Do a quick Google search for Meadows In The Mountains and you’ll be greeted by images of impossibly lush, rolling mountain ranges and beautiful misty sunsets. Surely some form of Photoshop exaggeration? Actually, no. Now in its fourth year, this small festival is just as ridiculously beautiful as the photos suggest. But then, you are literally on top of a mountain, in the remote Rhodope mountain range in a largely untouched part of Bulgaria.
For the record, partying on top of a mountain is an absolute blast. However, if, like most attendees, you’re staying in the quiet, quaint village below, you have to work a little for your fun if you’re journeying up by foot (though you can grab a shuttle or even horse and cart for Authentic Points). But is it ever worth it once you get to the top. There’s something about trekking up 850 metres that makes the booze taste sweeter once you get there, particularly if you’re sipping it while ogling the incredible scenery you find yourself in the middle of.
Ogling with us were around 700 others, a merry assortment of UV-painted ravers, boldly bearded bands, one ever-entertaining stag group – containing a man with tattoos of a penis that ran halfway down his leg and multiple vaginas on his arm – and various friendly party people from around the globe.
THE DEATH SLIDE
There are just two stages at MitM, and the programming is such that there’s little overlap, with the Sunset Stage handling daytime duties and (mostly) live bands, and the Sunrise Stage – a short walk away over a rocky forest path – taking over at night, with DJs spinning their wares until sunrise and far beyond. What this means is that you can, in theory, see pretty much every artist playing: a fairly radical and refreshing concept for a festival these days.
Don’t go to MitM expecting a string of huge bands and globe-crushing DJs. If you haven’t already guessed, this one really is about more than just the music. It’s also about the Death Slide that hugs a steep part of the mountain and which felled a good few people. It’s also about the mildly terrifying zip line through the woods. And the biggest hammock you’ve ever seen. And dancing like a maniac around a huge fire. And the waterfalls that you can find if you really, really try. And just getting completely lost in forests and meadows, which you’ll do even if you weren’t planning to. Then there was a member of one of the bands, for whom the festival was all about stripping buck naked on his birthday, climbing to the top of the treehouse viewing platform and getting his naturist groove on for all to see and cheer. What a trooper.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a whole load of music to be found drifting through the mountain air, from live bands covering funk, rock, gypsy jazz and soul, to DJs belting out all kinds of beats and bass (including some great names from dance music’s underground, such as ace leftfield techno producer Maayan Nidam, who played a booming set). Many of the newer acts played like pros, such as southeast London three-piece These Ghosts, who nailed a lovely line in ambient, melodic, Wild Beasts-ish rock, which quickly got people dancing and whooping, despite the rain.
Ah yes, the rain. There was a fair bit of the stuff at MitM. And not your passé, pathetic UK rain, either. This was F*CKING PROPER RAIN, accompanied by thunderstorms and forked lightning that would have had Thor cowering under the treehouse. But as cheesy/stupid as it sounds, it really did add to the atmosphere. Plus, you’re up a mountain, right? Expect a few weather extremes. And just to frazzle your brain even more, prepare for blazing, soul-melting sunshine about five minutes after the rain stops. It’s weird. And awesome.
Known primarily for his skills as a producer and DJ, Andrew Ashong’s live performance, with full band, proved one of the highlights of the weekend. Playing guitar and singing, his warm, earthy funk tracks and silkily soulful songwriting were a delight, and went down an absolute treat with the crowd, particularly his dreamy version of (Theo Parrish collaboration) ‘Flowers’.
As Saturday night bled blissfully into Sunday morning, the Sunrise Stage was the place to be. Andy Ukhtomsky, DeadEcho and various other DJs span all kinds of fiery, energetic house soundtracks that refused to be ignored, alongside the odd slab of thumping techno and various perfectly timed curveballs, such as Evian Christ’s ‘Thrown Like Jacks’ and the Booka Shade vs. Plastic Operator mashup, ‘Night Falls/Won’t Back Down’.
With morning approaching, priorities shifted to focus on watching the sunrise. Luckily, being on top of a huge mountain meant that there were no shortage of spots to soak it up from. Banging on about the MitM sunrise in a review is always going to sound like hippie hyperbole, but let’s just say it’s a magnificent, life-affirming sight and leave it at that.
Some of Sunday’s musical treats included the theatrical rock of Jackson Scott and the Jackstronauts and singer-songwriter LA Salami – porny name aside, the guy had a surprisingly tender voice. Later on, Dutch producer San Proper performed a wild and captivating live set – after DJing earlier in the festival – before German producer Ruede Hagelstein played perhaps the most banging and beefy set of the weekend. Hagelstein’s superb tech-house tones worked up the crowd a treat and caused a satisfyingly huge amount of stomping. Full of energy and finesse, this was a masterclass in how to push the dancefloor buttons of a diverse festival crowd.
At a time when the world is awash with generic festivals that never quite deliver what they promise, Meadows in the Mountains feels like a very important event. It’s a truly homegrown festival, with a perfect setting and intimate atmosphere. And it’s also a shitload of fun. As for a certain Somerset-based festival behemoth, you can shove your Stone Circle where the sun doesn’t shine. Give me a misty meadow up a Bulgarian mountain any day.
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Words: Tristan Parker
Photos: Sareta Puri