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David Byrne at the Southbank Centre
© Danny North

David Byrne’s Meltdown festival highlights

The curator of this year’s Meltdown series talks us through his favourite acts on the 2015 line-up, from doom metal to flamenco royalty

Written by
Eddy Frankel

You may find yourself sitting in a Southbank auditorium. And you may find yourself listening to some strange music. And you may ask yourself: How did I get here?

The answer, in case that introduction wasn’t enough of a clue, is that you got here because of David Byrne. The ex-Talking Heads frontman is curating this year’s Meltdown festival, the Southbank Centre’s always-eclectic, always-excellent summer musical mash-up. But don’t go expecting a line-up of faded rock stars, because Byrne’s bill is as ace and varied as his own career has been.

As well as inventing ‘art rock’ with new wave superstars Talking Heads, Byrne has collaborated with the likes of Brian Eno, St Vincent and Fatboy Slim, worked with ballet and theatre companies, made films, written books and probably done something involving a kitchen sink. He’s the perfect person for Meltdown: the only big surprise is that he’s not done it before.

His Meltdown line-up is appropriately expansive, with theatre, art, performance and a whole heap of musical weirdness. The New Yorker discusses six of the standout acts – some of which he’ll be performing with. There’s only one way to describe the chance to catch him on stage: once in a lifetime.

Atomic Bomb
  • Music
  • Funk, soul and disco

The afrobeat revivalists

‘The music [of Atomic Bomb] is by Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor. He became born again, so he doesn’t want to play that stuff. I did the show in New York, and LA and San Francisco and Mexico, playing his music with a core group made up of the band Sinkane. They combine African elements with club beats and R&B. When we did it in New York I would sing three, four songs, Luke from The Rapture sang a couple and Alexis from Hot Chip sang a couple, but the line-up changes all the time. When we did it in those places, the audience was up and dancing from the second song.’

Sunn O)))
  • Music
  • Punk and metal

The abstract doom-mongers

‘I saw them some years ago in a former church, which was perfect. They came out in druid cloaks with smoke everywhere and then there’s this roar that starts and doesn’t let up. They borrow elements from doom metal, but they strip it down further, so there are no drums, there’s just this roar of guitars. I think some people will find it a challenge. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!’

  • Music
  • Latin and world

The flamenco firestarter

‘All over the world there are artists doing incredible things and Estrella Morente is one of them. She’s flamenco royalty, the daughter of Enrique Morente, a ceaseless flamenco innovator. She’s a much younger generation, but she’s gone back to traditional stuff. I imagine if the word gets out to the Spanish community here they will come and see her!’

Young Marble Giants
  • Music

‘The Young Marble Giants record “Colossal Youth” was a soundtrack for me for at least a year. And not just in my house. It was quite a phenomenon. It’s the archetype of bedroom-made music. But because it has that lack of slickness it really draws you in. I’m not a very nostalgic person but I thought it’s a Meltdown tradition to pull at least one thing out of the past and see if it still exists. And apparently they do!’ 

Matthew Herbert
  • Clubs
  • Dance and electronic

The conceptual wizard

‘He’s a producer who occasionally does his own records, and some of them are quite conceptual, whether it’s all the sounds coming from an abattoir or whatever. This new record has a bunch of different singers on and edges closer to being a pop record. It’s exciting because he doesn’t do this that often and it’s a project to get all the singers together. So it should be good.’

  • Theatre
  • Experimental

The rocking thesp

‘Young Jean Lee is an incredibly innovative theatre director. This performance [“We’re Gonna Die”] is one that I saw a year or two ago. It’s a rock band and in between the songs she tells stories. Something horrible happens and then there is a song that responds to each tragic story. I just thought: What a beautiful piece. I’m trying to bring in more performative things as opposed to everything being one concert after another.’

Discover the full Meltdown 2015 line-up

Discover the full line-up for this year’s Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre and read our exclusive interview with its curator, David Byrne.

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