Peace, Love, & Music - Meadows in the Mountains 2014

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A few months ago, we sent our Meoko correspondent and a Russian war photographer deep into the Bulgarian Mountains to report back on Meadows in the Mountains, a festival we’d been hearing fabulous things about for some time.. After having lost all radio contact with them for over a week we initially feared the worst. They later turned up in Belgrade, alive but barely coherent, whilst the rest of the film crew got lost somewhere in Kosovo on the way back from an after party. This is their story.

Frequently over the course of the weekend, whilst running wild and free through the verdant hills and forests above the sleepy village of Polkovnik Serafimovo deep in the Bulgarian Rhodope mountain range where Meadows in the Mountains takes place, I was asked by the event organizers or other attendees about my impression so far. Most frequently, I tended to be lost for words.

Following a couple of weeks in which I have been digesting and distilling the range of emotions and experiences encountered, the time has come for me to as best I can, try to put the overall experience into words. Where to start? Well, conscious that as cliché as it may sound, Meadows, as it is affectionately known by those who have been fortunate enough to experience it on more than one occasion (it is now in its 4th year) is unlike any other festival I have previously experienced.

In fact, Meadows doesn’t really feel like a festival at all. At some point early in the morning of the first night, following the most ethereal and tear-jerking sunrise I have ever witnessed, complemented by a second by second changing pattern of misty clouds rolling over the mountain tops to form a white canopy above the valley sprawled out beneath us, I decided it felt more like some kind of debaucherous manor party full of weird and wonderful characters to which I had somehow found myself at. Which begs the question how exactly did I end up here?

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Whilst many festivals claim to be a family affair for the added credibility and sincerity that such a claim can offer, Meadows truly is. Several years ago, Duncan and Candace Sasse retired from the UK and bought a house in the village, far removed from the pace and grind of the city and from the pressures of keeping up appearances so inherent to life in the west. They have quickly become as much a part of the life of the village as the elders that have inhabited it for generations. Their sons, Damian and Benji, witnessing the special beauty of the environs of their new family home initially invited a few friends to spend some time with them in these magical surroundings, and since then, what was initially just an intimate gathering amongst a tight knit bunch has grown organically, mostly through word of mouth, into a very special event, one that has so far managed to preserve that intimate feel and homely vibe; a vibe in which we all felt like guests of the Sasse family and of their extended family of long-time friends and village locals who are fortunate enough to call this enchanting place their home. 

It is a testament to the Sasse family and all those involved with this special event that such a vibe persists, for it is this in its essence that really makes Meadows so special, and so different from any other festival out there. I must admit to feeling a little apprehension heading out there in the knowledge that this would be its biggest year yet with an estimated attendance of 700, a little concerned perhaps that somehow I would be part of a new breed of visitor who wasn’t there when it all began, and who therefore wouldn’t be as welcome or clued in as those that were. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the minute we arrived at the village, my ragtag band of friends and I (a Russian war photographer who I deemed suitably qualified to document proceedings and talk us out of a pinch when required, a Dutch hippie, a Swiss humanitarian worker and a Frenchman from Nice with a straw fedora and pink shirt who looked like he had somehow gotten lost en route to the Cote D’Azur) were greeted by Aidan, Ben, Damian and all those who help to organize and run the event quite literally with open arms, and instantly made to feel that we would be as much part of Meadows as anyone else who had ever made the journey there. For at its core, despite an abundance of excellent music throughout the weekend which I will come to later, what makes Meadows so special are all the wonderful characters who are the festival, many of whom contribute richly to its existence and continuation by heading out a month in advance to build lost tree-houses and installations, massage parlours, death slides, zip-lines, and much, much more that you can surreptitiously stumble upon whilst exploring the woods and meadows around the 2 humble wooden stages at the top of the mountain.

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There is undoubtedly, a pervading, authentic British hippie spirit present, thankfully one that hasn’t been packaged and sold for its cool factor à la Glastonbury. Having lived in London these past 2 years I instantly recognised many of its protagonists from late night and early morning warehouse parties such as the one at Damian and Benji’s where I first heard about it, as well as others hosted by The Artful Badger, Bearded Kitten, Passing Clouds, the Hackney Wick crews, all of whose creative influences can be clearly seen and felt.  These creative collectives all contribute heavily to many of the UK’s most acclaimed festivals such as Secret Garden Party, Glastonbury, Wilderness, Boomtown etc., festivals which in comparison to European and American equivalents (with the exception of Burning Man) offer much more in the way of overall experience and art, with the music almost coming secondary in nature. The environment reminded me of a party I went to a few years back whilst spending some months in San Francisco, hosted by long-time SF residents Solar and the Sunset Crew, out in Marin County over the Golden Gate bridge. I remember on that occasion looking around me and seeing the collection of different faces and ages and colourful costumes, against a backdrop of green hills and lakes, set to lush, hypnotic electronic beats and realising that whilst the music, drugs and clothing had changed, the hippie scene was still very much alive and healthy. Meadows paints a very similar picture. I met open minded, free-spirits from all across Europe, some came from even further afield like California, presumably part of the Burning Man extended family community of which Meadowers clearly belong. It is a truly international affair, a rassemblement of music and peace loving like minds.

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Drugs were freely exchanged and shared, conversations flowed without need for introduction, and new friends made in a heartbeat. On Sunday morning one guy embraced me in his arms and cried over the fact that he had nothing left to offer, and bemoaned the monetary exchange inherent in the partaking and sharing of drugs today. I could feel the sincerity and love in his embrace and the genuine pain he felt, watching tears stream down his face as I tried my very best to bring him solace. It was a very emotional and moving moment and one that I will always remember, and the kind of human interaction which Meadows opens the door to.

Meadows has no commercial or corporate sponsoring and an ethos far removed from the profit-driven models that most festivals are based on. I was particularly struck by the generosity of the event organizers and of all the team involved who had clearly gone to such effort to create and put on an incredible event, in somewhere so remote and difficult to access that the logistical considerations alone must be onerous. We were all guests of this magical and sirenic place- full of magical waterfalls, woods and prairies. We stayed in the modest home of a local 85-year-old grandmother whom treated us like her long lost sons and with whom we developed a heartfelt, maternal bond despite not being able to speak a word of shared tongue, and in defiance of the fact that we came from cultures and ways so far removed from hers. Coming back in the mornings completely drained from the efflux of emotional energy that a day and night atop the mountain requisites, we would sit with her on her front porch, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea that she had endearingly made for us from leaves freshly picked out of her garden.

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And so what of the music? I write for an electronic music magazine, and was there on a somewhat professional nature to report on this primarily surely…so what is the relevance, of Meadows as a festival to the electronic music scene, if any? It is a question I frequently asked myself whilst there, and a couple of months beforehand when opting to go to Meadows over Sonár which happened to be taking place on the very same weekend. It was a decision made with a fair degree of apprehension given that since going to Sonár for the first time 7 years ago, I had not yet missed a single year. I was concerned that by missing it, I would be out of the loop so to speak. Needless to say I have absolutely no regrets with my decision, especially when other friends who went reported back at the rising cost of drinks there and the fact that Barcelona locals have been priced out of a festival which initially began to promote the Catalan electronic music scene. It was actually, refreshing to take a complete leap of faith and have total trust in the programming, despite not knowing most of the names on the bill. Often it is when you leave your expectations behind that you are most pleasantly surprised, and on the musical front I was blown away by some of the artists I discovered and the sets I heard from many underground and unsigned acts at Meadows. Those responsible for the programming are clearly on point and deserve some serious kudos.

On the Friday night Hrdvsion played one of the nastiest and edgiest tech-house sets I’ve yet to hear just to get everyone loose, with a particular rework of the classic “Walk for Me” worthy of mention, with its tight snares and Congo beats piercing the crisp night air and perfectly suited to this tribal gathering. After such an explosive and bruising set, Mayaan Nidam followed with what was for me the highlight performance of the weekend, playing a blissful fusion of eastern mystical grooves with down tempo techno that seemed to just suck you in, for over 4 hours whilst the sun began to rise over the mountains and valley beneath us. Other stand out sets over the course of the weekend included those by Ruede Hagelstein, Moomin, Jazzanova, and Andrew Ashong, who managed that rare thing that every DJ strives for in playing a hypnagogic remix of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” to which everyone sang along to the point that he could completely drop the vocals and let the crowd do the rest. Bosha, alocal Bulgarian talent hailing from Sofia was another who really impressed me and is perhaps demonstrative of a growing scene in Bulgaria. Jim Cassidy & Pablo was another stand out act, whilst newly formed Son of Sun, playing in what was I believe only their 3rd live performance put on the kind of show that might suggest we might be seeing more of them on a bigger stage in the future.

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And of course, how could we not mention San Proper, who seemed to be everywhere, like some kind of spiritual eagle to Meadows, and who played several times over the course of the weekend both at day and night- although I still managed to miss him every time. No one was really ever sure who was playing at what time, a fact that made listening to sets without preconceptions or expectations all the more rewarding, and your senses even more finely attuned. During the day we were treated to gypsy-folk and acoustic stuff, perfect easy listening whilst having a few beers and recounting adventures from the night before with new friends, like the one about getting lost in the woods in the dark for hours alone whilst tripping balls on acid after having ventured out in need of a number 2 a truly memorable ordeal.

I guess what strikes me most is that despite the anarchic and uncontrolled nature in which folk got loose what with people clambering all over each other, plunging down death slides, hanging off stages and running around naked never have I experienced a more peaceful, loving, honest and inclusive atmosphere at a festival, with an energy so pure and palpable. For me, this is what electronic music is all about and the reason I fell in love with it in the first place, and it is what makes Meadows so special. With the burgeoning popularity of electronic music across the world and the rise of monstrous corporate sponsored festivals without soul, in the age of F*CK ME I’M FAMOUS and $100,000 appearance fees, in a world without Frankie Knuckles, so many people are being initiated into electronic music, or music in general, on the back of some branded sell without really understanding why it brings people together, to dance, to share, to laugh and to love. In this kind of context, a festival like Meadows which upholds such integral and real values is a rare gem and one to be cherished.

 

A Special thanks to everyone at Meadows who made it such a special experience with your amazing energy and vibe, the Sasse family for having us, Aidan & Georgia for all your coordination, our Granny, Yana & Ladi for driving us back to Sofia after we missed our flight following the most rock n’ roll after-party, Vlady for putting up with us, the guys at the bar, and everyone else, you are to many to name. We hope to see you all again next year!

 

Words by Barry Daly

Photos by Dimitri Procofieff and Hannah Edwards

 

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