Meadows in the Mountains 2018: Review

Bulgaria's Meadows in the Mountains festival has its focus firmly on music, nature and community and is a truly unique and unforgettable festival experience

Live Review by Claire Francis | 30 Jul 2018

Festival locations around Europe continue to get more and more exotic, but we're yet to stumble upon an event quite as unique as Meadows in the Mountains. A multi-genre music festival situated in Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria, Meadows in the Mountains takes place 850 metres above sea level in the Rhodope Mountains. From the journey to the festival itself, to the four days of performances, costumes, theatrics and general quirkiness that makes Meadows in the Mountains so idiosyncratic, this is indeed the 'cosmic adventure' that the event proclaims itself to be.

Approximately a four-hour drive from Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, the tiny village of Polkovnik Serafimovo has for the past eight years been transformed into a mecca for peace, love, and self-expression (LOTS of self-expression, in the literal sense. Forget your face glitter and flower-crowns, the fashion trend at MITM is to wear next-to-nothing at all). With the village nestled at the base of a verdant mountain, the festival site itself is situated at the peak. It's a steep trek upwards in the heat of a Bulgarian summer, but the experience (and incredible views) at the top are well worth the exertion.

MITM work closely with the residents of Polkovnik Serafimovo and one of the most charming things about the festival accommodation is the option to stay as a guest in a traditional Bulgarian family home. Our host is a lovely Bulgarian baba (grandmother) called Vera, whose house is located atop a steep hill and surrounded by a lush, lovingly cultivated garden. We speak no Bulgarian and Vera speaks no English, but it’s amazing how a lot of smiling, nodding, hand gestures (and some Google translating) can pass for conversation. Other villagers turn their houses into makeshift restaurants and bars to accommodate the incoming flood of international festival-goers, and the hospitality offered here is of the warmest kind you could hope to experience.

Offering a line-up that deliberately eschews big-name headliners in favour of a diverse mix of experimental music, Bulgarian bands and DJs, you're bound to discover at least a couple of your newest favourite acts at MITM. The various stages are scattered across the mountaintop, with the aptly-named Sunrise Stage providing a stunning platform to witness the early-morning sun emerging through the misty purple clouds before a mass of euphoric dancing bodies.

To relate the Meadows in the Mountains experience in straightforward chronological order seems counter-intuitive because this is very much a festival without rules and regulations. Time becomes an irrelevant concept; with some stages operating on a 24-hour non-stop timetable for the four-day duration – you sleep, wake and dance when you please.

Our highlights include a jubilant set from UK duo FYI Chris sometime around dusk on the Saturday. Though technically the mixing verges at times on the jarring side, the pair have an arsenal of house beats to hand that blast out across the Woods Stage, from the rolling basslines of DJ Nature and Mike Dunn to the disco grooves of Shiny Boots’ Susekke. When the deep house kicks of (Glasgow-based) General Ludd’s Brothers and Sisters burst out of the mix, we can’t help but feel a touch patriotic.

[Meadows in the Mountain by Aron Klein]

The advice we receive from Meadows in the Mountains veterans is to stay up all night at least once during the festival in order to witness a sunrise, which is how we find ourselves, at around 5am, perched atop a rickety wooden stage adorned with flowers, streamers and even a pink chandelier, watching a sea of people bounce about to seminal UK garage project Groove Chronicles. As the sun rises, the still-dancing crowd turns away from the DJ booth towards the first golden rays peeking through the clouds. It’s a pinch yourself, once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment, epitomising the Meadows in the Mountains focus on music, nature and community.

Both the environment and the local community factor heavily into the ethos of this eco-friendly festival. Attendees are encouraged to tread as lightly as possible to preserve the unspoilt forest location. The no-plastic policy means that rather than serving drinks in throw-away cups, we’re given a tin camping mug to keep – order a drink and the bartenders fill it for you (and will rinse it out between rounds). For a few euros, you can purchase a portable ashtray to avoid scattering cigarette butts across the site. Recycling bins are clearly marked, the facilities are of the composting toilet variety, and much of the food on offer is local, organic and vegetarian/vegan.

In addition, the event organisers ensure that money generated from the festival goes back to the local community, with funds allocated to the village ‘Baba Bus’ (which takes the elderly villagers into the closest main town) and Little Angels Rescue BG, a charity for stray dogs in Bulgaria.

As we stumble back down the mountain on the final morning of the festival, the sun well and truly risen, we clock John Paul Young’s 1977 pop hit Love is in the Air echoing across the mountaintop, before flowing into the trippy, circling synth of Daphni’s Ye Ye. This juxtaposition between traditional and modern, with a solid dose of warm and fuzzy feel-good vibes for good measure, is perhaps what makes Meadows in the Mountains a truly unique and unforgettable festival experience.

Meadows in the Mountains took place from 7-10 Jun 2018 and returns in 2019 to Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria, 6-9 Jun