POP: A summer melting pot

As the Grim Reaper stalks the music industry, killing off a slew of summer festivals including Phoenix and Jam in the Park, it is perhaps fitting that "Meltdown" on the South Bank should be littered with bands which, somewhere along the line, have shown two fingers to the British pop industry.

The Delgados are independent thanks to their own fruitful label, Chemikal Underground; Cornershop became an overnight sensation after six ramshackle years of obscurity in indieville, and even Damon Albarn

and Graham Coxon of Blur survived rough times during the grunge revolution.

John Peel (right), the man with more than 30 years of heroic service at Radio One, chose the names for this year's "Meltdown" and has a few theories of his own as to why UK rock is cooling down so dramatically.

"It's all become so corporate," he explains. "In pop, the unexpected is sought after - you're always looking for something to happen which is unlike anything you have encountered before. Plus people are getting greedy, putting on too many festivals and then the same bands seem to be playing all of them. And I think last year's Glastonbury really put a lot of people off - the weather was just so frightful."

Under Peel's direction (previous years have seen the likes of Elvis Costello and Laurie Anderson taking the helm), diversity is the watchword for this year's season.

From today to 5 July, audiences will be able to enjoy wayward talents from techno, indie, world music and comedy. Highlights include a Warp Records Showcase, a Creeping Bent Showcase with Scottish pop, Ivor Cutler and Ardal O'Hanlon. Spiritualized, Sonic Youth and the Jesus & Mary Chain will also be big draws.

Peel is keen to offer a few words of support for artists from outside the fashionable elite - in particular, those from overseas. One event loosely dubbed "John Peel Presents" will include FSK from Munich and The King, who cover contemporary songs in the manner of Elvis Presley. And then there is Thomas Mapfumo, whom Peel first saw in Zimbabwe many years ago. He was taken aback by the friendliness and warmth of the people at that African concert and felt that the music exuded a similar spirit.

Peel feels that the defining nature of his "Meltdown" is represented as well by the presence of Mapfumo as by that of anyone else.

"If there are only two people there to see him, it will be my wife and myself," he says happily.

RFH, QEH and Purcell Room, South Bank SE1 (0171-921 0600) to 5 Jul