Pig Pen is one of the most interesting nights I'm aware of anywhere right now. Gabriel, who is on the autistic spectrum, curates the night, using his yes/ no device to select or veto acts suggested to perform. Ben organises the event alongside him, and gives out his comics for free. Their nights are becoming more and more successful as people become familiar with the atmosphere of individuality and expressive freedom they've created. The night is eclectic, involves all sorts of artists doing all sorts of things and is never dull. It's a diamond in our Macbeth skull, so we had them come down and tell us some more...
Gabriel on the left, Ben on the right
Macbeth: I just want to ask you a few questions about your night, how it came about. Does Pig Pen mean anything?
Ben: I used to run a night in Stoke Newington, long time ago, that revolved around free comic books and indie pop called Good Grief, after Peanuts and Charlie Brown and then I started hanging out with Gabriel and working as his personal assistant and you [Gabriel] started coming along to the nights. You weren't sure if you'd like them or not and you loved it, then we got the idea to do one ourselves and let you choose the acts, and because of your cool hair we thought you looked like the character Pig Pen out of Peanuts. So that's where the name comes from.
M: So you use the yes / no device to choose the bands that play, how does that work?
B: I'm doing all the talking, chip in with your comments if you want Gabriel.
Gabriel: Yes, yes.
B: We get a group of mates together,
B: Usually you know, like, guys that DJ,
B: Pig Pen, your cousin Alex, just a few mates that all help out. We all get together, go on the internet, people reccomend stuff they've seen recently or they've heard, and it gets the verdict from you really Gabriel. If you like it I'll get in touch and see if they're interested.
M: So Gabriel - you have the final say in who plays Pig Pen?
B: You're the boss Gabriel, well I suppose we co-curate it. Maybe not actually, you curate it, but we co-organise it.
G: Yes, yes
M: Can you tell me about the Pig Pen Cabaret? What does that involve?
B: Yeah well, that was a new idea that we did at Christmas. We're going to sound like traitors here, but we did a party at The Troy bar down the road...
B: But it wasn't because we chose to, it's because we were invited to! We love The Macbeth much more than the Troy bar!
M: I'll edit all that out!
B: No, what it was was the national autistic society, we do a lot of campaigning with them - like, Gabriels been invited to the House of Commons about four times now - and they asked us to do their christmas party and that happened to be where it was and we thought we'd put on a small cabaret show.
B: Well, yeah, that was my idea, you wanted Tim Ten Yen and all the rest of it .
B: But everyone seemed to be booked up so I thought lets do a cabaret show. We got a few performance artists and some poets together, and then we thought it worked so we did the same thing at the proper Pig Pen at the Macbeth.
G: Yes, yes.
M: Do you know who you've got coming up to play? Or have you yet to decide?
B: Well, we're attempting to get some top secret guests, wether it will come about or not we don't know, but we think we've got a good enough night to try and tempt some top acts. And we've got a kind of family of Pig Pen bands and artists, some people that play regularly. They're kind of part of the community I guess. Tim Ten Yen, Trabant (formerly KayaKing) - they're one of our personal favourites I think. And who else do we always put on? Electricity in our homes, they've played a couple of times, it'll be good to get them in again.
Electricity in Our Homes
B: King Salami and the Cumberland Three, they're a kind of rockabilly outfit, they're on the Dirty Water record label. We've got our regulars but we always try and put something new on as well.
M: Yeah it's a good way to run the night.
B: Yeah to get a sort of cultural community around Pig Pen and The Macbeth
M: Does being on the autistic spectrum effect or change the way people listen to live music, or experience music at all?
B: That's a question for you really Gabriel. Has being on the autism spectrum changed the way that you experience music? I don't know if you can answer that, because you don't know what it's like for someone who's neurotypical.
M: Yeah of course, none of us have both persepectives.
B: But you do seem to react differently to music. Would you say that Gabriel?
B: I suppose you just rock out like everyone else.
G: Yes, yes.
B: You do do this thing called snizzing...
B: ...which has entered our vocabulary.
M: What's snizzing?
B: I always ask you to give a demonstration Gabriel but you never do it on demand!
B: Only when you feel like it. It's kind of like a positive sensory overload reaction.
B: People on the autism spectrum have that kind of heightened sensory awareness, sound, lights, music, noise...
B: ...visuals, patterns... And it's kind of like you don't have filters to it all, or you let the filters go down and well, for you, your personal snizzing is kind of screwing up your face and making a bit of noise and moving your body rhythmically, but its a rhythm that you couldn't quite mimic. It's very unique to you and who you are.
B: No? Do you think other people on the autism spectrum snizz?
B: Oh ok, ok.
M: So it's maybe a shared experience?
B: Yeah, i suppose our friend Robin, she has Aspergers, which is also on the autism spectrum - she helps out with the night and she played as part of the cabaret - and she does this thing called flapping, which is her kind of sensory reaction.
B: She flaps, you snizz. That's what Pig Pen's about really - is whoever you are you can come and be and you can react to culture however you want to react to it.
Artwork by Ben
M: Yeah I think it does give an opportunity for everyone to be individualistic in their response to things, it's a welcoming atmosphere.
B: Yeah that's what we hope
G: No, Yes, No.
B: Well that's what I hope.
G: Yes, No.
B: Yes and No? Do you want it to still be a bit cool as well, have a bit of an edge to it?
B: Well maybe it can be both.
M: So speaking about that, do you think it's important to have somewhere that's not solely for people on the autistic spectrum, but you know, very welcoming?
B: Yeah, I agree with you there Gabriel, I think it is. I think culture's really something that, you know, I'm an artist and people who get up on stage, and musicians - it creates a community. And people like yourself on the autism spectrum with really big life challenges...
B: ...are very marginalised and I think that culture becomes like a kind of members card and it gives people access to the community that don't otherwise have access to the community. So we think it's really important that people on the autism spectrum do get to mix with neurotypical people but that it's not seen as a charity night and it's not seen as a disability night. Which is why we don't tout it as either of those, it's not exactly what we're about.
M: There's a raffle, isn't there?
B: Christine Binnie, who runs the raffle, she's just the best person at running a raffle I've ever known.
G: Yes, yes.
B: She raises quite a lot of money [for Gabriels Angels] through that - hopefully the prizes are stuff that people really want to win.
M: Tell me about the comics as well.
B: Well I make comics, mostly about the sort of political adventures we get up to, because Gabriel, you've become a real kind of spokesperson for people on the autism spectrum, you get invited to the house of commons to meet MPs.
B: To give them your perspective and opinion on things.
B: So I kind of wanted to communicate that.
B: I'm actually a sculptor by training, but i think that comics are a good way to promote the message and get the story across and i think we've got a good story. And giving out free comics at a music night seems like a really good arena to do that in.
The next Pig Pen is on the 9th of March, more details will follow here and at themacbethuk.co.uk
If you'd like to keep up with Ben and Gabriel you can follow their blog here.