Following the extravaganza out east that was Pit Party No.7 with its incredible performances from the likes of Heck, BoNigen and the Black Lips, an event so epic it took the concept of the Pit Party to a whole new scale, Fluffer Records’ brought the Pit back to its (more modestly sized) spiritual home in north London, for (you’ve guessed it…) Pit Party No.8 headlined by Traams. For me at least, what the super-sized Pit party No.7 gained in shear spectacle and utter crazed, beer flinging, sweat-drenched bedlam it lost in intimacy. There’s nothing quite like being able to stand next to the drummer, just a few feet from the band’s frontman as they play with the crowd surrounding you. Whilst I definitely had a great night at Shapes Warehouse, I have to admit I was excited to be back photographing in a smaller venue without the raised stage and festival-strength barriers between the band and the crowd.
No raised stage or barriers for Pit Party No.8. Instead I arrived to find Brighton’s Demob Happy sound-checking in front of a back line of rather shiny Orange Amps, including a beast of a bass amp, arranged in a rough semi-circle facing a drum kit. A few wedges complete the circle and the whole lot sits on what can only be described as a “Magic Carpet” that defines roughly where the performers begin their set. At this stage in proceedings the Carpet exists brooding in its dormant, dubiously textured state awaiting the sweat of drummers and bass guitarists along with the inevitable spilt beer that will cause the Magic Carpet’s true malodorous nature to be revealed having awakened the potentially unique biota slumbering within its hallowed pile. The Fluffer Pit Parties banner is taped to the back wall between the speaker stacks the lightning bolts leaping from the skull depicted on it hinting at what is to come. Lampy has accompanied me to the Pit tonight, and it’s not long before various par cans, a birdy and (the pièce de résistance…) a rope light are coaxed out of hiding and artfully positioned to provide some atmospheric lighting. Then begins the taping down… The thing about having the band in the middle surrounded by the crowd and the power sockets on the outside of the room is that there’s a lot of trailing leads, and the Fluffer Crew take taping these down to create a safe space for the crowd very seriously. Never mind the amps and (liquid) rider, it’s the makers of gaffer tape that Fluffer need to target for sponsorship next! With the Pit prepared, and the smoke machine fully warmed up, it’s time for the evening’s entertainment to begin.
After supporting the splendid Love Buzzard and the mighty Plague Vendor at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff back in April it was inevitable that the three-piece garage-punk outfit that is People and Other Diseases would eventually find their way from Swansea to the Pit. Striking classic rock guitar poses, they grind out blistering yet grungy riffs right form their opening track and the bar soon empties out in to the Pit. Aled Simons’ gravelly, abrasive vocal style complete People and Other Diseases distinctive and very enjoyable sound and whilst Aled may dedicate the bands songs to Trip Advisor, Air B&B and eBay with a somewhat sarcastic glint in his eye it can’t be denied that lyrics tell much more interesting tales.
Kit is changed over, drum kits are adjusted, lights are repositioned and within the first few drum beats the crowd rolls back in. Abattoir Blues are one of those bands that have been working really hard of late and supported Wolf Alice on their recent tour. The hard work shows. As their set starts, frontman and vocalist Harry Waugh paces around inside the walls the backline and wedges form around the band filled with nervous energy and a microphone on a very long lead, I’m not expecting him to stay still for long… Within a few bars its clear that there’s a beguiling, dark melodic undercurrent beneath the hard, abrasive post-punk exterior of Abattoir Blues’ sound and it’s this that provides the spark that sets off an explosive and energetic performance from Harry. He’s everywhere, always moving, (predictably) mostly out of Lampy’s carefully placed overlapping fields of lighting amongst the crowd. I don’t use flash when I shoot, so rely completely on ambient light. I think flash can be a real distraction for both the band and the crowd, but not using one means Harry is almost impossible to photograph unless you like blurred ghosts of frontmen in your photos. Until I spot the pattern that is…
Harry always seems to return to a spot just in front the drums which is really strongly up-lit during each the chorus. So it’s here I lay my trap while the other photographers dash around the pit chasing Harry with their flash guns. I focus and meter on one of Harry’s visit to the drums and then wait to take my shot on his next visit. Metering while he’s really strongly lit throws the surroundings in to complete darkness and gives me a high enough shutter speed to catch the action creating some really daemonic looking shots. I’m concentrating so hard that I barely notice how the full crowd and the energy of Harry’s performance has really turned up the heat in the Pit. It’s officially properly sweltering. Indeed it’s so hot that one of the most powerful man-made materials ever created fails and the Fluffer Pit Party banner slides from the wall assaulting several members of the crowd at the back of the room as the adhesive on the gaffer tape fails…
Demob Happy are not a band to give the crowd time to cool off and they start their set with an antagonistic swagger fit to match the pure sleaze that permeates their baseline. Unusually, all four band members provide vocals in support of bassist and lead Matt
Marcantonio leading to some really interesting use of vocal harmonies. When all the microphones functioned that is… Frustration mounted as all but one microphone failed over the course of a couple of songs. Whether the extreme temperature played a role, or whether after prolonged abuse various wires and connectors decided that enough was enough, I never found out but it was a great credit to the band that they overcame this distraction and played on and delivered a cracking set that really got the crowd going. I started the set up close next to the drummer, but as the crowd reacted to the band and the energy in the room built, I
retired to the back of the room, wiped the condensation from the wide-angle lens, and set about trying to get some shots of the room that tried to capture the feral atmosphere and put the band in the context of the mayhem around them. This meant I missed the moment at the end of the last track where guitars were cast to the floor and one of the band totalled the drum kit as he launched himself at the drummer in celebration of a cracking performance. Amazingly the birdy Lampy had attached to the drum kit survived and lit the debris beautifully as a cacophony of wonderfully discordant feedback announced the end of the set.
The final band of the evening were Chichester three-piece, Traams. Fronted by Stu Hopkins, Traams brought a change in tempo to the pit. Gone was the frenetic punkish thrash of Abattoir Blues, gone also was the assured garage rock of Demob Happy. Instead these were replaced with hypnotic rolling krautrock rhythms and lyrics born out for mundane small-town frustrations delivered with a confrontational nonchalance and aloof aggression that grips the crowd completely. There’s a thread of understated poppish melody woven in beneath the mesmerising surface rhythms and rumbling riffs and I wonder what the deft production touches of Rory Atwood (Mr.Warm Brains himself) brings to the Traam’s recordings. Balloons are released in to the pit causing momentary chaos, but it’s not until a massive belch of smoke heralds a shout of “Two More Songs!” that the crowd let go of the building tension and the mosh erupts. The wedge-walls are stormed and the band produces their music indistinguishable from the pulsating heart of the crowd forming an incredibly sweaty crescendo to a spectacular evening’s performances.
Looking back, it was with no insignificant trepidation that I first entered this venue for my first shot at photographing the Pit as part of the Wytches weekender. The whole idea of the crowd completely surrounding the band, with me and my trusty (and precious!) camera somewhere in between the two when it all kicked-off felt both alien, and to be fair, a long way towards being completely insane. However, three Pit Parties down and I think I’m beginning to see what makes these event special. A trip to the Pit is nothing like your tightly orchestrated, common-or-garden gig where everybody knows where to stand, which way to face and how to behave. The Pit is different, the immersive, full-360 degree nature of the event means that the same old rules don’t apply. It’s up to the crowd and the band to work out how they’re going to do this performance together and it’s the energy they share that makes the atmosphere so special. What you’ve got happening right in front of you is is the next evolutionary step in anarchic musical alchemy and nobody’s quite sure what’s going to happen next or how the night will play out. Unless of course it’s getting towards the end of the evening and then you hear the smoke machine wheeze as Al yells “Two more songs!”, you know exactly what’s going to happen next…
Pit Party No.8 (Secret Location Somewhere in North London) – 10/06/2016
This little write up can also be found on the Fluffer Records Blog…
People and Other Diseases: