the US market and that appears to be helping her exposure back here in Australia. The crowd was all over the hill, sitting down with both ears pointed at the stage, like a school assembly by a guest speaker. After opening with a respectful stolen land speech, she played huge singles during her set such as ‘Mechanical Bull’ and ‘Boy Will Be Boys’. Even threw in a short funny song about the negatives of Sportsbet, that got plenty of laughs. Even told the funny story of explaining the EP title Thrush Metal to her formal Welsh family. This is where Stella is very impressive at such an early stage of her career — she commands the stage and people are just locked into everything she says. I haven’t seen a crowd more quietly locked in at a festival since The Tallest Man on Earth at Golden Plains 2013.
To help process Stella’s set, we took a break about 30 metres away on an open section of the hill to play Finska. Yes they had Finska, freely available for anyone to take and play anywhere they wanted. It was a great way to stretch the legs, meet a few locals confused by the game, and then clearly see when the Dianas were about to take the stage.
This is where I found myself scratching my head and shaking it at the same time. How is one of the countries best bands and best live bands, still completely unknown to even the niches of boutique festivals. Dianas had one of the smallest crowds of the entire weekend, maybe the crowd used the sunny afternoon as a chance to explore the festival campground, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Dianas are like punk angels from another world, almost telepathic with their on-stage musical chemistry. The kind that makes other bands watching say to each other “we need to get more in sync like them”. They’re the kind of band that wouldn’t work if they were missing a member, and despite it clearly being very hot on stage with the back wall all sealed up, by the end of the set the crowd was watching in awe (based solely on the look on their faces). Even when member Caitlin accidentally kicked her volume down via her guitar pedal, during their final song ‘Somebody Else,’ she kept her cool and managed to recover for the final explosive finish to the song — like a skateboarder messing up a trick, yet still managing to remain standing on the skateboard, pure class. My only advice on both the band’s end and the audio technician’s end would’ve been to lift the vocals, they were buried a tad too low in the mix (and this is coming from a fan of low vocals in mixes).
The next activity of the day had the right intentions but needed a little more originality. I’m not talking about the Welcome section, where Cameron and Ruby thanked all the workers, punters (for not destroying the stage during Daydreams the night before), bands and general vibe of the festival, which was all very cute. I’m talking about the running race up the hill in order for one man and then one woman to win a free pass to next year’s festival. The gender separation wasn’t the only awkward part, it’s the fact that this activity is something Meredith has held since the ‘90s. So any real exciting enthusiasm was mixed in with comments of “they took this from Meredith.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s very generous to give up two free passes, but there are so many ways this could be more creative. A stage talent show perhaps, or how about a wholesome activity course without gender separation, or clothes swapping, even — always hilarious, especially with strangers. At festivals like Camp Casual, they would have had dance circles and moments of musical yoga. You could take it one step further like Dan Deacon, and curate those spiral dance circles. Ground participation is so easy at a small festival, there’s nowhere to hide. If anything they should break up the sets with a few more activities throughout the day. Make the crowd very intimate with each other. Even before any music on the Friday, why not start with an activity down at the sunset point area — but I’ll speak more on that area soon.
I’ve seen Suss Cunts a few times now, and this probably wasn’t their best set. I’m guessing a combination of the heat and something else, like having to rush back to Melbourne, because the songs felt a tad rushed, even considering the already short length of them. However, even to fresh ears, the songs would’ve come across tightly constructed, led by their singer Nina Renee, who doesn’t mess around with half cooked ideas — she knows exactly what she wants with every song. This assertiveness makes you a believer in Suss Cunts, a quiet confidence, that they can weather any storm, and that this is still only just the beginning for the band. Or they might flame out at any moment, which makes each set even more vital.
Then came perhaps the favourite moment of the weekend, a real grounding reminder of how lucky and fortunate we are in Melbourne, and it didn’t really have anything to with the strength of our music scene. Recently, Pitchfork posted an article about how artists in the US are leading a trend of running their own festivals, small festivals with a communal feel, moving away from the generic commercial ‘play the set, get paid, and leave’ festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza. This article would be really exciting for people in the US, but as someone from Melbourne, where we’ve had small niche communal festival all around Victoria for this entire decade, you almost had to feel sorry for US music fans.
Which brings me back to the sunset gathering at By The Meadow. The location and the view would’ve been magical even in a windy gusty storm, but luckily for us we scored a warm gradient sunset spectacle. Painters couldn’t paint how magnificent the sunset was. The stroke of genius move by BTM (By The Meadow) was having a classical duo including a Cello, playing delicate arrangements including the Game Of Thrones theme song, that forced the gathering to keep chatter to a low volume and really take in this special country land we are surrounded by in Victoria. Even after a festival season that started all the way back in October and took me all around Victoria, by early April we’re still able to wear shorts and t-shirts at 7pm. This special secret world for 600 people did make you wonder how we got so lucky, and reminded us that we shouldn’t take any of it for granted, and that any missteps we could accuse of the festival of making, would really be us just being incredibly selfish.
I decided to leave behind my new found elderly friends drinking wine well outside my price range to check out Flowertruck‘s set. When I think of Sydney bands that I wish would make the permanent move to Melbourne, Flowertruck is definitely one of the first who come to mind. A lot of that is because I want the lead singer Charles Rushforth to reach his full potential, unleash his personality and get weird in ways he hasn’t yet achieved. He’s got the stage presence, the character, the vocals, the lyrics — he just needs to embrace weird, surround himself with madness and get lost in it. He’s just a bit too clean, a bit too tight. If those screws get loosened, he could become one of those lead singers that’s great in 20 years.
A good example of his confinement was his bewilderment of somebody bringing a couch down to the stage. Then his following bewilderment from the lack of crowd reaction to his comment. Now maybe he’s been to Meredith or Golden Plains before and forgotten, but it sounds more likely that he’s never been to either festival before. In that case Charles, there’s literally 100’s of couches down at the stage there and they feature everything from personal bars, to totem tennis poles, to popcorn machines. The stage comment that was however very funny, was when he described the feeling that all the festival’s millions of crickets must be experiencing down at their ground level. Comparing it to the end of the world or 100-foot tall Slipknot Monsters blasting music above us and then proceeding to dedicate the next song to the crickets. Then they finished with my favourite song moment of the weekend when Flowertruck emphatically played ‘Come Across’, a song I already featured on several of my Spotify playlists, but live on that Maxim PA it was another experience altogether. It couldn’t have felt more from the heart. Throw on top that keyboard hook by Sarah Sykes, which is as vintage as any Depeche Mode keyboard hook, and I looked like the take-all-my-money Futurama meme up on the hill.
If ‘Come Across’ was my favourite live song of the weekend, then The Senegambian Jazz Band were my favourite band of the weekend. There were numerous reasons why. They managed to ride that fine line between fun festive big band and tight, interesting, dissectible, headphone-worthy music. Then there was their noticeable pure enjoyment and smiles across all the members, the kind that comes from enjoying their own music and seeing the crowd’s warm reaction to it. Simple, but the enjoyment was mutual across everyone in the area. The real festival MVP however was the singer and Kora player Amadou Suso. He may be one of the coolest musicians in Melbourne. I have no idea what he’s like off stage, but I don’t want to ruin that illusion of just how cool he is. He automatically makes the band almost a must on every festival in the country, which would actually kind of suck, because I don’t want to get sick of The Senegambian Jazz Band, which could happen if everyone booked them, like they really should. They just spice up not only the Melbourne music scene, but the Australian music scene.
With an evident West African influence in his rhythms and flows, he makes you want to get down and be silly. More impressively the set never feels tiring, there’s enough variety in the arrangements that it makes you actually never want it to end, or at least for it to go a little longer. Whether it’s turning the Kora upside and playing it like a magician or covering a ‘90s song — of which I sadly can’t think of title, despite it being a very famous song (I’m better at naming obscure B-sides). Please DM me the song title if you were there.
I had to gather myself for a moment and went to get some food, $10 small pizzas to be exact, which hit the spot. On the way to the toilets I walked past a classic Australian scene. On the left people were watching Jaws in the movie theatre inside a country hut (props to the selection of movies including Trainspotting, Spirited Away and Kill Bill: Vol 1). Jaws may not be Australian, but a film about a killer shark is more Australian than any other country could claim. Then on the right I could see inside the First-Aid RV, yes a mobile home First-Aid (something you would see rock up to a country footy match), people watching the AFL live on Channel 7. Felt like a scene dropped from The Castle’s final edit. It was all very endearing, and because there was never any lines for the toilets in the toilet truck, I didn’t feel guilty sitting on the toilet for a while, while I typed down all my notes. A nice pause, something you don’t get at big festivals, where you know there’s a busting line outside the door and the guilt gets to you, forcing you to hurry up and not actually gather yourself for a few minutes. Or maybe that’s just me.
Outside of Billy Davis and Pjenné, the rest of the Saturday night set times could’ve been reworked more effectively, and again this is something BTM were aware of, and sometimes it’s unavoidable due to scheduling clashes and stage criteria etc. Firstly, Tiny Little Houses felt like somebody pulling you away from a dance floor (The Senegambian Jazz Band) for a serious D&M. I’m all for D&M’s, but the timing was off, the mood was too positive, those two bands should’ve switched set times. GUM was actually more interesting than I expected, a one-man show like D.D Dumbo, but more focused on snyth and guitar layering. But honestly I wasn’t expecting much — I’m surely not the only person a bit tired of Tame Impala members getting so much exposure (over far more interesting Australian musicians), simply because Kevin Parker is a genius. Jay Watson tried his best — he comes across as a good dude, no ego. Apparently, he was originally meant to have a band, again he would’ve worked better before Senegambian and Billy Davis. Darcy Baylis was also his usual hard-to-pin-down self, twisting and turning from ‘90s electronica to hip-hop to PBR-RnB. It was more noteworthy and discussion worthy than party mood. Which is how Paradise used him when he played upstairs in clubland, while there was an option of basement party DJs at the same time downstairs. Giving punters an option. The crowd was a little confused at BTM by the set time pacing at this point and started to thin out.
Which was unfortunate for Pjenné, who was 100% from the get go. The lighting guy made a big no-no by sitting tight on the lights for like 20 minutes — FYI, DJ set lighting must be 80% go-go from the start, very different to lighting a band or group. This really hurt the early momentum of loosening up the crowd, which was evident by the time the lights got moving and the crowd finally appeared to be back in full party mode, but a good 4 hours later than the full party mood during Billy Davis. For those who hung around, it was a genre world tour experience hour, with the only blemish being playing too much Kylie Minogue, again another trend I wish Melbourne DJs would stop, trying to be too cute and full-circle self-aware, playing pop songs we’ve already played too much for the last 20 years. There’s so much amazing music out there, new and old. Keep it exciting, please. It’s really hard to not get behind Pjenné, who sings along to many of the songs dropped, and chats to everyone in the front row.
The music stopped at 4 am, and for most, it was late enough, however as someone who loves dancing until sunrise at festivals, I had to take the UEboom down the hill to continue the party. Only 8 other people came along, but it’s when I started to jog down notes on how the festival’s identity needs clarifying. By finishing the nights with DJs, some punters come along thinking each night will be a loose party. Instead the DJs need to be advertised as a little boogie before bed or just spread out between the bands, and they had the right lighter DJs to do so. I think to advertise the festival as a day and evening festival, a summer season winde down, would help its market and would leave punters a little less confused at the end of the night. A lot of this was also my fault, naturally assuming the nights should finish the same way, just like every other festival, instead of viewing By The Meadow differently.
This was a notion I didn’t fully grasp until the next morning with a lush closing combination of Leah Senior (who Lachlan, during the following The Ocean Party set, claimed to be his favourite set in a long time) and The Ocean Party. It’s an unfortunate situation Leah Senior find themselves in. Their calm, angelic lulling atmosphere is ideal for festival recovery mornings, I can honestly only think of one other equal option in Australia, that being Dannika. The unfortunate part is that Leah deserves a later time-slot, a bigger audience. Maybe that’s why two of the band members started the more upbeat and fun band Girlatones, trying to break their typecast.
Having said that, Leah Senior looked liked she had grown up on this farm, her music embodied the purity of the country community.
Despite some strong wind kicking in and knocking down the fences around the stage, nothing could prevent the sound during The Ocean Party. I question every PA I’ve ever heard them play through, and there’s been a lot of PA’s I’ve heard them play through. I sat on the hill thinking “oh, this is what they must actually sound like in the studio.” Almost like a jump from Earbuds to $1000 open headphones. They introduced a guest pan flute player as Aldani, which I still find funny typing this up weeks later and I don’t even know the story behind the joke. I think he’s from the band Cool Sounds. Then after reading on Facebook that Snowy (their Saxophone player) couldn’t find his Saxophone the day before, in true dolewave DYI fashion they closed with a local classic ‘Head Down’ with Snowy bringing it home via somebody else’s Saxophone. Please never change, The Ocean Party.
And that’s it, really. By The Meadow is a few slight adjustments from being a flawless wholesome weekend. Add some gripple wire across the stage, hang some ferns. Get rid of the gap between the stage and the crowd, no fence needed, bring everyone together. Add one more vegan option and group activities between sets. Open the gates earlier on the first day, give people a couple hours to set up their tents before the first band. Really minor adjustments, that’s just how impressive By The Meadow truly is.
By The Meadow is a Music Festival set 90 minutes south-west of Melbourne in Bambra. They started in 2014 and they have slowly and carefully built up a respected fan base. This year marks their 5th festival and it’s their biggest lineup to date. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a better snapshot of 2018 Melbourne (plus a few imports) via a festival lineup. Without Paradise Music Festival or Shady Cottage this year, the spotlight is brighter on By The Meadow than ever and it sounds like they’re more than ready.
A few weeks ago we caught up Cameron and Ruby, two of the festival organisers. We discussed all the usual questions about running a small festival, but it was really their emphasis on the concept of local that made me believe this festival truly does care more about people than trying to make money or become the next big hot festival. By The Meadow wants to bring what they love about Melbourne to a region of Victoria that’s going through changes and deserves to be a part of the excitement, hoping to inspire the next generation to take part.
I was originally keen on attending based on the fantastic lineup alone, but now I just want to support the great cause that is By The Meadow. Tickets are still available if you not only feel like a good time, but want to also support our locals doing great things.
Marcus Rimondini: What’s the story behind how the festival started?
Ruby: Well, Cameron, for his 21st, had a festival party at his parents’ property.
Cameron: We had two 21sts in a row, mine and then my brother’s the year after and then the next year there was no birthday.
Ruby: So we were like, we just want to have a party, and my parents had a property, and so we started it there. It was really good for us to do it there, and the local community was really good.
How many people were there?
Ruby: The first year was 200…
Cameron: I think we capped it at 200, but we were pushing so many boundaries, we ended up saying “let’s just stop at 150 and it’ll be good.” Sold it in two weeks, didn’t have any permits, and just said if you want to make a donation at the gate to cover the generator *laughs*, that would be great.
Ruby: And we did cover it. The next year I thought, I don’t want my parents to lose their property because something happens, so we started getting permits, and then it started getting bigger, so we had it at my parents’ farm again. The year after (the third year), some of my very good friends’ parents’ were nice enough to let us expand on to their property, which is about 100m away over the hill.
Are they your closest neighbours?
Ruby: They’re not the closest neighbours, but it’s a lot bigger space for us, they loved the festival, and they were just like “yeah come have it at our house, we’ve got more room, more spaces for camping.
Cameron: We’ve gone from this tiny little spot. It was originally ‘by the meadow’ because it was going to be on the deck of a house, which would look out into the meadow. But we were like “ we cannot put this here,” so we put it in the meadow *laughs*. So we went from down in the bottom of this valley, where her parents house is. And now we have this site that’s right up on top of Bambra, and the view is mental. You just get this whole sweeping view of the flat plains out the back of Geelong.
Ruby: And this will be our third year (fifth overall) doing it there.
Was the first one in the back of a truck?
Cameron: Yeah, the first three were in the back of the same truck.
Ruby: And we had to wait until after business hours on Friday to set it up.
Cameron: It was stressful as. We had music starting at 10 am on the Saturday morning, after the trucks only shows up at 6 pm the night before… AND we had to deck the whole thing out like a professional stage.
Ruby: And then when we started doing the Friday night as well, we couldn’t get the truck in time, so now we have a proper stage.
Cameron: We now have the luxury of delivering a better package for the punters too, we can it in on a Wednesday, and then have all of Thursday and a good chunk of Friday to build something that looks really nice against the background.
Ruby: It started very DIY — and we’re trying, we’re slowly building it up *laughs*. We still like to keep it very local and what we really love, too, and lots of everyone being very involved. So hopefully we’re making it a bit cleaner, a bit more professional too.
What are some of the main things that have changed over the five years, aside from the stage?
Ruby: I think we have learnt that sometimes you need to outsource more and spend a bit more money to make it easier in the long run.
Cameron: Yeah, we’ve kind of ended up focusing on the core part that people enjoy, and then handing off a lot of the other stuff. So we’re involved in making sure that the lineup is amazing, and the sound that delivers the lineup to the punters is as good as we can get. We’ve been so lucky, the sound guys we started with have been phenomenal, they’re audio nerds, they’re amazing. We work pretty close with the food, we think that’s a pretty core part as to why people dig festivals. We try to keep it local as well.
Ruby: Really local, so it has been one of our very good friends for the first couple of years.
Cameron: So we’ve had a chef from back home in Colac, we get him to pick a pop-up menu for the weekend. The food’s important, making sure all that stuff is consistent.
Ruby: We want to make sure it’s good food, but not super expensive. We’re really lucky, Cameron has a motorbike shop, so he has access to a lot of things that we need. My dad and my brothers are builders, without them — at the start especially — we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
So you get the whole family to help out?
Ruby: We get my brother’s friends, and Cameron’s brother’s friends come down.
Cameron: They’ll be there for like six or so days. They’ll work hard a couple days before, then enjoy the festival, and then on a Sunday morning when they’re feeling like dirtbags, they’ll be the ones working the hardest.
Ruby: They’re very good, they put up with a lot, but they have a very good time at it as well.
Cameron: That stuff all around the outside has changed, but what we deliver in the middle is identical. We just try to take a really tidy snapshot of what’s up and coming in music around here (northside Melbourne).
Was there anything in particular you were looking to mix up this year with the lineup?
Cameron: I guess we need to talk about gender equality on the bill. We’re super conscious of it now. We always tried to cater towards gender equality, and I think we managed to do so pretty well from the outset like we had Ali Barter headlining four years ago. Now that there are people specifically going out and pointing out the percentage of females in your lineup, it really makes a good point. And when you see a lot of festivals that don’t, you think, you’ve got to do something about it. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to, given where we are and what we have access to. So we’re extremely conscious of trying to book an equal lineup and I think this year we have over 50% bands with female members in them, we’re pretty happy with that. But it is difficult to do so still; it takes way more work, and it would be far easier to ignore, but that’s a big part of what we set out to do this year.
Do you feel the genres are a little more varied?
Ruby: Yeah, I guess we like to put bands on that we’re going to have fun listening to, mostly.
Cameron: We’ll spend a lot of time going out and seeing these bands.
Ruby: We’re there working, but we want to hear it and be having a good time, and see people having a good time.
Cameron: So if it’s varied, it’s just an indication of what we’ve been listening to in the last 12 to 18 months. But it doesn’t feel that much more varied, I think there’s less hip-hop than we’ve had in the past.
Ruby: This is off the record, but I love hip-hop! So that’s a real disappointment to me.
Cameron: We normally tried to get two or three, but this year we’ve just got HTMLFlowers, 30/70 is I guess a little bit swinging towards hip-hop, but we definitely don’t have as much clear cut hip-hop on the bill this year as normal. There really is no picture, we’ll go out targeting some big acts to head the bill, and then fill in below, as to where we need to find the diversity. If we have heaps of rock bands, we’ll find pop bands and electronic music..”
Ruby: It’s nearly a bit selfish because it’s all just bands we love to listen to, but we think other people will enjoy it as well.
Cameron: It also has to represent either somebody who has put out a debut album that’s doing really well, or somebody that’s emerging and showing such clear talent that they’re going to go somewhere. There are not many bands on our bill that have been just punching around in the middle of the music scene for a long time.
Ruby: What I really like about Meadow is that a lot of it’s done by word-of-mouth, by people who have been before and then their friends come and they’re like, “this is amazing!” Or you go out to a bar and someone’s wearing a By The Meadow t-shirt and they’re talking about how good it was. It’s really nice to hear that, we don’t do that much advertising.
Cameron: We shut it down (during the year).
Ruby: We want to maintain the vibe of people being friendly to each other, we don’t want to cater to a completely different audience. The people who come are amazing people. You want their friends, and the people they would be with to come as well.
Did you have any issues leading up to this festival?
Cameron: This one’s been as smooth as anything. Early on we had some sound pollution issues with neighbours, but you work through those, and you try and build some relationships with those neighbours.
Ruby: It was funny because some of the biggest issues were with neighbours who actually came from Melbourne and had a holiday home.
Cameron: We’ve had nothing this year.
Ruby: Or last year.
Cameron: The hardest things would’ve been in just the band booking. Last year I was away through October, November and start of December in Detroit. That was difficult trying to book a bill from the other side of the world, because it would be like one email a day, if they came back with a bad answer, I’d be like “shit I’ve wasted another day.” I underestimated how hard it would be to converse back and forth. So the bill came out a bit later than we hoped, but that was it, we got there in the end.
What are some of the highlights of the previous years?
Cameron: One of the best ones for me was when I was at the urinal, and this bloke pulled up next to me and he’s like “you run this thing don’t you, you’re one of the ones who runs it, this is great, it’s like a house, but outside and not at a house.” It was like the best thing to hear. This guy was clearly wrecked, but I was like “oh my god, he’s so wise.”
So why the weekend after Easter?
Ruby: It’s a weird time of the year, because you’ve probably just gone to Golden Plains and then pay three weeks later to go to another festival. It’s necessary for us, because of the area we’re in, it has to be out of total fire ban season. We couldn’t do it any earlier than when we do it.
Cameron: Yeah, I don’t how Easter works, but it moves a lot *laughs*. It like follows a full moon or something. We pushed last year forward, because Easter was late April. We just get guided by the first weekend of April, otherwise we try to go the weekend after Easter. Because we’re all working, so we all need that time off over Easter to go and set it up. Last year was hard, because we were all trying to get time off work the week before to go and do it. The idea at first was to go the opposite time of the year to Paradise Music Festival.
Does the timing of the festival worry you financially?
Ruby: We’re really careful with what we spend money on.
Cameron: It would be so easy to go out and spend so much money on a bill, and make an amazing bill and still not get that audience down there. This year was the biggest step we’ve ever taken. But we’ll end in the same position again, net zero, everyone’s had a good time, and we’ll be like “thank god we didn’t lose any money!” You learn so much, and you just make so many connections and meet so many people, you won’t get that from going to gigs or being in a band or whatever, you just don’t learn the same stuff.
How’s the weather in April?
Ruby: Well ours was a little bit colder than usual last year; it wasn’t super cold, but it was colder. I actually noticed a drop in the visits to the first aid tent for people who got thorns in their feet and stuff — everyone was wearing shoes, which is alright!
Where do you source your artists from?
Cameron: We start booking kind of around BIGSOUND time, which is a good indicator of what’s going to go well, but you have to be careful, too. There’s also Melbourne Music Week. We source from everywhere, if you went to one source only, you wouldn’t get a very good picture of what’s happening right now.
Have you tried to reach a crowd that’s outside of the Melbourne bubble?
Cameron: We advertised for the first time, because I truly believe there’s got to be a bunch of kids in that Torquay area, there’s got to be a massive audience down there of this young population, even young families. But maybe we’re too early, and they’re going to have kids, and their kids are going to be ready for festivals. There’s just this massive population boom in and around Torquay and that side of Geelong.
Ruby: I think it’s getting them there in the first place. This isn’t meaning to speak bad of the country people, because I’m from there, but a lot of the bands we’re having are well-known in Melbourne, but not so well-known in country areas. Once people come though, they tend to come back, again and again, it’s a lot to do with them loving the music.
Cameron: I think there will be more people from that area eventually engaging with it. I think Geelong is coming up again, there are a few music venues popping up there now. Better bands are touring out there. Ten years ago they had really good music culture coming out of Geelong, it’s where like King Gizzard and The Murlocs started out. Then it died and all the cool pubs that bands played at, closed. It’s coming back, Workers Club is helping. So here’s hoping there will be more of an audience, because that’s 20 minutes from us, half an hour from Bambra.
What are some of the things about running a festival that are much harder than you expected?
Cameron: We didn’t have any experience. We went to the council and were like “how do you run an event?” like “what do we legally have to do to run this?” Then she started calling in police officers and CFA people to talk to us. We were like 21, and the police officer was like “what are you going to do when somebody dies of a drug overdose?” It was just frustrating being talked down to, we were trying to do the right thing.
Ruby: It’s a weird situation especially with drug talk, a lot of people said “what are you going to do to prevent this?” Well we’re trying to promote a culture where it’s not encouraged, and at the same time we’re going to have everything available in the event that something does happen. Originally they wanted us to put security cameras on every tree. This is when we had 400 people coming to the festival, we couldn’t even afford lights for the campground.
Cam: They were the biggest hurdles, and now that they know we’ve got the ability to run it, we’ve kept people safe for five years in a row down there. That hurdle kind of disappeared.
If you had more money, what would you do to the festival?
Cameron: I wouldn’t change much to be honest.
Ruby: We would probably hire people to do all the work that our dads do, so they wouldn’t have to do it.
Cameron: That’s actually a good one *laughs*. But it wouldn’t matter, they would find something else. If I get somebody else to do the things dad will do, dad will find something else that needs doing, it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing left to do. He will find something.
Ruby: They do love it, though.
Cameron: We’re nearly where we need to be for it to run successfully, and to give us the opportunity to do it again next year. We’re pretty happy. We love the way that it’s forced upon anyone, it’s not on giant billboards or anything. I don’t know if you got the press release, but we get our beers from the guys down the road, our wines from a local winery, our food from our friends in now Lorne, one from Aireys Inlet, and one from Colac. We’re pretty passionate about keeping that stuff strictly local, and deliberately steering clear of food trucks. So there will not be a food truck at our festival.
Ruby: Our stage comes from Winchelsea primary school, which is a primary school about ten minutes away, we have a guy from Colac who brings us a truck full of ice, our sound guys come from Geelong, and the coffee comes from Apollo Bay. Everything we can do, we try and keep really local!
09 Feb Trading Tunes with Daydreams
The wizard trio behind the fantastic Daydreams parties are DJing at By The Meadow festival between the 6th-8th of April. The line-up is already stacked with awesome live bands throughout a variety of genres, and so having the Daydreams DJs spin tunes in the night is the perfect cherry on top.
There’s only 700 tickets remaining, so you know By The meadow will sell out soon. Especially once you hear Daydreams’ selections for their Trading Tunes feature. The theme is “a bunch of tracks from the 80s, plus a new one from a guy we love that also loves the 80s.”
By The Meadows Line-Up – Click Here for Tickets!
Rainbow Team – ‘Dreaming’
J.C. Barreto – ‘Dr. Love’
“Absolute funk/boogie bomb.”
Taboo – ‘Self Service (Give me some sugar give me banana)’
“So much amazing stuff from South Africa in the 80s – hard to just choose one, to be honest.”
Jex Opolis – ‘Infinity Room’
“A track off Human Emotion, Jexy’s new record on his own label, Good Timin’. Love you, Jexy.”
Hamid El Shaeri – ‘Ayonha’
“Off a compilation of songs from the Arabic world in the 70s and 80s. Habibi Funk, check it out.”
By The Meadow is a small festival held 1.5 hours out of Melbourne in Bambra. With both Paradise Music Festival and Shady Cottage taking a year off this summer, By The Meadow is this summer’s most eclectic festival line-up of local musical artists.
Held from the 6th-8th of April, tickets are only $97.20, which is absurd for the talent ratio per dollar. There’s a wide range of talent and genres, from Fazerdaze to Tiny Little Houses, The Harpoons to Billy Davis and The Good Lords, and The Senegambian Jazz Band to the DayDreams DJs. But here’s five artists your future self may proclaim with pride to have once seen at the small festival called By The Meadow.
Darcy Baylis isn’t entirely sure what his sound is, but his hardworking quest to discover himself has made him fascinating since he was a teenager playing as Naminé. His EP last year had enough talking points to write a thesis — it’s not always perfect, but when he get’s it right and it clicks, it’s eye-opening stuff. The man does it all himself, an all-in-one package who could easily disappear off the map or become the next big thing. So catch him now, in case of either scenario.
In late 2015 the Sydney band Flowertruck dropped one of the more underrated Australian EPs of recent years, an EP I still listen to regularly. Five songs that glisten with optimism, fun and skill that make it all sound so simple and effortless. Lead singer Charles Rushforth is full of joy and character — he draws you in but he’s not demanding. Nor is he the only star in the band; Sarah Sykes who also provides vocals is a another talent to keep an eye on, with her own band Sunscreen dropping a great EP last year. Watch out for Flowertruck’s next album release, they have too much talent not to take the next step.
Thank fudge this awesome trio moved to Melbourne from Perth. Perth’s lovely and all, but they deserved far more exposure and respect. These three women are a powerhouse live, playing at 100% every time on stage. I mean, you don’t move across an entire country unless you take your craft seriously. Dianas have the kind of band chemistry that makes you want to start a band.
I always enjoy Leah Senior — you’d have to be soulless not to. But it wasn’t until BIGSOUND 2016 when I watched them in person, that I really become mesmerised by Leah. There’s a lot of singers out there that sound a little too close to their idols. There’s a huge wave of Angel Olsen singers right now for example, but Leah comes across genuine with her vocals and delivery. Leah truly has a beauty inside her and she translates it magnificently with light finger play and her angelic vocal range. The world could use more Leah Seniors.
File Stella in the “catch her before she’s huge” folder. Stella continued her rise throughout 2017 and is set to play all over the world in 2018, at SXSW, Live in Leeds Festival and is opening for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever around Europe. But before she takes over the world, you can catch her intimately at By The Meadow. Which honestly suits her better than the larger stages she’ll soon be playing; her music needs the quietest of crowds to be truly appreciated.