A tour of her central London studio, fresh from receiving her MBE
Two days ago Anna Meredith was at Buckingham Palace collecting an MBE for services to music. “I didn’t get her maj,” she says, “but I got Will.” She shows me a photo on her phone of her speaking to the prince mid-ceremony; him standing on a small, for-Royals-only rug, her telling him how shit school was, and so she and her friends would barricade themselves in the music room to escape the verbal abuse and occasional hale of coins. “Well, look at you now,” said William, and shook Anna’s hand. “You’re told beforehand that your time is over when he shakes your hand,” she says. “That’s the sign that you need to leave.” Accordingly, she went to the pub and got pissed.
And now, in Anna’s studio in the basement of Somerset House, it perhaps feels like she was never there at all. In the long corridors of heavy doors that hide the creative spaces of countless audio and visual artists, where PJ Harvey constructed a glass-walled recording studio and invited the public to watch her record The Hope Six Demolition Project in 2015, there’s a sense that time both stands still and runs away from itself down here. Anna’s room does have an outside window, but a few feet in front of it is a brick wall that stretches up to the giant Georgian building’s cobbled quadrangle – home to an open-air cinema in the summer and a skate rink in the winter, both of which are as high in ornate beauty as they are low on 21st Century comfort, each of them as likely to cause piles as the other.
Pointing to her dying plants, Anna says that sunlight makes it through the gap for about ten minutes each day, but the continual late-night-cram-sesh feeling of this womb-like space seems to play to her strengths: few people are as prolific as Anna Meredith; even fewer are as continually creative.
Aside from her two experimental electronic pop albums (2016’s Varmints and the equally brilliant FIBS of late 2019) – all galloping brass builds, thwacked drums, and techno led by a clarinet – Anna has become a returning composer at the Proms, and sound-tracked the best film of last year (Eighth Grade) and Paul Rudd’s new Netflix series Living With Yourself. She’s composed an opera with YBA storyteller Philip Ridley, and mentored Goldie for a TV show about the practice of classical composing in 2009.
But she seems to approach each of her projects with the same conceptual commitment, regardless of how big-time they may be. On the fireplace in her studio she shows me a jewellery box that was part of a piece devised with Leeds University, where each student fitted an old box with a coloured light and a chord from an original composition by Anna. When the group opened their boxes in the sequence they were instructed to, they would perform Anna’s piece in full. Similarly, in 2017, she composed an interactive piece of music for the Zamboni that cleaned the ice on the Somerset House ice rink upstairs – a piece that a very low percentage of the skaters would have probably realised was forever evolving as the driver cruised the ice.
Eighth Grade director Bo Burnham calls Anna “a genius” with good reason, although her originality is best surmised by a note to herself scrawled on her whiteboard – NEVER STOP EXPLORING!!.
When you watch Anna’s music performed by a ginormous orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall on the BBC, it’s nuts to think that it all starts in this small subterranean room, stacked high with her own merch and “full of tat,” as she says. Talking me through the tat, at one point she gestures to a framed illustration of The Legend of Korra. “The boobs are bit much,” she says. “I think that’s a male artist. It’s bit too sexy, but fuck it. There’s a lot of stuff in here that I wouldn’t put up at home.”