Summer is festival season and while the agony of choice presents it’s own problems, the travel and camping costs for out of town adventures can be another hurdle. Within London, as if we weren’t spoiled enough already, there is a growing choice of day/weekend festivals which while not necessarily cheap, are an accessible way to enjoy some great music and celebrate the summer sun. One such cultural festival is Meltdown, hosted by the Southbank Centre each June.
Since 1993, an established musician has been chosen each year to curate the festival, basically given free reign to pick their own line-up. Previous curators have been selected from across the musical spectrum to include composers (Sir George Benjamin), legends (Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Patti Smith) and groups (Massive Attack) all with their own unique take on an ideal festival bill.
I first heard about Meltdown while watching Greg Whiteley’s documentary about New York Dolls bassist, Arthur Kane. In 2004, Morrissey was given the role of curator and since he was once the president of their fan club in the UK, wanted the glam punk pioneers in his festival. Kane had fallen out with singer David Johansen, and following the bands break up in the seventies had suffered a creative block, resulting in severe depression amplified by alcoholism. Hurling himself out of a second floor window as well as an attack in 1992 left Kane with brain damage and speech difficulties. He had also joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was working as a volunteer in their library. He had expressed a desire to reunite with the Dolls and the film followed his journey from the retrieval of his bass from a pawn shop to the London stage where the surviving Dolls played two sold out shows. Within weeks Kane fell ill and passed away and the film became a wonderful log of a fascinating, outlandish and tragic life.
It was years later when I watched the film and was saddened by its story, but slightly buoyed at the knowledge that such an interesting festival happened in my adopted hometown. Of course since then I was always late in finding out about lineups so have never actually been, up until I saw an article announcing who was to curate the 25th Meltdown this year – The Cure’s Robert Smith. I took the festival name literally and became an obsessive researcher, stalking the internet waiting for what I was convinced would be an incredible selection of acts to be announced.
I was so excited, but also knew I had to be discerning, not only for budget reasons, but also knowing gigs would most likely sell out extremely quickly. I agonised, prioritised and then apologised to my credit card as release day approached. Nine Inch Nails were of course first on the list, even though the likelihood of actually getting a ticket was remote, I still had to try. Realising I’d been beaten to a seat by the member pre-sale I aimed for two other bands I’d not yet seen – Placebo and Deftones. Within days of each other I would again be tearing through my bucket list and would be able to see groups that were an integral part of my youth soundtrack.
I was buzzing walking up the stairs of the Royal Festival Hall last Saturday. I wasn’t entirely sure where I needed to go, but the stream of old school goths showed me. Finding my gig buddy, we headed straight for the merchandise, ’cause I am a sucker for a band shirt. Not feeling particularly whelmed by what was on offer I chose to spend my money at the bar instead. Settling into the grand and comfortable venue felt strange, more suited for a symphony than a rock gig. I had been there years ago for Marianne Faithfull, but that felt like a more appropriate adult sit-down evening.
Kaelan Mikla, an Icelandic trio warmed up the audience with some really beautiful darkwave synth music. I could hear heavy influence of Bjork, Bauhaus and The Cure with a distinct eighties flavour. I was impressed; give them a listen on Soundcloud here if you’re in the mood for a little gloomy poetic performance art.
After a short interval the lights dimmed and the audience roared. I was very happy that everyone leapt to their feet too – there was no way I could stay seated for Placebo.
To be continued