After the electrifying nostalgia-infused disco-fest that was Meltdown’s opening night, it was difficult to see how the festival could outdo itself for 8 more consecutive days. Indeed, the very concept of a 9-day-long, indoor festival, ticketed on a per-event basis might seem completely alien to those more used to muddying themselves up in a field for a long weekend filled with booze and baby-wipes. Meltdown, though, is a bit more grown-up, more sensibly arranged and more self-aware. With that in mind, Nile Rodgers’ headline appearance at the start of the festival can be seen as more of a musical baton-passing than an early climax. CHIC’s outstanding performance showed the young musicians of today what they have to live up to, but also demonstrates Rodgers’ unwavering faith in the coming generation of artists.
“the prevailing impact of Thundercat’s performance seems to be wide-eyed gawping as the crowd tries to keep up with his erratic and experimental sound”
Sunday night saw the virtuosic Thundercat play the Royal Festival Hall, delivering his signature blend of hip-hop, jazz, and punk. Untethered from the strict confines of the recording studio, Los Angeles-born Stephen Bruner wows the crowds with his lightning-fast bass improvisation. It feels a shame that this is a seated gig – the ferocity of Bruner’s impassioned musical exploration is at odds with the stillness of the crowd – though rather than dancing, the prevailing impact of Thundercat’s performance seems to be wide-eyed gawping as the crowd tries to keep up with his erratic and experimental sound.
There are moments that get the crowd moving along, however; a fantastic rendition of ‘Friend Zone’ gives the crowd a more discernible rhythm to follow and the soaking-wet reverb on Bruner’s signature six-string bass sonically references the playfulness of the video games which inspired the song. It is a rare treat to watch a musician as talented as Bruner go completely into the zone and be at one with his music.
Mondays are usually hard work, but as the west-London seven-piece, Jungle, descended on London’s Southbank, the familiar fog of the Monday blues rapidly dispersed. Arriving on stage to glowing praise from the big man himself, the contemporary funk and soul outfit had big shoes to fill if they were to keep their place as one of Rodgers’ “favourite bands in the world”. And they do a pretty good job filling Rodgers’ diamond-encrusted shoes; they are effortlessly cool and confident in their stage presence, their music highly polished but never lacking soul.
“though to be fair it is hard not to take orders from a topless man in a duster and a cowboy hat”
Fluttering synths come together with a vibrant ultramarine lightscape to submerge the audience underwater for ‘Lemonade Lake’. ‘Beat 54’ layers orchestral string synths over groovy basslines to coolly pay homage to the infamous NYC club responsible for CHIC’s success. Rudi Salmon’s powerful vocals in the modern melancholic love-song ‘Casio’ garner huge roars from the crowd, stealing the limelight from front-men Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland. Throughout the set, nobody makes use of their seats, with plenty of punters dancing in the aisles. Jungle own the stage and hold the crowd in their hands. This is exemplified when the enigmatic Andro commands the crowd to instantaneous synchronized clapping without hesitation, though to be fair it is hard not to take orders from a topless man in a duster and a cowboy hat.
On Wednesday night, the cavernous concrete beauty that is the Queen Elizabeth Hall played host to the immensely talented producer, pianist and sometime rapper Alfa Mist and his five-strong band. They are calm and collected, their music terrifically gentle in composition but not delivery, they are musical professionalism personified. Alfa takes his time to patiently introduce every member of the band to build upon the intimate connections they forge through their instruments.
“as the set progresses, a slow-motion game of musical whack-a-mole unfolds as the artists crouch down so as not to block the views of their bandmates”
Hip-hop infused drum-beats build on vintage cinema samples to create a genre-hopping, globe-trotting sound which pays homage to the various styles which inspire them. As the set progresses, a slow-motion game of musical whack-a-mole unfolds as the artists crouch down between solos so as not to block the views of their bandmates. The tone is at times operatic, and tranquil at others, the band’s mastery over their instruments crafts an elaborate musical narrative that is a joy to experience.
Later in the week, once again in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the delightfully quirky Kero Kero Bonito took to the stage to deliver a dose of their radically upbeat pop positivity. The London-based three-piece have built a name for themselves fusing the best bits of pop and punk to create an intoxicatingly sweet and joyful sound guaranteed to put a silly grin on the face of anyone who hears it.
And they are as fun on stage as their music lets on. Front-woman Sarah Midori Perry gleefully dances around the stage throughout the set, balancing plush toys on her head as she sings her saccharine-sweet melodies, shifting seamlessly between Japanese and English. Her conversational, staccato lyrics layered over the band’s commercial-esque melodies make for a truly unique listening experience.
The true highlight of the festival however, is the closing night. If CHIC’s opening set was a celebration of a cherished musical history, then the artists gracing the stage of the Purcell Room on Sunday night represent a future generation of musicians ready to take the world by storm. Following three mesmerising performances from support acts Jerome Thomas, BAELY, and Sophie Faith, headliners Radiant Children take to the stage.
“Holloway’s ad-libbing is sublime as she performs complex vocal acrobatics that literally lift people out of their seats”
Radiant Children give a funky, soulful performance brimming with anger and angst. Singer Fabienne Holloway’s vocals are powerfully cathartic and touchingly personal. Her openness between songs demonstrates the band’s commitment to their music and their mission to create art that is honest and heartfelt. Their music is rooted strongly in RnB and Soul but there is a rap-like sensibility to the lyrics which are playful but never goofy. Holloway’s ad-libbing is sublime as she performs complex vocal acrobatics that literally lift people out of their seats in what feels like the most interactive and personal show of the festival.
Meltdown festival this year delivered a heady mix of genres but the connecting thread between all the artists is a devotion to the craft and an unwavering joy for making music. And the dancefloor escapism of CHIC’s disco legacy isn’t lost either, as Radiant Children deftly demonstrate on the festival’s closing night. Music doesn’t have to be used to simply forget our troubles, in the right hands it has the power to interrogate and break down the very struggles of our existence and celebrate all that makes us human. After Meltdown’s dazzling display of exceptional talent, it’s clear that the future of music isn’t just bright, it’s radiant.
All photos by Rob Waters.