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The cavernous Queen Elizabeth Hall is an impressive and atmospheric space. One of London's more civilised culture-style venues, it's also one of the main rooms being used for Meltdown, the annual artist-curated festival on the capital's calendar. This year, the selection honours go to Antony Hegarty, who's put together a challenging lineup of (largely female) leftfield artists across a week-long programme on on London's South Bank.
Tonight is the opening night, and up the road, Diamanda Gálas is performing her harrowing art-music to a sold-out audience at the Royal Festival Hall. At the QEH it's Planningtorock, aka Bolton-born Berlin-based performer Janine Rostron, an artist who's has been on the rise for several years on the avant-garde edge of dance music, starting out on her own Rostron Records label and later signing to DFA. This is her biggest UK show to date, playing to an enthusiastic seated audience of hyper-fashionable club kids, proto-goths and arch looking artists.
As the lights go down, the words 'music / for a while / shall all your cares beguile' flash up sequentially on the vast projection screen. The four-piece PTR band file out onto the stage - a diminutive backing-track button-selector and occasional percussionist flanked by two saxophonists providing a sonorous depth in the sound. Rostron takes centre stage, camera flashes briefly illuminating her face as she walks out dressed in oversized shoulder pads, baggy black clothes, and that monstrous prosthetic mask that extends her nose and brow to eerily demonic effect. Rostron looks every bit the feminist anti-pop star in the deep gloom, her garb artfully obliterating her body shape, undermining the traditional notion of the overtly attractive spotlit performer.
But while she may not flaunt it, she's definitely got it. The sensual, bassy pulse of 'Doorway' kicks in, the opener tonight as it is on her last collection W. The album is based around thumping 4x4 rhythms, often disguised behind mischievous arrangements, with looped synthetic string melodies where the groove might normally be, and staccato bass that acts partly as percussion. This music fuses together the dynamics of house music with an interesting tangle of electronic sound, unexpected flourishes, and Rostron's one-off voice.
Beyond the aesthetics and fashion, the art and the artifice, there are well-laid foundations in Rostron's work. Her voice has a tremendous range, and she sings with unshakeable conviction; her lyrics play with gender politics, relationships, roles and experiences, marking out a rich and varied territory. Planningtorock is a fully realised project from a powerful personality, and it seems like there are no limits to where Janine Rostron could pilot it from here.
Photo by Burak Cingi
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