What does it take to put on the biggest and most diverse music and performance event on the Southbank?
Jane is the Senior Music Programmer of Contemporary at the Southbank Centre in London. Since her arrival at the Southbank she has overseen the co-ordination and management of Meltdown Festivals curated by David Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey, Lee Scratch Perry and Robert Wyatt. Previously, she worked at a number of books and talent agencies, overseeing the international touring schedules of artists like Skunk Anansie and Radiohead to Suede! As a freelancer, she’s worked with Kasabian, the New York Dolls and Editors. Quite a catalogue!
In 2013, she worked with Yoko Ono to create her Meltdown Festival in July- which saw events like Activism week’s hard-hitting talks (featuring Pussy Riot flown in and balaclava’d up), Iggy & The Stooges, the first performance from Siouxsie in five years, the legendary Patti Smith, and the first performance of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album.
Why is it actually called Meltdown?
This is one I actually don’t know the answer to! I’ve worked on the festival for 12 years since 2001 but it was actually born in 1993 – before my time here.
How do you come up with the artists to curate Meltdown each year?
There are no set criteria for this – we aim to work with artists who we feel will be inspired by the curatorial process and also that will give something back to us so that both sides learn from the experience. As you’ll know from the list of previous curators – it’s usually an iconic musician.
Meltdown is such a huge festival to curate and programme- are you planning for the next one? What goes on in the very early planning and thinking stages of Meltdown?
Well the first steps is to choose the curator and then to sit down with them and put together a list of artists that they are interested in working with. Then we have to find out their availabilities and fit the events to the different sized venues, making sure that we’re putting performances in the right sized space artistically and financially.
What was the biggest challenge for this year’s Meltdown festival, programming-wise? Surely getting the few members of Pussy Riot was really difficult logistically?
The conversation with Pussy Riot was a complex one. They are obviously in a very difficult and serious situation with two of the collective still in Russian prison camps so they can’t be overtly public about their whereabouts. There are always very different criteria and needs for each artist. Some of them come with a full team of technicians and crew and some come solo so we need to work out what level of help we need to provide in terms of artist liaison and production requirements.
The biggest challenge is juggling all the balls at the same time and making sure there’s a good and diverse balance of work across the programme, whilst not splitting audiences and crucially making sure the budget works!
Why do you think Meltdown attracts so many different people each year?
Meltdown is a very different festival each year depending on the curator – which is one of the things which makes it so inspiring to work on. Most artists like to work across different genres of art form and they are always introducing us to new ideas and new artists.
What were your favourite bits from this year’s Meltdown; anything on Yoko’s programme list that surprised you?
I’m not sure I’ve properly digested it yet. It was very important for us, and for Yoko, that there was a strong female presence in the line up and I think we really achieved that with Siouxsie, Peaches, Pussy Riot, Kim Gordon and all the amazing women on the Double Fantasy show – Bishi, Camille O’Sullivan, Lene Lovich, Zoe Rahman.
Peaches doing Yoko’s Cut Piece was probably one of the most incredible and intense performance’s I’ve ever seen.
Do you think the best way to get into event programming as a young person is to put on your own events to gain experience? Or did you take any courses or extra training to increase your skills?
I think putting on your own events is a great start – learning all of the different areas that go into putting on a show from budgeting to marketing to working with technical and production to the creative look and feel of the show. I fell into this after working for booking agents for many years, a job that involved every aspect of putting together tours apart from the actual day of the show. When I came to work at the Southbank and everything that we did led up to the actual show day, that was a real thrill for me. I would advise anyone that wants to get into this area to be constantly on the lookout and define what they individually think makes a great performance and programme.
What does the day in the life of an event programmer look like?
Every day is totally different depending on what’s coming up. Lots of email and phone calls and building networks and lots and lots of research. We’re always on the lookout for new artists and shows. It’s not a 40 hour a week job. You have to be prepared for long hours – especially during a festival or on show days – and you are often out and about across the country and sometimes across the world looking for new work. It’s quite intense and tiring and super rewarding at the same time.
What did you want to do when first trying to find a career path? What did you think you wanted to do before event programming?
I wasn’t very focused on my career when I started at booking agencies picking up the phone and making tea twenty years ago. Plus the business was pretty divided according to gender. When I first started there were only two female booking agents in London. Thankfully there are more now. But I think you have to do your research and find out what area of the business you want to get into and pursue that and listen to a lot of music and go and see a lot of shows.
What would you really like to programme- your dream event or festival?
WOW – that’s a question… can I come back to you on that?