MTV Beats and Eats is an Australian festival which indulges in all the guilty pleasures we never admit and Kate Robertson is here for it.
Mates, I need to disclose something to you before I go all play-by-play on the pop music one-dayer that was MTV Beats and Eats: I’m a festival fiend. Like, literally a fiend. Cutting loose at festivals is the only sport I’ve ever been good at and it would take a very bad lineup for my heart not to swell with joy at the mere sight of a main stage. If it’s good, I’ll buy merch, and if it’s bad … I’ll probably still buy merch.
A festival still in its infancy, MTV Beats and Eats gives a local face to a global brand which is increasingly removed from music, selling itself as a fun and affordable pop-stravaganza filled with millennial-approved food trucks, emojis and MTV-friendly ‘beats’. Held 90 minutes south of Sydney in Wollongong (think Mount Maunganui if it had a huge university playing host to a hearty student population), the most expensive ticket will set you back just $49.95. Where 2016 saw MAALA, Savage and Steve Aoki headline, 2017 offered up Rudimental (DJ set), Tkay Maidza, Nicole Miller and SACHI.
After sweating through an assortment of possible outfits, I roll up with my detective notebook and best dancing shoes about 3:30 pm. Expecting some no-name DJ to be spinning the decks, I instead pick up on the drop of a familiar little SACHI bop. Panic and patriotism roll me for one and I tap the gas hard. So hard in fact that I run the wrong way, lapping the venue approx 1.5 times before finally getting myself through the gates, past the drug dogs and onto the grassy meadow locals refer to as ‘Stuart Park’.
No sooner than I’m done taking in the comforts of home am I thrust into the presence of Marty McKenna, Geordie Shore’s swoon-worthy bad boy who I can only assume is air to Gary Beadle’s throne. “The best part of my job is definitely neckin’ on with birds,” he tells me as I ponder whether a person could ever be more on-brand. It’s a sentence I’ll take to the grave and better proof than any that the MTV talent pipeline is nowhere close to dry. My hands start getting clammy so I escape the conversation and just like that I’m reinvested in a show I haven’t watched since Charlotte told Gaz she loved him and he said he didn’t love her back. My new buddy Marty is still waiting to find out if he’ll be asked back next season.
As I leave the Geordies, I suddenly feel underdressed, under-tanned and very plain. I look down at my high tops and $20 orange wrap dress, wondering how I can redeem myself. Luckily there’s a business dedicated to gluing glitter onto people’s bodies (before it’s inevitably washed down the drain and into the ocean – sorry fishies). I shudder as I hand over a crisp $20 note, fully committing to becoming one of those festival types. I take a deep breath, and after spinning some yarns with the Glitoris team realise that the naysayers are actually the basic ones, because glitter is FUUUUN. Pretty colours, pretty people, and in retrospect, $20 is incredibly good value for something I’ll be finding it in every nook and cranny of my body for the rest of the summer.
MTV Beats and Eats lets people unashamedly indulge in all of the things the ‘too cool’ squad would frown upon and perhaps the aspect the too cool squad would frown upon most is the focus on content. MTV were making content, artists were making content and festival-goers were making content. You see, if there are three things we self-absorbed millennials love, it’s vanity, likes, and tilting the camera in such a way that makes our 9-5 lives appear more exciting than they actually are. MTV knows this, so everywhere you turn there’s something egging you on to produce more content: the Geordie Shore ‘shag pad’ set, the inflatable pool toy wall, a huge fluro pink blow up poo emoji, at least six photo walls.
If you’re wondering where the music is, I’m getting there. The glittering takes me through to 5 pm which is when I run into the glowing and bubbly Tkay Maidza. I ask her if it was scary releasing such upbeat hip-hop at a time when the ‘Australian Sound’ was dominated by sadboy rappers topping the Triple J Hottest 100. She says no, she’s only ever wanted to make music that’s fun and makes people happy. I have a photo taken with her that will never see the light of day because it confirms she is an angel and I am mere mortal.
Yolanda Be Cool hits the stage as things wrap up with Tkay and, as my mind shifts back and forth between intrigue and boredom, I wonder why Peking Duk weren’t booked instead. Yolanda Be Cool (best known for this one song) close with ‘Love Is In The Air’ in celebration of the ‘Yes’ vote, and I’m puzzled as to why the crowd’s cheers aren’t louder. I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re all just a little jaded after a big week of celebrating.
Pop-friendly rapper Tkay Maidza (whose debut album TKAY is absolute fire) hits the stage right as I am grappling with an ice cream bigger than my face. In a moment of reflection and gluttony, I figure out why her energy and presence is so infectious. She has a wide-eyed innocence about her – she’s yet to fall victim to the partying and the appearances and all the other things that turn artists to stone. Yes, she’s a fully grown adult, but the way she carries herself on the stage is so filled with hope and carefree abandon you can’t help but wonder if she might float away. The crowd’s eyes are locked on her every move and when the time comes for her to drop her biggest hit ‘Simulation’ no-one can believe she’s leaving already.
By the time Rudimental’s crew start setting up, I decide I’m going all in. It’s the final set of the night and I want my ribs mashed up against that safety rail like 2015 me would. I start strong, ducking and weaving my way through couples making out and drunkards throwing their limbs around, but lose interest the second the weight of other people’s gliterry, sticky bodies pressing against mine becomes uncomfortable and my ability to cut shapes too impaired, because what is a Rudimental DJ set if not an opportunity to fully cut loose after a few cheeky vodkas? Accompanied by a brand new frontman, a sax player, and a regular guest vocalist, DJ Locksmith drops one chart-topper after the next and it’s super fun until it’s just not. Fatigue from the day creeps in and no amount of international pull can match the spark Tkay Maidza brought with her.
Rudimental and co deliver like the world-class performers they are, but it just isn’t enough to stop the magic from fading. Watching the crowd slowly thin merely strengthens my very sciencey observational research that the second to last set of any festival which calls time before midnight will likely be the glory set. Anything that follows is an after-party for those game enough to charge on.
As I wander home, Rudimental’s ‘Not Giving In’ fading out behind me, I think about the popcorn covered ice cream I needed a seat to devour, I think about what young Marty McKenna’s future holds, and I wonder how much population growth New Zealand will need to undergo before we too can play host to an assortment of humble, mid-sized festivals that won’t leave our patrons out of pocket.
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