Antony Hegarty to curate Meltdown 2012

Antony and the Johnsons singer to explore spirituality, the environment and gender politics at annual music festival

Antony Hegarty is to follow in the footsteps of Laurie Anderson, Robert Wyatt and David Bowie by curating this year's Meltdown, the annual festival of music and arts held at London's Southbank Centre.

Hegarty, the man behind the extraordinary voice in Antony and the Johnsons, said he wanted to explore the environment, spirituality and gender politics when he curates the 12 days of performances and activities in August.

Speaking to the Observer, Hegarty said: "It's a bit daunting just because I want to invite a lot of people that I really like and I want to make sure it all goes well for them – but it's exciting."

He did not give names of artists he had in mind for Meltdown, but said he wanted them to participate in a way that was "beyond the scope of their own music, in a cultural dialogue".

Hegarty said the Southbank Centre had not given him any limitations. "I've started gathering the musicians I love, especially the singers I love … and then because I've been so focused in my work on the environment, women's issues and feminism, that will be something I address in the course of the festival as well. Ecology and the role of women and the feminine. If there's a theme, the theme is beauty and strength – the things that I think are most beautiful and strong!"

The Southbank's artistic director Jude Kelly said Hegarty was "one of the most fascinating artists of our age". She added: "From the moment we heard his voice, or caught an early glimpse of him stealing the show on jaw-dropping guest spots, there was no doubt Antony was a major talent.

"Each director takes Meltdown in a different direction. We can't wait to see where Antony will take the festival and us in August 2012."

Hegarty was born in Chichester, Sussex, but was brought up in Amsterdam and California before moving to New York aged 19 and becoming part of the city's underground performance circuit.

He became more widely known in the UK when Antony and the Johnsons won the Mercury prize for the album I Am a Bird Now, and memorably expressed disbelief that he had won. "It's just a crazy contest," he said. "It's almost like there's a contest between an orange and a spaceship and a potted plant and a spoon – which one do you like better?"

Hegarty expects to perform himself, something he has done before at Patti Smith's Meltdown in 2005 and Ornette Coleman's in 2009.

• The Observer is the media partner of Meltdown, which takes place 1-12 August.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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