Nile Rodgers' Meltdown revisited

Victor Frankowski

‘It’s all about the groove and this August everyone in London will be dancing to incredible live performances!’

So proclaimed Nile Rodgers upon the announcement of his curation of Meltdown festival. That declaration, shouted quite literally from our Royal Festival Hall rooftop in February of 2019, set in motion six months of discussions, negotiations and careful planning that goes into making each Meltdown festival happen. It also meant spending time with Nile himself, as we recorded interviews and other snippets with him; moments which sprung fascinating tales from his life in music, including how he wrote one of his most well-known tracks.

Nile Rodgers in Royal Festival Hall. Rodgers' Meltdown festival runs at Southbank Centre 3-11 August 2019 (c) Britt Lloyd for Southbank Centre

By the time we emerged from the other side of the unsexy part of live music – the spreadsheets, planning documents, contracts and promotion – the stage was set for an epic nine days of gigs from acts including Johnny Marr, Jungle, Songhoy Blues, Dave Stewart, Anitta, Thundercat, Chic and of course, the main man himself.

 ‘To be able to curate and produce nine days of live music for the city of London, the UK and music enthusiasts visiting from all over the world is truly a dream come true’

Nile Rodgers on curating Meltdown

But Meltdown has never been purely about the big guns and the headline gigs, it’s also a chance to seek out new stars, and Rodgers festival was not short on up and coming names. Scattered across the bill were an eclectic mix including Nigerian-born singer-songwriter Azekel, post-punk band Snapped Ankles, and South African singer, songwriter, actor, and novelist Nakhane, who we spoke to ahead of the festival.

Nakhane Toure, musician

It’s become a bit of a tradition in Meltdown’s recent history that the curator closes out the festival, instead Rodgers flipped that idea on its head and chose to kick things off instead. Sending his Meltdown flying out the traps, Rodgers took to the stage with Chic to deliver an incredible musical snapshot of his remarkable career.

‘As curator of this year’s Meltdown, Nile Rodgers set the bar high on the festival’s first night: a career celebration that climaxed with a disco stage invasion.’

Andre Pain, The Evening Standard

The full-on disco party vibe extended way beyond our rocking Royal Festival Hall, with the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer converted – for one night only – into New York's famous Studio 54, guiding the glitter-ball lit dancing on into the early hours. And out on our Riverside Terrace, Disco Wonderland were hooking anyone who happened to be strolling along the South Bank right into the party.

People enjoying the outdoor stage on the Riverside Terrace, Southbank Centre
Victor Frankowski

I suppose we could’ve been forgiven for taking the Sunday easy after such an energetic opening, but rather than quit whilst we were ahead, we kept on punching. The festival’s second day saw American bassist and singer-songwriter Thundercat keep the positive vibes flowing with his jazz and funk inspired sound in a special live set.

Victor Frankowski

As you might expect from a man as entrenched in the music business as Rodgers, his Meltdown was a decidedly global affair. As well as the aforementioned Nakhane from South Africa, there was the up tempo desert blues of Malian band Songhoy Blues. From the USA we welcomed the smooth sound of Durand Jones & The Indications plus the music of Stranger Things courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. And then, absolutely unforgettably, from South America there was Brazilian superstar Anitta, who had the Royal Festival Hall up and twerking to the point of collapse.

Victor Frankowski

‘The energy Anitta inspires is hugely female, slightly gay and head-spinningly euphoric… everyone who can stand is jumping and yelling, and the venue totters on the verge of an actual meltdown.’

Damien Morris, The Observer

Whilst Anitta will have been a new name to many when Rodgers’ Meltdown was announced, the same cannot be said about some of the other acts on the bill. One of the most talked about nights of the whole festival saw Dave Stewart corral an array of stars onto the stage for Eurythmics Songbook, to help him deliver some of the band’s fondest hits. Whilst the festival’s sixth night saw guitar legend Johnny Marr takeover, a man so much a disciple of Rodgers that he named his son after him.

Victor Frankowski

‘As soon as ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ kicks in... everyone’s on their feet, and they stay there for the duration’

Ellie Porter, reviewing Johnny Marr at Meltdown for The Arts Desk

We touched on some of the up and coming acts already, but it’s worth revisiting. For a man who had such an incredible back-catalogue of co-performers and artists to call upon, it was great to see Rodgers eschew that temptation to instead champion contemporary acts who offered something different. Artists such as Scottish musician SOPHIE, sadly no longer with us, who delivered a subdued but no less mesmerising set, or the energetic Afro-beat eight-piece, and London locals, KOKOROKO. And also from London, the band who headlined the festival’s Monday night, Jungle.

Victor Frankowski

And then, just like that, Nile Rodgers’ Meltdown was over. An incredible nine days of sensational sets and live performances, plus the omnipresence of a living musical legend, done and dusted far too soon. But what a festival? An epic week of ravely reviewed gigs packed with your shiny, happy faces and dancing feet.

Victor Frankowski

OK, let’s be honest, not even that video snapshot, or the other snippets we’ve just thrown your way can really do Rogers’ Meltdown justice. So instead here’s an opportunity to relive it all again and party like it’s 2019, with a Spotify playlist of the festival’s rap sheet.

‘Nile Rogers’ Meltdown is a love letter not to a type of music but a type of person, a call to the open-minded’

Damien Morris, The Observer

by Glen Wilson