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Changeling At The Pit

by Hugh Upsher / 08.04.2014

The Pit (133 Bree Street, Cape Town), has been tentatively establishing itself as a new live venue with some of South Africa’s most exciting alternative acts passing through its skate-bowl cum cultural art installation interior in recent months. Bilderberg Motel, The Dollfins, Black Lung, Death Pegasus and The Make-Overs have all done sessions in the bowl. The appeal of playing what is essentially an anti-stage (set up at the bottom of a shallow concrete bowl) is that the venue itself has (dare I say it!), a built-in cool kid community. The rarity of live music events (max of 2 events a month, one is the RVCA First Thursdays and the other is Vans Party Town), also helps make each show seem a lot more extraordinary than your average Assembly / Mercury Live gig.

The space (which resembles the basement of my teenage dreams) is sneakily situated directly behind Clarke’s Diner on Bree Street and acts as a skate park on most days. Tonight however they are hosting an exhibition by ELLO as well as the young band Changeling as part of the roving art initiative RVCA First Thursdays. ELLO’s work on show takes a little too much direct inspiration from Joan Miró for my liking, but suits the space well. The framed artworks that line the corridor to the gig patiently wait for someone to either accidentally knock them off the wall or buy them.

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Using a skatepark as a music venue / gallery space is not an uncommon idea but it is always unconventional. I remember going to see Tonightwedie, Neshamah and Hog Hoggidy Hog at Boogaloos skatepark  in Century City back in the day. Highlights included my friend vomiting up all free samples of sushi we ‘scored’ from the food court downstairs and finding my Nokia after losing it in a mosh pit an hour earlier. Anyway. Skateboarding breeds subcultures and anything DIY or of an uncompromising nature will always fit right in.

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I made a special effort to make certain I would catch Changeling by arriving at the advertised time for the free show. Unfortunately, circumstances led me to arrive alone and I failed to recognise anyone there that was conversation worthy. I got myself a well-priced quart and settled down for a session of studious people-watching that filled up the longest 48 minutes of my life. I became aware of every verse and chorus playing out the sound system and I examined people’s futile attempts to play table tennis on a table set up barely two metres from the bar counter.

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I started profiling each social group into skaters, friends of the band, fashionistas, tourists, misfits and the couples in their mid-thirties that had spilled over from Clarke’s after a tame dining experience. The combination of natural human traffic from the street and free entry meant the event was a haven for  cultural voyeurism. It was an interactive zoo exhibit of ‘The lesser spotted Cape Town cool kid’ socializing in its authentic skate-punk habitat. Thankfully this translated into a captive audience for Changeling who are of the rare, slumped over, hair-instead-of-a-face, psych-noise rock band variety.

They announce their presence by pounding out a gloriously noisy six minute instrumental with attention-grabbing intention. Even though they are set up in the bottom of a shallow skate bowl at 9pm on a Thursday night, they don’t skimp on visuals with a double projector set up and full stage lighting. For a band that thrives on manipulative guitar pedals, modulators and synth, the lighting is like a fifth member adding complimentary layers of texture to the already rich sensory experience.

The band carry the antisocial simplicity of The Fall, the weightlessness of Pink Floyd, the relentless drive of Joy Division and the calculated noise of Wavves. Which is fucking great if you are into any of that. They are noticeably tighter than the last time I saw them but still carry the shy mumbling of a group that just hasn’t had enough hours on stage. The instantly recognisable riff from The Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ would grow into a perfect modern rendition of the proto-punk classic. It would be the band’s sign-off track for the night just in case anyone needed a touch point for what they were trying to achieve.

The instruments are left to growl and hum on the floor as the members crawl out the concrete pit in single file. There is no curtains, backstage or van waiting outside ready to escort them to the after-party at the hotel, they simply gel back into the very crowd that had been quietly admiring them for the last fourty minutes or so. Their job was done as opening band as well as headliner. It was up to the sound guy to scramble in minutes later to unplug.

Their latest double EP ‘Stardust Overdrive’ is available for free download here.

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