I took the scenic route to Stoke-on-Trent. Down through Glossop and Buxton, meandering through the beautiful and rugged landscapes of the Peak District. The only sign I saw that told me I was on the right road was 22 miles from Stoke-on-Trent and 11 miles from Leek, after that, nothing. I hit the area at rush hour and aimed for the city centre, the wrong city centre as it happens, Hanley. From there I made slow progress through heavy traffic back to the Queensway and then bumper to bumper round the one way system to Pilgrims Pit, the venue for tonight’s electronic music open mic (EMOM).
Pilgrims Pit is a small venue run by a local team of musicians and culture enthusiasts with a mission to bring the community together through the arts. This is exactly my kind of ethos and with it being Independent Venue Week, also the perfect setting for my night. When I got there Jay of Digital Buddhist was hard at work installing a tremendous lighting system complete with smoke machine courtesy of Music Store Pro. This was going to be something special.
These are popular nights with a lot of people wanting to play to an appreciative and interested audience. For me, the pressure is always about trying to get through as many acts as possible so the sooner you get the show underway the better. I kicked off the proceedings at around half seven with a short Poet & the Loops set including the infamous King Slug, a story piece about fighting personal demons, in this case a giant slug – it seemed to resonate with the Stoke crowd. Flavolous followed with a complex mix of wonderful sounds and bursts of dub, trap, ambient and more. A wonky anti dance set that evolved into an epic groove until his lap top sadly died a few minutes prior to the end. But we’ve all come to expect technical hitches on a technology driven night like this. Cynthia’s Periscope took over with his unique song writing and lyrics, including the rather brilliant Pillar of Salt. Four Floors of Whores were next up, and these guys have gone from strength to strength since I first saw them play the Coventry EMOM. Home built modular synth based music at its best. Local act Custard Bass gave their first live performance as if they’d been doing it for years, including a very nice ambient piece also describing the world from a dog’s perspective. We were also very lucky to be joined by Keeper of Bees who had come from Harrogate to be with us on this night. The audience fell into a hushed and respectful silence when she played.
These events are always diverse and the religion of ‘electronic music’ is a broad church, so it was we moved from the soothing music of Keeper of Bees to the street wise hip hop rants of Marx. I love these contrasts, they are what makes for a good night, the dramatic highs and lows. Marx went down a storm, but unfortunately had to cut his set short as he had a train to catch. Next came Artistes Known As Us, a disco funk trio from Birmingham who put a smile on your face and rhythm in your feet. Massively appreciated electronic disco with live saxophone and electric guitar – plus a nice bit of cow bell (real cow bell not the sampled variety). What more could you ask for? Yet there was more, lots more, but not until we were through another technical hitch as the Wi-Fi was on a go slow downloading some We Are Us sound files. An unplanned interlude and a chance for conversation.
– Did you organise this? It’s amazing! A guy asks me.
– Thanks, I answer. – It’s turned out really well, but honestly, it doesn’t take much doing.
– Stoke really needs nights like this, thanks so much for sorting it out.
– Hey, that’s alright.
– It’s all about culture, don’t you agree?
– Absolutely, culture and also people, music, community and mutual support ..
– So when’s the next one?
– There’s one coming up in Manchester later in February, and all around the UK for the rest of the year.
– But come back to Stoke won’t you?
– After tonight, definitely.
People may think this event is just about music, but it’s more than that, it’s about overcoming boundaries and getting a disparate community of music lovers together to enjoy a one off and unique moment in time. This is not a competition. It’s a future cabaret where you are enabled to meet, talk and share ideas with like-minded people from all walks of life. As much as anything, a fun night out with quality underground music making and good people.
When the download had finished, We Are Us exploded the room with new songs and energy that reinvigorated the night. Local lads Dan and Stu engrossed in a performance of lost and found electronic souls. And to end the night, another high energy combo from Digital Buddhist and Martin Gooding. They must put something in the water round here, Martin Gooding’s profound words and twelve foot mid set high jump was enthralling. Jay’s epic dance tunes were deeply danceable. Unfortunately that’s when I got a text from home and had to leave for personal reasons, difficult stuff I can’t go into here but reason enough to have to French exit my own night. Music helps to cope with the trials and tribulations of life, but sometimes it has to take a back seat in the priorities.
Across the road I turned to look back at Pilgrims Pit. Behind the dirty glass and scaffolding the smoke machine had filled the place with a chemical fog, and the lasers lit up the profiles of the audience still enjoying the show close to midnight. Greens, yellows, reds and greys against a backdrop of pounding music, laughter and applause. Pilgrims Pit is one of thousands of free spirited venues doing great things for music and the community up and down this land. Let’s look after them, keep them free spirited and original, and most of all support them.
All pictures by Samantha Claire