The Southbank Centre’s Meltdown 2012: day by day guide to London’s most irreverent art festival
Each year Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival opens up the world of one mercurial artist. In August 2012, audiences get the chance to encounter the musicians, performers and thinkers who have helped shape the life and art of Antony Hegarty, lead singer with Mercury Award-winning Antony and the Johnsons and one of the world’s most idiosyncratic performers.
1 August – Diamanda Galás
It is perhaps no surprise that a significant part of Meltdown, which is part of the London 2012 Festival, reads like a who’s who of the New York underground scene, where Antony forged his identity as a performer and an artist in the 1990s. No-one epitomises the uncompromising spirit of the New York underground more than Diamanda Galás, whose compelling vocal performances and unflinching interpretations of human suffering are regarded by many as near religious experiences.
1 August – Planningtorock and Light Asylum
The Queen Elizabeth Hall belongs to Berlin, with performances by two of the most exciting bands on the scene right now. Janine Rostron (aka Planningtorock) – musician and visual artist originally from Bolton, now living in Berlin – scored an underground hit last year with one of the year’s most critically acclaimed records, which mixed saxophone solos, staccato string arrangements and electronic beats to produce a beautifully warped and twisted slice of disco-electronica that plays like an otherworldly take on Studio 54. Planningtorock will be joined on this thrilling double bill by the forbidding gothtronica of Light Asylum, who create dark infectious dance music that is the inspired creation of Brooklyn-based artists Shannon Funchess. (described by The Guardian as ‘a cyborg soul girl’) and Bruno Coviello.
2 August – Laurie Anderson
Meltdown sees a performance by one of New York’s most totemic musical icons Laurie Anderson, who herself was a Meltdown curator in 1997. She performs Dirtday, a collection of songs and stories on evolution, families, history and animals set against a lush and hallucinatory sonic landscape – the third in a series of groundbreaking works including Happiness and The End of the Moon.
2 August – Selda
Meltdown is renowned for honouring the influence of cult artists. Among many wonders, Antony’s Meltdown will be remembered for reminding the world of the space-age Anatolian psych-folk-funk of Selda, who performs the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Sampled by the likes of 2ManyDJs and Mos Def, the Turkish singer-songwriter’s progressive approach to her music and her brave political stance has made her a cult figure to record collectors and musicians ever since the 1970s.
4 August – CocoRosie
Returning to London for the first time since two sell-out shows at London’s Union Chapel in 2010, sibling duo and enchanted dreamworld dwellers, CocoRosie have collaborated with Antony many times onstage and in the studio, and will perform in the Royal Festival Hall.
4 August – Cyclobe
Albion – Hypnagogue – Ghost: Hallucinatory Queer British Paganism brings together David Tibet of Current 93’s new project Myrninerest and Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown’s Cyclobe, making their UK live debut. The evening will also feature four rarely screened Super-8 short films by Derek Jarman, with soundtracks especially composed for this event by Myrninerest and Cyclobe. The combination of Myrninerest’s harrowing and hallucinatory song-cycle about Coil’s Jhonn Balance and Cyclobe’s immersive and psychotropic pagan landscapes, together with Jarman’s beautiful and spectral films – described by the artist as “the best of my work” – promises an evening both haunting and paroxysmal.
5 August – Marina Abramović
Acclaimed Serbian-born performance artist Marina Abramović, a close friend and collaborator of Antony’s, comes to Meltdown to give a Lecture for Women. The pair teamed up recently on the Life and Death of Marina Abramović, a staged biography of the artist’s life and career, featuring the actor Willem Dafoe and music written and performed by Antony
6-7 August – Elizabeth Fraser
Meltdown festival will see an incredibly rare live performance by the much-loved and hugely missed singer Elizabeth Fraser . While the Scottish singer has lent her stunning voice to projects with Massive Attack, Craig Armstrong and Peter Gabriel in recent years, these will be her first full shows since she left the Cocteau Twins in 1998.
7 August – Buffy Sainte-Mari
Pointing towards an affinity with uncompromising pioneers, Antony has invited Buffy Sainte-Marie to perform in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The Canadian-born Cree artist has seamlessly combined her music with activism in support of the indigenous peoples of North America since breaking through as a singer-songwriter in the early 1960s. Her songs, which have been covered by Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond and Shirley Bassey, include the smash-hit Up Where We Belong (made famous by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes) and the iconic Anti-Vietnam song Universal Soldier, which remains one of the most potent anti-war songs ever recorded.
8 August – Joey Arias
Exquisite vocalist, drag performance icon and NYC legend Joey Arias channels the songs of Billie Holiday in his inspirational show Strange Fruit in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
9 August – Marc Almond
Marc Almond, another artist who shot to fame in the 1980s, performs a rare live performance of Marc and The Mambas’ groundbreaking 1983 release Torment and Toreros. Antony has said of Almond, “Marc laid out a trail of subcultural breadcrumbs and aesthetic tenets that more than any other single influence formed the artist that I would become. Ten years before I would hear Nina Simone make a similar affirmation, I read Marc saying that he didn’t care if he hit the notes, for it was only the feeling that mattered.” Also, critically, it was on Marc and the Mambas’ first album that Antony first heard a cover of Lou Reed’s masterpiece Caroline Says, which 20 years later Antony would personally accompany Reed himself in reprising.
10 August – The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black
We go deeper into the New York artrock scene, with the punk-metal spectacle The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. The brainchild of beloved NYC artist and musician Kembra Pfahler and lead guitarist SAMOA, this is the first time the band will play in the UK. Kembra Pfahler uses do-it-yourself “Availabist” and “Anti-naturalist” aesthetics to create on the stage a paradisical world of women painted in primary colours with towering fright wigs and blacked-out teeth. Completing the Queen Elizabeth Hall double bill will be performance artist, writer, film curator and raconteur Vaginal Davis, who performs for the very first time in the UK with Berlin-based art band Tenderloin.
11 August – Turning premiere
In 2006 Antony and the Johnsons and ground-breaking film director and video artist Charles Atlas collaborated with 13 remarkable women from New York City and staged TURNING, a concert and live video portrait event across Europe. TURNING premieres at Meltdown this year, and is at once a moving concert and an impressionistic documentary exploring a utopian vision of contemporary femininity. The evening will feature an appearance from the Meltdown director.
12 August – William Basinski
Revered experimental musician, William Basinski performs Disintegration Loops, his profoundly moving study on decay which premiered on 9/11 last year at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. Described by some as what heaven might sound like, this deeply affecting ambient drone was the accidental result of repeated plays of disintegrating cassette tapes of ambient loops made in the 1980s. Basinski will be joined by an orchestra to present two startling beautiful and hypnotic interpretations of Disintegration Loops arranged by Maxim Moston.
12 August – Hal Willner
Following his wonderfully anarchic Disney tribute at Jarvis’ Meltdown in 2007, Meltdown veteran and maverick producer Hal Willner returns to the stage of the Royal Festival Hall with his usual, surprising and eclectic array of musicians, actors and other artists – established, emerging, famous and infamous – to perform songs that inspired and illuminated the Civil Rights Movement.
The 19th director of Meltdown festival Antony said: “I dreamed of assembling a constellation of courageous artists, all of whom have used their platforms as cultural producers to challenge us. They have exhibited a ferocity in their pursuit of beauty, and, falling like a guillotine behind it, justice.”
“Today I am among a group of artists from NYC (some of whom are performing at this Meltdown Festival) who reject patriarchy in its myriad virulent and apocalyptic manifestations, and who advocate for a fundamental shift towards the feminine in all our systems and structures of governance. We have named this approach Future Feminism.”
Since 1993 some of the world most distinguished musicians have been the guest directors of Meltdown. From John Peel through to Massive Attack, via David Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey and more, Meltdown has given seminal artists the chance to pick their favourite artists to play and exhibit their work at Southbank Centre.
The New York Dolls reunited for Morrissey; Jeff Buckley played his final UK show at Elvis Costello’s Meltdown; Nick Cave, Grace Jones and Pete Doherty sang Disney songs with Jarvis Cocker; Patti Smith performed Horses in full for her Meltdown. This festival brings legendary artists to Southbank Centre for a very special week of one-off performances, and this year will be no different.