Meadows In The Mountains 2013 – Live In Smolyan, Bulgaria

Unlike any other festival in the world...

The less said about the gruelling, 15-hour journey from Blighty to Polkovnik Serafimovo, the better.

Thankfully, when we do arrive in this remote village in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains, the scenery is spectacular: vertiginous, forest-clad peaks soar into the sky while ramshackle houses sit in verdant fields along with some bewildered looking goats. To be fair, they’re probably not used to their home being invaded by 500 luridly-clad ravers, ready for the three-day dance mash-up that is Meadows In The Mountains.

Now in its third year, Meadows is a family-run labour of love, the dream-made-reality of The Brothers Sasse: Damian and Ben. They’re assisted by Mama and Papa Sasse, who do endearingly parent-y stuff like selling old cagoules out of the back of a Land Rover. The whole operation is personal and cheerfully shambolic, and with an emphasis on group interaction and involvement.

It’s damp and cloudy as we ascend the mountain to the festival, but spirits are high as we enter the muddy site. There’s not much going on at 5pm, so we avail ourselves of the trampoline and get familiar with the slightly cumbersome drink tokens system. The site itself is a delightful, DIY jumble of colourful wooden bars, inflatable tents and quirky creations. Most things are sustainable and constructed with the environment in mind. Everyone is exceedingly nice.

The first tunes of the day come from multi-talented whizz kid, Cosmo Sheldrake, and his fleet of loop pedals. Refreshingly original, he creates quirky, off-kilter, beat-driven numbers you can dance to. Particularly charming is ‘The Fly’, which borrows lyrics from the William Blake poem of the same name and proves that the revolutionary poet can rock the 21st century with the best of them. In too short a time Sheldrake’s set is over and he scampers back into the woods, never to be seen again.

Given that there are no line-up details, it’s always a pleasant surprise when someone new takes to the stage, although some warning wouldn’t go amiss. Next up is wild-haired DJ and Amsterdam clubster San Proper, who, apart from looking like a benign werewolf, is an animal (sorry) on the decks. After a thumping first hour, he drops ‘Thriller’ into the mix, and soon happy festival goers are raising their paws in the air, Jackson-style – the party has well and truly started.

With the weather showing no sign of abating the following day, we don our recently purchased Bulgarian fishing boots and cagoule and climb the mountain once more. As we slither into the festival site, however, the sky suddenly clears, revealing a million stars. To our delight, we find new favourite DJ, San Proper, commanding the main stage again, followed by house and techno gurus, the Just Jack DJs, and acid techno house god Seb Voigt, who takes us through to the wee small hours.

Before we know it, it’s 5am and time to head up to the Sunrise Stage – with good reason. To the dulcet, chilled-out tones of Moomin and Baby Prince, we watch the horizon gradually lighten, illuminating the cloud-swathed mountains on the opposite side of the valley. As the sun finally crests the highest peak, a hushed cheer goes up from the crowd watching from the grassy bank. It’s a moment worth the entire cost of a ticket.

The following evening is a far more chilled-out affair, although we know some hardcore partiers made it through until 6pm the following day. We relax to the gorgeous dream-pop of Mt Wolf and have one last dance to house techies Dead Echo, before we admit defeat.

With its remarkable setting, family feel and beyond laidback attitude, Meadows is quite unlike any other festival in the world. Currently in a transitional phase, the organisers now need to decide whether to keep it small, intimate and, admittedly, a bit chaotic; or whether to sharpen up operations and expand.

Either way, the love and commitment from both the brothers and the extended Meadows family should ensure that it loses none of its charm.

Words: Theresa Heath

Photos: Michael Parker

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