Commanding Hellfire with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are midway through their set at a sold-out Friday night gig in London. The Newcastle band’s frontman Matt Baty is reading from a piece of paper, his hair dripping with sweat. He is wearing black shorts above the knee, and has removed the florally embellished black shirt he was wearing to reveal his heaving chest. On the scrap of paper are some of the comparisons he’s garnered online and in print.
Among them is Charlie Chaplin (“I was quite happy with that one,” he admits). The list ends with his own punchline, Danny DeVito, and I glance at my own notes where minutes before I had written the words: ‘Danny DeVito – deranged Penguin’. Well, now he can add it to the list proper.
It’s all refreshingly light-hearted. This show, hosted by The Quietus, is with experimental folk musician and fellow Geordie Richard Dawson, who himself conducts his inter-performance patter with the timing of a seasoned stand-up comedian. Early in their own set, Baty suggestively growls the words “I love you mummy, I love it when you rub my tummy” while doing just that, and howls “I am a thumb sucker” through his own first digit. Such actions summon a kind of demonic fury wrapped up in a knowing camp.
The band’s unconventional behaviour is attracting attention, but they’re humble about their own hype. “It’s not like we do anything wildly different is it?”, Baty points out when I speak to him and guitarist Adam Ian Sykes a week before the gig. “If anything I think we’re incredibly derivative,” Sykes argues. That said, they’re happy to prod the sense of notoriety that surrounds their irresistible brand of sludgy riffage, sustained jamming and gleeful shrieks. And how else to begin with a band like Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, than with their name?
“I knew Matt, Jonny [bass] and Sam [guitar] for a while before we started,” Sykes tells me. “Someone mentioned this awful band name they had in the pub. I then actually stole it and had a couple of practises with a mutual friend of ours and they were like: ‘If you’re having our name then we’ll come and practise.’”
“Basically me and Jonny got asked to join the band that we had formed in the first place,” laughs Baty. “The name came from making music with a band on its last legs, which just wasn’t fun anymore. We just wanted to start a band that was fun. It’s a ridiculous name that I thought was a good fit.”
It’s certainly a break from the darker bands they often play in (Khuunt and Blown Out are good examples). Plus for Baty, a drummer by trade, it was a chance to move to the front of the stage and indulge in his natural talent for pantomime. And judging by their consistently sold-out schedule, people are getting swept up in it.
The buzz has ratcheted since the release of their debut album Feed the Rats last year. The three-track LP sees Sweet Relief – which runs at a radio-friendly length of four and a half minutes – bookended by two 15-minute epics of pulsating hammer-blows. The band maintain a gritted intensity while Baty acts like a medium for the unholy spawn of Ozzy and Lemmy.
As my experience of their London show attests, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ material truly comes to life by being unleashed on stage. “The only way you can get inside the song is by performing it live,” Baty argues, “because everything gets heightened. You learn everything about that song by playing live.”
“I think at really good gigs you black out,” offers Sykes.
Baty concurs. “It’s kind of like a trance-like state, almost like meditation. You can switch off that internal voice that says: ‘This isn’t very good is it? You’re not very good at this are you?’ You know you just forget, and my hope is that people get that [from] watching or listening to us as well.”
“One gig that sticks in the memory was at [London venue] Electrowerkz. I started inviting people on to the stage which ended up filled with our friends just hitting things and shouting. I gave the mic away and went to lie on a couch backstage sort of heaving and panting. I could just hear all this noise back on the stage. That’s on YouTube somewhere, I think.”
It’s remarkable that they come close to capturing such a white-knuckle pummelling on tape: it’s akin to bottling hellfire, or writing out the deathly squall of a hurricane in musical notation. Yet their catatonic din bludgeons its way through speakers at home as in sweaty bars.“We try to create a sort of dogma in a studio,” says Sykes of the process. “I suppose in the studio is where you write the gospel… and then on stage is where the slaughter takes place.”
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ first record was released on Sykes’ short-lived imprint The Old Noise. Now they’ve found an appropriate home with Rocket Recordings – purveyors of psychedelia including the twin totems of communal playing, Salford outfit Gnod as well as the mysterious Swedish band Goat. The Pigs and Goat essentially shared their first gig together in 2012 (although Goat were eventually booked in London the night before). And if Newcastle seems an odd place for a mythologised masked band from northern Sweden to be booked for their first gig, it shouldn’t: the city has a long history of supporting brilliantly noisy and weird music.
“The studio is where you write the gospel. On stage is where the slaughter takes place”
“Band-wise there’s been loads of amazing music for quite a while,” Sykes says of the Newcastle scene. But the problem lies in the closure of many of the city’s most precious event spaces. Among them the Star and Shadow, where that first gig was played. “That left a big hole,” says Baty. Though hope has not left the city’s music scene completely: the volunteer-run cinema and venue now owns its own building and will re-open to the public in due course, as will The Old Police House, the revered underground spot just across the bridge in Gateshead, which had to shut its doors recently.
Venue troubles aside, Baty has a theory as to why Newcastle maybe doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. “I suppose it’s because there’s a lack of music industry in Newcastle. I’d be surprised if many labels or managers come to scout bands. They’ll find them in Manchester or London. You could be the greatest band on earth playing in Newcastle and no-one will ever fucking know about you. Sometimes people talk about it as if you’re on Mars.”
One week later I’m watching Baty clamber above the speakers and hurl down his intense gospel. Sykes sends his guitar into the clamouring crowd and surveys the scene, enthusiastically slurping a Kronenberg, while the rest of the band charge on. Baty disappears from view, and the screech of feedback and celebratory whoops fill the air. The greatest band on earth? Probably not. But hell if it isn’t fun.
Photography: Matt Martin
Feed the Rats is out now via Rocket Recordings