Dan Jacobson reviews Anna Meredith’s musical trajectory and eclectic Oval Space performance
Anna Meredith is the last person you would expect to see at The Proms.
The link between classical and electronic music arose around the beginning of the decade. Classically trained artists like James Blake, Julia Holter, and Sampha were using their strong production groundings to produce lush, ambient, electronic music, offering an atmospherically-focussed alternative to the standard singer-songwriters.
Anna Meredith has dabbled in this herself. She came to widespread attention in 2008, when her work froms was featured in the BBC Last Night of the Proms. She has continued to flex her muscles in a range of ever-more-creative settings, from elevator music outside a Selfridges as part of the Manchester International Festival this year, to a current sonic artwork at Somerset House entitled Sarabande for Zamboni, which uses motion tracking software to effect instrumentation as the Zamboni machine resurfaces the ice rink.
It was in 2012 with the release of her explosive track “Nautilus”, with its tremendous horn opening, warbling synths, and urgent percussion, which signalled her transition away from ambience and towards what amalgamated as her 2016 record Varmints. The playfulness exuded from this record was the key focus of her Oval Space set: her biggest ever headline show. The band, consisting of electric guitar and drums, alongside cello, tuba, and Meredith herself on clarinet, synths, and pretty much anything else, wore sparkling silver, giving the performance a futuristic feel. The set even featured a purpose-build dance mat ‘played’ by drummer Sam Wilson, which wonderfully enhanced the energy naturally displayed by Meredith’s compositions, and was executed in a way which, in the hands of a lesser artist, may have come across as gimmicky on the one hand, showy on the other.
In addition to the incredible fun being offered by the band, the set demonstrated further indications of Meredith’s expertise. The tuba, used instead of a bass guitar or synth, provided a layer of jaunty liveliness, which was complemented by the cello’s sliding textures. As in numerous cuts from Varmints, especially highlights such as set-opener “R-Type” and closer “The Vapours”, the songs rise over their course with an element of catharsis. Whilst this technique always runs the risk of losing the listener’s interest before the inevitably frenetic finale, it is a testament to Meredith’s musicality that this does not happen.
If anything has been learnt from this set, in addition to further confirmation of Meredith’s capabilities, it is that in order to create cutting-edge, wholly unique, defiant music, it is not necessary to be pretentious. Amongst artists of Meredith’s calibre, these displays and projects often come at the price of some ulterior meaning. But with Meredith, it seems that the main factor fuelling her intense creativity is simply the boundaries of creativity itself. At the very least, it is the offering of hope to the young tuba player, who wants to be in a rock band.
Anna Meredith’s Sarabande for Zamboni installation will be on at Somerset House until 14th January 2017: https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/anna-meredith-sarabande-zamboni
Featured image credit: Anna Meredith