A Trip to the Pit… (with the Wytches)

When approached to photograph a Pit Party at a secret warehouse location in north London I learnt something about myself. The bit of me that said yes, more or less straight away, was clearly completely bonkers. You see a Pit Party involves a band playing in the round, there’s no stage, they’re surrounded by the crowd with a stack of amps and wedges separating them from the crowd. We’re talking bands that play various forms of visceral, thrashy, punk-ish garage rock. When the crowd went off, as surely they must at some point, myself and my beloved camera would find ourselves crushed between the mosh and the band’s stockade walls of equipment…

Fluffer Records Pit Party No.5.5
A moment of calm before it all kicks off…

By Friday afternoon, the supremely logical side of my mind had decided that my more spontaneous side was not to be trusted and was busying itself concocting excuses to get out of the shoot.  Thus otherwise engaged, it appeared to have failed to notice that the rest of me was already heading up the Piccadilly Line. Upon arrival at our secret destination, the logical (and slightly scared) side of me tried to reassert itself and keep me walking past the venue, but that part of me that simply can’t be trusted and is clearly bonkers took over once again and dealt with the matter by the the judicious application of anaesthesia in the form of a fine pint of fine IPA. Thus emboldened, I wandered down the long narrow corridor to the to the pit…

Hungry Ghosts
Hungry Ghosts…

The pit itself, is a large open room with notice boards leant against the walls to soften the sound of the bare walls, a small sound desk wedged in the corner, and two large speaker stacks at the back of the room. In the centre of the room the bands set up in front of a wall of amps, speakers an other sundry equipment with the drum kit and wedges forming the remainder of the fortified perimeter. Extension leads and wires snake all over the place. The Hungry Ghosts, first up on the evening’s line up were sound checking as I explored the room. Rather than stand on a stage facing outwards, the band face each other. As they check their kit it’s clear that having all amps and speakers facing

Photophobes
Up close with the drummer from the Photophobes – with the crowd surrounding the band the angles you can take a shot from are completely different to a standard stage.

each other makes for some really tough sound for the performers – they’ll be playing as much by feel as by what they can hear from their band mates, but it’s a challenge and there’s a palpable feeling of excitement from the band. There are two par cans on the floor lighting the band. John, who is filming the event, manages to acquire an angle-poise lamp to augment the paltry lighting. When they’re ready, the lights go down and the set begins, the room which is at first empty, fills quickly as the bar empties out. The band in their fortified keep of sound equipment are soon surrounded completely by the crowd. And that’s when the magic begins…

Four bands played the pit last Friday, The Hungry Ghosts, Phobophobes, Virgin Kids and The Wytches. Each reacts differently as the crowd, like a rising tide, files in and laps around the band in response to the opening track of each set. The crowd lurk as silhouettes in the darkness beyond the red light of the par cans illuminating the bands. They push forwards as the room fills forming a wall of ghoulish up-lit faces. Here and there massive papier-mâché heads of monsters liberated from the band room can be seen in the mass of

Fluffer Records Pit Party No.5.5
You’re never quite sure what you’ll find in the Pit…

bodies just beyond the light. Everyone is facing in towards the centre where the band play. There’s something basic and feral about the setting and you can feel the bands feeding off the energy of the crowd surrounding them. Joe from the Hungry Ghosts plays guitar with a frenzied energy and sally’s forth from the amp-stockade to play in the crowd. The lead singer from the Phobophobes circles his microphone stand targeting his playing in every direction, being surrounded by the crowd seems to deliver him an incredible buzz. Al’s enthusiastic use of the smoke machine means that the Virgin Kids vanish in a red smog, only to find they’ve been joined by one of the papier-mâché monsters once the thick red cloud eventually clears. The Wytches are veterans of the pit. Their lead plants his feet and plays, growling out his lyrics, and this time it’s the crowd’s turn to react. The crowd directly in front of the singer explodes into the Mosh and within seconds the crazed dance ripples out to surround the band with a churning, head-banging, jostling mass of bodies, surging like a stormy sea around the solid bastion of the bands kit (I had retreated to stand on the speaker stack at the back of the room by this point, leaving John to heroically continue filming amongst the monitors…).

WytchesThis is not your standard way to experience live music where interaction between crowd and artist is nominally back-and-forth linear with the band facing the massed ranks of the audience looking straight back at them. In the pit, the crowd are as much part of the performance as the band, they’re all the same animal indulging their basic urges together. The interaction between the crowd and the band is completely 360 degrees so the laws of live music just don’t apply, the rules are completely broken and are re-written organically as the bands play and the set develops and the band feed off the crowd and vice versa. It’s a completely immersive way to experience the music played, and might just be an evolutionary step in how its performed. As someone new to the pit I can attest that it could be terrifying, but it’s also bewitching. It surrounds and enfolds you. You might hate it, or love it (or potentially both at the same time!) but you’ll look at any other gig in any other venue quite differently after a night in the pit.

Wytches
The view from the speaker stack…

Fluffer Records might just be on to something special here. Now if I can just find a few more lights maybe I’ll get some shots to do it justice…

Fluffer Records Pit Party 5.5 – 29/04/2016

My write up and photos were also shared through the Fluffer Records Blog

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