Damien Ryan attends Antony’s Meltdown festival for an evening of music from CocoRosie, Jessica 6 and Yasmine Hamdan.
As part of Southbank Centre’s Antony’s Meltdown festival, So So Gay attended an evening of live music from musical sisters Bianca ‘Coco’ and Sierra ‘Rosie’ Cassady, who’ve blended together elements of hip-hop, pop, opera and folk, to create their own, unique style of music, ‘freak folk’. As much of this year’s Meltdown is a celebration of women, CocoRosie were joined by two very striking female musicians.
Opening the evening’s events was Yasmine Hamdan, an icon of the underground scene in Lebanon. She’s already made World music sound even more global as one half of indie electro-pop duo, Soap Kills, and furthermore as part of Y.A.S., an electronic music outfit she was in with Madonna-collaborator, Mirwais Ahmadzai – both acts fused electronic music with classical Arabic arrangements. Hamdan arrived on stage to her music’s low pulse, and with an Amy Winehouse bouffant, midriff-baring outfit and stirring live vocals, she looked every bit the star. The music seemed to ebb through her as she moved from hard drumbeats to the twinkling lullaby of ‘Beirut’, her ode to the Lebanese capital.
Following on from Yasmine was New York-based dance trio, Jessica 6. Here, Nomi Ruiz is our siren of sin, luring us into 6’s blend of house, R&B, funk and disco. She’s been stealing the spotlight ever since she featured in musical project, Hercules and Love Affair, alongside the festival curator, Antony. Sounding slightly androgynous, yet still brimming with female sensuality, she’s an impressive front woman. Opening with the icy coo of ‘White Horse’, she repeats the irresistible chant of ‘Let me see you dance’, as she and two backing dancers strut vigorously. A highlight of the evening came early when Antony joined them on stage to unleash his inner disco diva on their duet, ‘Prisoner of Love’. Antony and Nomi’s vocals swirled around one another, creating a beautiful mélange of uniquely dazzling vocals – easily the greatest dancefloor duet since they were last heard together on ‘You Belong’.
Soon after, our headliners CocoRosie take to the stage, unlike anything you’ve seen before. Sierra, the trained opera singer of the duo, arrives on stage as the obvious showman, kitted out in sky-high heels and a green leotard. She becomes enraptured with her own beautiful, operatic vocals as she whips her cape around her, playfully bouncing along the stage. Bianca is the more peculiar of the two, appearing on stage in a stripey smock, with luminous, wide-legged shorts and suspenders underneath. She’s a more reserved, almost cold presence onstage, being more focused on her own lyrics, and unmoving as her sister occasionally grapples her.
Despite the occasional comic sibling differences, the pair work remarkably well together. At their best, they are wickedly brilliant on stage, weaving together fantastical, dark fairytales. Sierra’s operatic style is strikingly beautiful, while Bianca’s oddly childlike croak adds a darker, sinister element to the proceedings. For their latest single, ‘We Are On Fire’, Sierra bounds across the stage, as Bianca half-raps over the trip-hop beat: ‘I used to have eyes the colour of sky’. One of the best crowd reactions is reserved for the eerie ‘Smokey Taboo’, with its sparse tribal beat and lyrics of isolation: ‘I’m dressed with nothing to flaunt but my loneliness’. Picking up the pace, the pair get a rapturous response to their cover of dancehall tune, ‘Turn Me On’, which allows Bianca to truly let loose, as it builds and builds to its furious climax while she wildly chants ‘You got me going crazy’.
For the encore, Yasmine and Nomi join CocoRosie on stage for a chilling performance of ‘By Your Side’, a satirical take on female devotion, told from the perspective of a victim of domestic abuse. The four women sing together, delivering the lines that depict the tragic cycle of abuse (‘I’d wear your black eyes, bake you apple pies’), uniting them as women. As Anthony, the festival curator, suggested, ‘we need more oestrogen-based thinking’, and this fantastic evening of strong, female artists proved just how diverse, complex, and shamefully under-appreciated, women in the arts can be.