My Mixtape: The Soft Moon

Ever since their self-titled debut album was released in 2010, The Soft Moon has been at the forefront of minimal wave and dark wave music. Known for his dynamic vocals, which range from icy monotone to seething with anger, Luis Vasquez is the now Berlin-based musician behind The Soft Moon.

Criminal, the fourth studio album from The Soft Moon, released earlier this year, will be showcased as they perform at Southbank Centre as part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown. Ahead of that performance, and inspired by the festival, Vasquez has put together a special mixtape which he explains below.

'For this playlist I wanted to showcase tracks that are more out of left field, but within the genres Meltdown attendees are already aware of. I've always been a big fan of music that leans a little more towards experimental, dark, and strange, whilst still maintaining just enough conventionalism for people outside of the genres to connect'.


The Soft Moon play Purcell Room at Southbank Centre as part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown on Sunday 24 June.

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Golden Man Booker: behind the shortlist

For five decades, the Man Booker Prize has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction – celebrating the best original novels written in the English language, published in the UK. Awarded annually, the prize’s honours board is a veritable who’s who of literary talent from P.H. Newby in 1969 to last year’s winner George Saunders, via Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle and many more household names and bookshelf staples.

This summer, to celebrate 50 years of the Man Booker Prize, Southbank Centre hosts a special Man Booker 50 festival featuring an array of literary talent. Offering a fitting climax to a packed weekend of events will be the star-studded Golden Man Booker Live, at which the best work of fiction from those five decades of the Man Booker Prize will be crowned.

Tasked with whittling those 50 past winners into a more manageable five-book shortlist were five judges, each responsible for a particular decade; editor and writer Robert McCrum (1970s), poet Lemn Sissay MBE (1980s), novelist Kamila Shamsie (1990s), broadcaster and novelist Simon Mayo (2000s) and poet Hollie McNish (2010s). Here, we run through their choices and hear from the judges on what drew them to make their particular selection.


In a Free State, VS Naipaul

Trinidadian writer VS Naipaul won the Man Booker Prize in 1971 with In a Free State, which comprises three short stories with an overarching plot. In Naipaul’s work, we are taken across continents and given insights into very different lives, from an Indian servant in Washington DC to West Indian brothers in England as we consider the price of freedom. VS Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001; In a Free State is his eighth novel.

It’s like a masterclass in contemporary fiction by somebody who was at the top of his game
Robert McCrum on VS Naipaul's In a Free State

Robert McCrum is a writer and editor, who was associate editor of The Observer from 2010 until the start of this year, having previously spent 14 years as the newspaper’s literary editor. He has written seven novels and four non-fiction works including My Year Off documenting a serious stroke he suffered in 1995. In this short video, McCrum explains how re-reading VS Naipaul’s In a Free State was like meeting his old self.

V.S. Naipaul shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker Prize


Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively

An academic decides to write a history of the world from her deathbed Moon Tiger, winner of the 1987 Booker Prize. What emerges, however, is a tale of incest, of love and the desire for independence. Written from multiple points of view, Penelope Lively’s novel spans time before, during and after the Second World War. Lively initially made her name as a children’s author — winning the Whitbread Children’s Book Award in 1976 for A Stitch in Time — before writing adult fiction, where she again earned recognition, making the Booker Prize shortlist with her debut work The Road to Lichfield in 1977. Lively was shortlisted again in 1984 for According to Mark, before winning the award with Moon Tiger.

The writing is sublime, the detail is exquisite and the storytelling is masterful
Lemn Sissay on Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

Lemn Sissay MBE is a poet, broadcaster, commissioner and playwright whose Landmark Poems are installed throughout Manchester and London, including in our own Royal Festival Hall. Currently Chancellor of the University of Manchester and Canterbury’s Poet Laureate, he explains why he feels people should go back to Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger.

Penelope Lively shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker Prize


The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient shared the Booker Prize with Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger in 1992. It is a tale of four people brought together in a ramshackle Italian villa during the Second World War - an unrecognisably burned man, the eponymous patient, presumed to be English; his Canadian Army nurse, a Sikh British Army sapper, and a Canadian thief - and the effects the patient’s gradually returning memory has upon them. As a poet, novelist and editor and critic Ondaatje has been a central figure in Canadian literature since the the 1970s. The English Patient is his third novel and was later adapted by Anthony Minghella into a highly successful film, winning an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1996.

There are few books that remain in the world that I look at and think of as a miracle, and this is one of them
Kamila Shamsie on The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Kamila Shamsie is the author of seven novels, including Home Fire (longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize), Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction), and A God in Every Stone (shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction). In this short video Shamsie explains why she feels The English Patient stands out.

Michael Ondaatje shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker Prize


Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a sympathetic fictionalised biography, documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More. The work is the first of a trilogy, and was followed by Bring Up the Bodies, which also won the Booker Prize in 2012, making Mantel the first female writer to win the award twice. Wolf Hall has since been adapted into both a successful stage production and a BBC television series.

It manages to be fantastically readable and yet unbelievably complicated
Simon Mayo on Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

One of Britain's most well-known radio presenters, Simon Mayo has presented BBC Radio 1, and latterly BBC Radio 2, since 1981. Named Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the 2008 Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, Mayo has also published five books, including his bestselling trilogy for children, Itch. In the short video below, he explains what, for him, sets Wolf Hall apart from the decade’s other winners.

Hilary Mantel shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker Prize


Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo - winner in 2017 - tells the story of Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his 11-year-old son Willie and the ghosts who visit him in the crypt where the boy’s body lays. Texas-born Saunders is much loved for his witty short fiction and generous advice to other writers. Lincoln in the Bardo is the only full-length novel he has published to date.

George Saunders, with this book, has invented a new literary level with novels
Holly McNish on Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Poet and spoken word artist Hollie McNish has published three collections of poetry, a play and the poetic memoir Nobody Told Me, which won the Ted Hughes Award in 2012. She explains why she selected this book that ‘breaks boundaries’ in the video, below.

George Saunders shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker Prize

Man Booker live reading in Royal Festival Hall

Golden Man Booker Live — Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 8 July — includes readings from the shortlisted novels, and the announcement of the winner.

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Voting for the Golden Man Booker Prize is now open, and you can cast your vote for your favourite work on the shortlist on Man Booker’s website

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A new generation of poets emerges on Instagram

A whole new generation has taken to Instagram to create and share poetry, with innovative, playful and moving poems emerging from the medium. To show how vibrant and relevant this new form is the National Poetry Library has curated the very first #instapoetry exhibition in the world, with over 1,000 entries being received after a call for submissions.

Jessica Atkinson, the National Poetry Library’s Digital Co-ordinator, and Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe have chosen four of the works on show for this blog post and explain what it is that made them stand out.


No hope . . . #instapoetrylib #instapoem @nationalpoetrylibrary

A post shared by Astra Papachristodoulou (@heyastranaut) on

@heyastranaut’s piece is born of the internet, juxtapositioning space-age fantasy alongside the realities of millennial anxiety.

On the surface we are presented with glitz and glamour; Barbie has made it to space to shop surrounded by stars. Is this not everything we were promised the future would hold? Using collage, Barbie’s blacked-out eyes indicate that this joyful image is not all it appears. Suddenly this familiar figure is censored, anonymous and reminiscent of countless memes on Tumblr.  It has an incredibly striking effect (Ocean Vuong’s UK jacket image for Night Sky with Exit Wounds has a similar look) which is perfect for Instagram – this image stops you from scrolling for a minute to take it in.

The text in the image is minimal but we loved the pairing of familiar Frank Sinatra crooning with the gritty bleakness of Barbie’s blindfold. This work takes cut-up and collage poetry and makes it accessible and fun – if there’s no hope for the plastic fantastic, what hope is there for the rest of us?


What initially drew us to @adrianadrtolivera’s piece is that it is entirely handmade.

Due to the nature of the platform, a lot of Instagram poetry is made using software and apps – and these can be used to great effect! But the simplicity of the handwritten poem alongside the anatomical drawing felt as if it could belong in an artist’s book as part of the library’s collection. When something has been crafted especially for you as a viewer or reader, it feels special and unique.

The positioning of the visceral heart alongside the emotive text subverts the assumption that Instagram poetry is all highly romantic and sentimental. Again, we see the use of collage poetry. Adriana has balanced romanticism with the contradictory; there’s a wildness to her words but it’s all encompassed in the space of a few lines. This is the art of a successful Instagram poem – catching the user’s eye, drawing them in and making them pause to contemplate a lot more than just their phone.


We’d never have expected to find poems written with made-up forms on Instagram but poems of four words are everywhere.

In the 1960s the Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay invented the one word poem. How can a poem be a poem with just one word? The answer, Finlay showed, was in having a long title before it. Tom Pickard took on the challenge in his poem ‘Advice to a young poet’. The poem’s one word was simply ‘moisturise’. Four words is a perfect form for the small square frame that Instagram offers.

The one we chose by @eryn.faris for the exhibition suggests how we can use social media to reflect our insecurities back in a way that can be turned into a positive. As Bill Murray has said: ‘Social media is training us to compare our lives, instead of appreciating everything we are.’ Instapoems are a perfect medium turning our gaze back towards this wonder.


With our ever-growing collection of visual and concrete poetry at the National Poetry Library we were delighted to find this form appearing on Instagram. And why wouldn’t it? As the American avant-gardist Dick Higgins has said the history of visual poetry is ‘the story of an ongoing human wish to combine the visual and literary impulses’.

This poem by @hermirony1 is made from lines of poetry forming a fingerprint with each rotating more tightly around the central whorl. There is a nice play here around the idea of a poetic line and the lines that make our fingertips unique. Admittedly this is easier to read on your phone or tablet than on the large screen which can’t be rotated so you can easily read the whole thing. ‘From the outside I behind the lights’ one line reads. Another says ‘the word became my world’. It’s exciting to find an Instapoet so attuned to the words within their world and pushing the interplay between text and image for the world of social media.



Image of Instagram Poetry exhibition

The Instagram Poetry exhibition is free to visit at the National Poetry Library, and runs until Sunday 1 July.

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Sounds, hopes and dreams with God Is an Astronaut and JoyCut

With the reopening of our Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell room earlier this year, Robert Smith’s Meltdown is set to be the biggest edition of the long-running festival in some years. With more stages to perform on comes more incredible acts and so as the opening gigs loom into view, we’ve been getting to know some of the bands on the bill and what makes them tick.

Here, telling us what they’re listening to, what they’re looking forward to about Meltdown, and, who would be the first act they’d add to the bill if they were to curate the festival, are JoyCut and God Is An Astronaut’s Torsten Kinsella.

God Is An Astronaut

God Is An Astronaut are an emotive instrumental rock trio from County Wicklow, Ireland. Formed 16 years ago they consist of Niels Kinsella (bass), Lloyd Hanney (drums) and Torsten Kinsella (guitar, piano and synths) - the latter of which tells us about the personal inspiration he’d include on his own Meltdown bill.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

I’m listening to Singularity by Jon Hopkins, Holding Hands with Jamie by Girl Band and Nine inch Nails’ God Break Down the Door.

What are you looking forward to most about playing at Meltdown?

Firstly, to be asked to be a part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown festival is such a huge honour. We are really looking forward to giving the audience the most heartfelt performance we possibly can.

If you were the curator of Meltdown, who is the first act you'd add on to your bill, and why?

I would add a Whipping Boy reunion show and Girl Band. Whipping Boy are a big inspiration for me, their albums Heartworm and Submarine still stand the test of time. Girl Band are exciting and extremely intense, great live band.

God Is An Astronaut play Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 18 June as part of Meltdown, with support from Korean post-rock band, Jambinai

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JoyCut are a Bologna-based band that design atmospheric layers of sound with a dark edge, a massive beat, and a twitching melancholy and inventiveness that makes them hypnotic in their power and imagination. The three-piece create their sound from a mass of electronics, orchestral breathings, tribal drumming and industrial percussion.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Fractal sounds - suffering from tinnitus.

What are you looking forward to most about playing at Meltdown?

A pure moment we’ve been waiting for_
Without any defence, totally unprotected_
I hope we can inspire others to live and love_
The same way Robert has inspired us_ 

If you were the curator of Meltdown, who is the first act you'd add on to your bill, and why?

MOJA, from Tokyo_
Literally in love with these two insane and talented musicians_
Oh Masumi! She is a superb drummer and Haru is an unmissable creative and genius bass player_

JoyCut play Robert Smith’s Meltdown in Purcell Room on Friday 15 June, with support from Indian Queens

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Please note that bags of 40 x 25 x 25cm and over cannot be taken into the Lee Bul exhibition. A cloakroom is available in the Hayward Gallery foyer at a charge of £1 per item.

Deftones get set for Robert Smith’s Meltdown

Deftones | Robert Smith's Meltdown 2018

In 1988 three pupils of McClatchy High School convened in a Sacramento garage for their first jam session. Thirty years on, those same three friends - Chino Moreno, Abe Cunningham and Stephen Carpenter - are still playing together today, although the venues have got a little bigger.

Deftones, currently made up of Moreno, Cunningham, Carpenter and former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, have been at the forefront of alternative metal for more than twenty years. Known as one of the most experimental groups to emerge out of the scene they have been dubbed ‘the Radiohead of metal,’ by critics. And now, they’re coming to Southbank Centre, playing Royal Festival Hall as part of Robert Smith’s Meltdown.



‘It’s beautiful, it’s definitely a different type of venue for us as a rock band,’ said Moreno as we accompanied him during his first look around the concert space. Take a look at the video below as Moreno explains how the band will look to tailor their set to suit the venue without giving too much away.


‘We’re just honoured to be a part of this’
Chino Moreno, Deftones, on Meltdown festival

Deftones play Southbank Centre on Wednesday 20 June. Though their performance has now sold out, there are a few tickets still remaining for a number of other gigs within Robert Smith’s Meltdown.

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Space Shifters

Larry Bell, Standing Walls, 1969/2016.
A major thematic exhibition featuring artworks that alter or disrupt our sense of space
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26 SEP 2018 - 6 JAN 2019
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Meltdown 25 - John Peel’s Meltdown playlist

For the first five years of Meltdown, the festival trod a fairly familiar line. Experimental and exclusive yes, but rarely straying from its contemporary classical routes. Elvis Costello had tested the boundaries a little during his curatorship in 1995 with what would tragically prove to be the last UK appearance of Jeff Buckley, but it wasn’t until the sixth edition of the festival that the form guide was properly tossed Thames-ward from a Royal Festival Hall window.

In 1998, Radio One DJ John Peel was invited to curate Meltdown, and bring his own experimental and eclectic musical taste to Southbank Centre. Peel initially declined the invite, not due to musical reasons, but due to a scheduling crossover with his other great love, as he himself would explain. ‘I wasn't very keen on organising the festival at first because it clashed with the World Cup, but David Sefton asked me to do it and he's basically a nice chap. So we set up the hall with screens so that people could watch the football if they wanted to. That's why I changed my mind.’

This concession even extended to an agreement that should any World Cup matches go to extra-time the start of evening performances would be delayed, meaning that Gorky's Zygotic Mynci had to wait until after 11pm to take the stage following England’s penalty shoot-out loss to Argentina. Presumably the Welsh band weren’t too disappointed

The wonderful thing about [Southbank Centre] is that the people who work there have a really relaxed attitude. Extreme Noise Terror probably aren't everyone's cup of tea, but you don't get staff telling people not to dance and enjoy themselves.
John Peel

To say that Peel put his own stamp on Meltdown would be something of an understatement, as he delivered a line-up of his favourite artists, bringing popular indie acts  such as Atari Teenage Riot, The Delgados and Cornershop from the clubs to our concert halls. Peel also projected the festival to a more mainstream audience than ever before, by playing out Sonic Youth’s set on his Radio 1 show. Space rock band Spiritualized also appeared simultaneously live on Radio 1 and via a beam back to the Royal Festival Hall. ‘It could be terrible,’ commented Peel at the time, ‘the potential for disaster is almost limitless.’

But despite the scheduling issues and technological risks John Peel’s Meltdown proved a great success, taking the festival in a different direction to great effect. As Peel himself reflected in an interview with the Guardian in 2001, ‘One balmy evening I was standing on the riverside with my back to the balcony: on one side I could hear Culture playing and on the other Extreme Noise Terror in the Queen Elizabeth Hall... I could smell the waves of ganja wafting towards me and I thought, ‘I've done all this.’ It was my moment of vanity, if you like. What really mattered was that I could have people that I wanted to see - and the venue has a certain cache about it because it is the Royal Festival Hall’.

So, take a chance to relive that long, not so hot summer of 1998 - being confused by the new £2 coin, cheering on Tim Henman at Wimbledon, David Beckham’s red card - with this fabulous playlist of acts from John Peel’s Meltdown, featuring Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cornershop, Culture and Autechre among others.

Robert Smith’s Meltdown takes place at Southbank Centre 15 - 24 June. Tickets are still available for some performances.

see the full line-up  

Instagram poetry is here – find out more in our podcast

Instagram poetry is an emerging art form, so you can be forgiven for not having heard of it until now. But is it worth finding out more?

Our National Poetry Library team thinks so – they've curated a whole exhibition highlighting some of the best examples of the form, chosen from a thousand submissions received following an open call.

We strongly recommend you come along and see it to understand what it's all about (details are below). But if you're not yet persuaded then do have a listen to our podcast where librarians Jess Atkinson and Chris McCabe explain instapoets and Instagram poetry. In it, they talk about the form and choose some of their favourite examples.

What is an Instapoet? by Southbank Centre: Think Aloud

One of the winning entries in National Poetry Library's Instagram Poetry exhibition, by Shruti Chauhan

The Instagram Poetry exhibition runs at the National Poetry Library until Sunday 1 July. It is open daily except Mondays and entry is free.

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