Is it too late to say sorry? How one DJ shook the world (or not really) by dropping Bieber at an alternative festival.
It seems like only yesterday. Or, 52 days ago. A Meredith Music Festival moment that will forever go down in history alongside DJ Harvey's turntable destruction in 2010 and The Dirty Three's Warren Ellis remaining impervious while absorbing repeated lightning strikes to his violin bow in 2003.
The keys to Meredith's enduring, reliable legacy – now in its 25th year with no signs of respite nor fatigue, even now, in a climate where giants are felled with ruthless despair – lie in its deceptive simplicity. Supernatural Amphitheatre veterans know what to expect. Newcomers are promised unique wonders, invariably delivered. It's an environment where brilliant, inane dogmas flourish, arcane codes are spoken. Bush or Top Camp? Third lantern on the left. What time d'ya get in? Good weather ay. Plus there's the phenomenon unique to Meredith and her sister festival Golden Plains: the Golden Boot, where the crowd holds their footwear to the sky in a raucous approval that's not given lightly.
None of this feels like routine. No many how many years deep. It's all very good. Memories tend to be personal. Profound anecdotes between friends and lovers to cherish for years. Meredith provides fertile grounds for such meaning, and in turn, attendees form a personal connection with the festival itself – deservedly so. With that connection comes an element of sanctimony.
Aunty Meredith toys with the formula in just the right measure. Hip-hop acts had divisive responses in the early 2010s before going on to become reliable draws on the festival bill (the 2015 lineup featured on-point sets from Tkay Maidza, Briggs and Big Daddy Kane). In recent years, it has been the near-midnight party sets that have generated a point of contention. In 2013, it was Tranter with an eclectic grab-bag of bangers. In 2014, Dr Phil Smith with spasmodic blasts of garish pop hits.
In 2015, it was Sydney DJ Andrew Levins, aka Levins, with a solid selection of dancefloor-ready jams and a finger right on 2015's pulse.
Let's get it out of the way first: Justin Bieber's "Sorry" is a great song. For some, the name Bieber is emblematic of a perceived scourge on taste. Would Levins's set been as contentious without "Sorry"? Possibly. The set tasted good, but it was an acquired taste for many. Airhorns and DJ stings veered into joke-DJ territory (I've witnessed Tim & Eric associate DJ Douggpound crash and burn at a festival slot, despite the quality of the set – it's just the form can be too much for a late-night festival crowd seeking some passive interaction), but Levins held it together.
So what to make of it all? We wind the clock back to 2015, when words such as "troll" ruled the vernacular, and take a look at exactly what went down. Here is Levins's Meredith set: the oral history.
The recording from Levins's 2015 Meredith set. Justin Bieber's "Sorry" at 26:30.
Meredith is a great leveller. Local acts share the same stage (as per the festival's strict one-stage-only policy), with no explicit headliners. Rising locals can slot in between big-name internationals in prime time. On the first night, early morning, of Meredith 2015, Melbourne-based acts Harvey Sutherland and Lucy Cliche had strong showings with live sets. For the Saturday night, the task of setting the scene for early-AM DJ sets from international artists such as Floating Points and Optimo was up to Levins.
Levins: I had a pretty large one on the Friday night, fell asleep in my clothes and sleeping bag and woke up two hours later feeling like death in a 400 degree tent. I freaked out a bit after barely being able to string a sentence together all morning so I locked myself in my friend's car and put a playlist together, mostly my favourite songs from the last year or so with a few classics in there too.
Tommy Dassalo (comedian): I mean, he told me on the way to the festival that he was going to play it, but I didn't believe (belieb?) that he was crazy enough to actually do it.
Levins: The highlight of the night before was the entire crowd going off as 50 Cent's "In Da Club" played. There was nobody playing a dumb fun party set on the Saturday, which is what I do pretty much every weekend, so I did that.
Tom Ballard (comedian): Yeah I know that Levins guy. What a jerk. He stole all my shit. The Plucka Duck memes? The Bieber drop? The "Who cares?" That was ALL. ME. 100%. Everyone knows that shit is my jam and fucking Levdawg or whatever he's calling himself now just swooped in and gobbled up my identity for himself. It should be me out there in Hollywood doing blow with Queen Latifah and getting threats on my Facebook page and stuff. Straight up bullshit.
The scene is set. The Supernatural Amphiteatre is packed and ready to party. It's safe to assume many in attendance weren't familiar with the stylings of Levins. Around 26 minutes into Levins's set, he drops "Sorry".
Levins: The amphitheatre looked the fullest it had all weekend, but maybe that was just because it was the first time I'd seen it from the view of the stage. The crowd looked massive, and throughout the set all I could see were people dancing and laughing at the pictures of Plucka Duck that were being projected behind me. There were a line of girls in the front row singing along to every song I played.
Brodie Lancaster (journalist): I say this with absolutely no hyperbole: Levins's set as the funnest 90 minutes I've ever had at Meredith. Remember when he opened with airhorns doing the 20th Century Fox theme as hectic shots of Plucka Duck and Daryl Somers flashed on the screen? Remember when he played "Love on Top" AND "Drunk in Love"? Remember when he played "Truffle Butter" then "Hold On I'm Goin' Home" like right after?
Tommy Dassalo: I still remember when it happened. I couldn't fathom what I was hearing. The reaction was immediate. Half of the crowd started trying to burn down the amphitheatre, the other half launched into a massive Roman-style orgy. I've been to a lot of Merediths, but I've never seen anything like that before.
Victoria Sweetie (publicist): If you can't appreciate a little Bieber dropped into a Meredith set of straight fire at 1AM Saturday night... then you haven't had enough Pink Flamingos.
Brodie Lancaster: History was made three times that night. Firstly, it was the only time I've paced myself properly on the Saturday and been able to stay awake later than midnight. Secondly, it was the first time I tried to whip and/or nae nae instead of just seeing it done and thinking 'yeah I could do that'. Finally, it broke a record for smiles. But you know this entire set was really just about "Sorry". Anyone who thinks they're above Bieber and listening to Bieber and dancing to Bieber and admitting to liking Bieber is imprisoned by their silly ideas of what's legit and respectable. BUT I GOT THE KEY TO SET YOU FREE! THE KEY IS NOT CARING! JUST DANCE TO BIEBER WHILE YOU WEAR THE HIGH-TECH LIGHT-UP WRISTBAND YOU GOT THE NIGHT BEFORE AT THE TAYLOR SWIFT CONCERT AND LOG THIS ONE IN THE HISTORY BOOKS!
Too Late To Say Sorry: The Aftermath
Meredith 2015 concludes as yet another roaring success. consolidating the festival's standing as one of the best in Australia, if not the world, 25 years on. Reviews and reports start to emerge in the days following, with Levins's set and his choice of Justin Bieber proving to be the weekend's biggest talking point in both music media and social media.
Tom Tilley (presenter, triple j): Thankfully Hack was off air at the time otherwise there would have been a full investigation into how bad this set was.
Levins: It was so weird when websites started writing about me like "Troll DJ expertly trolls entire crowd during his troll set the fucken troll". The Bieber album had only been out a few weeks and "Sorry" was the best song on it by far. It just sounds like a dancehall track. If I'd have done the same set in 2012 I probably would've played "Boyfriend". Some others thought I was trying to make a political statement or something when I yelled "Fuck anyone who doesn't love Justin Bieber" but I was just trying to be funny. Same as all the "who cares" stuff. I actually say "who cares" on the mic at the end of the mix. I was camping with two comedian mates and we'd spent the weekend playing the worst game where you wait for someone to start telling a somewhat personal story and then cut them off by saying "who cares". It's a shit game but it escalated pretty quickly and on the Saturday they were daring me to actually start my set by just walking out onto the stage and announcing "who cares". I saved it till the end of the set, most of the dumb shit I yelled on the mic was for their enjoyment. Same as all the images of Plucka Duck I had projected behind me while I DJed. Self indulgent nonsense that ten people find funny, my favourite thing ever.
Levins: The likelihood of me ever crossing paths with most the people having a whinge on my Facebook page is pretty low, so I didn't let their comments get to me. I took the piss with a few responses just to make the whole debacle as entertaining as possible for anyone looking on but a lot of it got taken out of context when different sites wrote stories about what an expert fucken troll I am. Then a legion of people who weren't there started weighing in as if I'd actually played the worst set of all time and didn't give a shit about DJing, including a few DJ mates. That was a bummer.
Drew Thornton (bartender): It was pretty interesting to see people's reaction to Levins's Meredith set in the days following the festival. For me, it was so refreshing to just jump around to something that was fun, unpretentious and didnt take itself too seriously. I mean really guys, who cares?
Levins: I would do it all again, for sure. I got booked for the set because I play that music every weekend. Also I don't know what else I'd play - outside of recent R&B and rap, the only other sets I play lately are either 90s dance at my Rhythm of the Night parties or laughably obscure old gangsta rap records during the early hours at my hip hop party Halfway Crooks. I wonder how much angrier the crowd would've been if I'd just played a bunch of Vengaboys or Master P album cuts. The only real criticism I deserve for my set is not playing any Rich Gang tracks besides "Lifestyle".
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