Robert Smith's Meltdown revisited

Is it really almost six years since the Southbank Centre was abuzz with anticipation of Meltdown festival’s 25th edition?

I don't know if its down to the relentless and bombastic news cycle of the past few years; or the fact that we effectively lost two years of gig-going to the Covid-19 pandemic, but 2018 already feels so incredibly long ago. But when it comes to Meltdown's, it is but three curators ago; with only Nile Rodgers, the much anticipated Grace Jones and Christine and the Queens in the hot seat since. 

The significant milestone of Meltdown's silver jubilee moment, required a significant curator; the pressure was on both us to find the right person, and that person to then deliver a seismic line-up. Thankfully the stars aligned perfect, and the honour of pulling together the pieces of Meltdown’s silver edition fell to Robert Smith.

“You’re given this idea, you’re the curator what do you wanna do with the festival? And I thought because it was the 25th Meltdown I’d aim big – kind of world famous artists.”

Robert Smith on curating Meltdown 2018

So Smith aimed big, and largely succeeded at landing big too. Added to the roster for ten electric days across our auditoria were some truly global superstars including Nine Inch Nails, Manic Street Preachers, Placebo, and My Bloody Valentine. ‘As each invitee confirms, as each shimmering piece falls into place, I pinch myself – this is really happening,’ Smith told the NME. And he wasn’t the only one to be thrilled by what lay ahead; so too were Deftones as they got a sneak preview of the stage.

Chino Moreno of Deftones on stage at Royal Festival Hall during the band's performance as part of Robert Smith's Meltdown festival
Caitlin Mogridge Music Photographer

Though Smith’s Meltdown came with an undeniable rock edge there was still room for more mellow moments, with headline performances from alt-rockers Death Cab For Cutie, and Scottish post-rock staples, Mogwai. And over in our then recently reopened Queen Elizabeth Hall there were a trio of fantastic female vocalists to enjoy in the form of Suzanne Vega, Emma Ruth Rundle, and long-time friend of Smith, Kristin Hersh.

But it wasn’t just the established names, the familiar performers and the experienced bands that made Smith’s line-up what it was. He also sought to provide a pathway for performers with whom a British audience may not yet have been familiar; from France came post-metal band Alcest, from Italy there was JoyCut, and from Japan, MONO. And Smith also looked to give a leg up to emerging British bands too, including YONAKA.

Brighton band YONAKA perform at Robert Smith's Meltdown as support for The Libertines in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall
Victor Frankowski

Having brought it all together, the task of wrapping up the festival fell also to the main man himself, and he didn't disappoint, with a chronological journey through his own back catalogue in a performance titled Cureation.

“When you play music, or even when you listen to it, it acts like a time machine. I start singing a song I wrote thirty years ago and I’m there.”

Robert Smith on performing at Meltdown

But enough short clips and soundbites, you don't need these to appreciate how good a Meltdown festival this was. For that you just need the music. So crank up the volume wherever you are and disappear down an enjoyable wormhole of sound, with this playlist of the acts that made the 25th Meltdown what it was.

Black and white side profile of the singer Chaka Khan, laughing. She is wearing an over the shoulder black dress.
Jo Metson Scott
Chaka Khan's Meltdown

Meltdown returns for its 29th edition, 14 – 23 June, with 10 days of gigs and more, curated by the iconic Chaka Khan.