MIA review – pulling up the people with cosmopolitan global pop

Royal Festival Hall, London
Closing out a radical Meltdown, the festival’s curator was in a celebratory mood – but her outsider pop still packed a political punch

Meltdown, the festival curated by a different musical figure each year, often brings unexpected artists to the highbrow Royal Festival Hall. John Peel booked avant-garde proto-punks Suicide; James Lavelle chose black music pioneers Grandmaster Flash and Neneh Cherry.

But while the acts have been varied, the audience has tended to be thirtysomething music-magazine readers who probably have a Tate card. Not so this year with MIA, the Sri Lankan-born MC and political provocateur, taking the helm. Having spent a career championing outlaw and underrepresented musicians, her Meltdown has been a triumph with a diverse, young crowd watching the likes of French afro-trap star MHD and queer-rap pioneer Mykki Blanco. British rapper Giggs, who has had scores of shows cancelled by the police, considered too dangerous to perform, must have felt a sense of vindication when he turned the home of the London Philharmonic Orchestra into a grime rave.

On this, the final night, she took to the stage herself, and the atmosphere was of a closing party rather than a gig. Performing in front, behind and occasionally on top of a giant set of prison bars, the show encompassed MIA’s decade of agit-pop, with images of unrest and incarceration flashing behind her. She seemed in a celebratory mood, letting a makeshift moshpit of superfans take on the lion’s share of vocal duties.

Viscous and vital... MIA.
Viscous and vital... MIA. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Moments that would have been par for the course in a rock venue felt radical in this space. During Bucky Done Gun, her two dancers, dressed in sportswear versions of orange jumpsuits, spasmed with energy. In Bad Girls, she encouraged a mob of female fans to rush the stage, twirling in between them.

The celebratory atmosphere meant there was little politicking between songs, but ahead of Pull Up the People, she shouted, “Poor people gonna get justice after what happened in London this week”, to cheers of approval.

The highlight was a performance of Bird Song with the women of the Roundhouse Choir. On record, this is one of her cheesiest tracks (sample lyrics: “I’m robin this joint”, “toucan fly together”) but with these young women forming an audible swarm of bird tweets it became viscous and vital.

Meltdown was the perfect festival for MIA. She has always tended to be a better curator than performer; her albums are patchworks of samples and motifs ripped from the global south. This show on its own was not exactly essential (it’s been a year since her last album came out, a record she’s said will be her last) but taken as the close of a festival where politics, outsider street culture and the world of high art met, it was a significant coming together.


Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Laura Marling review – breathy and sublime as she takes a tantric night off
Royal Festival Hall, London
Guy Garvey’s Meltdown festival sees the nu-folk siren with a newfound ease, her voice beautifully matured, growing in versatility and authority

Betty Clarke

19, Jun, 2016 @11:21 AM

Article image
MIA to curate 2017 Meltdown festival
Musician to follow the likes of David Bowie, Patti Smith and David Byrne in choosing the lineup for the Southbank Centre event

Guardian music

07, Feb, 2017 @10:55 AM

Article image
BBC Radio 1 Hackney Weekend – review

The star-crammed bill of music A-listers including Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West and Lana Del Rey was a gold-medal winner for east London, writes Ian Gittins

Ian Gittins

25, Jun, 2012 @10:18 AM

Article image
Summer 2017's hottest pop: with Guns N’ Roses, Nas, Haim, KLF, Eminem and PJ Harvey
Haim ride a sun-kissed wave, MIA raves into Meltdown, Axl Rose does the unthinkable, PJ Harvey pulls on her feathers, Jarvis Cocker reimagines Hollywood – and the KLF write a book

Alexis Petridis

14, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Peaches – review

For a messiah complex in overdrive, look no further than Peaches Christ Superstar, writes Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa

20, Jun, 2013 @3:55 PM

Patti Smith – review

This progenitor of punk was joined by her two children, and the maternal side of Smith added an unexpected dimension to a life explored in poetry, recollections and readings, says Betty Clarke

Betty Clarke

23, Jun, 2013 @5:41 PM

Article image
Iggy Pop and the Stooges – review

More than four decades into his career, Pop is still a frantic ball of quivering, stage-diving energy, writes Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

21, Jun, 2013 @4:57 PM

Article image
Double Fantasy Live – review

Molinari does Lennon, Peaches does Yoko but Siouxsie steals the show as Meltdown closes with the 1980 album's first live performance, writes Betty Clarke

Betty Clarke

24, Jun, 2013 @5:06 PM

Article image
Field Day and MIA’s Meltdown: this week’s best UK rock and pop gigs
The UK’s hippest musical weekender descends on Victoria Park once again, while the contrarian rapper curates the Southbank Centre’s left-field festival

Rachel Aroesti

02, Jun, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Bestival review – the Cure go back to the future for festival season finale
This year’s theme may be the future, but Robert Smith goes on a nostalgic tour of the Cure’s greatest hits, while Wolf Alice let out a howl and Kano brings on a Bond-like brass section

Mark Beaumont

12, Sep, 2016 @11:40 AM