Food for thought
Matthew Herbert - Live at Cafe Oto, London

A candelabra replete with pig trotters, perched on the box office offers our first glimpse of the common thread running through this evening’s swine drenched entertainment.

A dozen or so tables are placed around a hay-strewn floor laden with menus outlining a 3-course pig-out, and napkins stamped with Matthew Herbert’s ‘One Pig’ logo. We are celebrating the final installment in the ‘One’ trilogy, an album created to represent the birth, life and death of a pig on a Hackney farm.

By documenting the stages and sampling the sounds in its life and its habitat Herbert is hoping to provide insight and provoke debate on the facts about the food chain that we seldom see or hear. Tonight’s show is designed to reinforce this. We’ll start by talking about the album’s true meaning, we’ll then witness it played live in its entirety, and then we will eat a three course meal, largely made up of the evening’s subject matter.

Food writers Tim Hayward and Matthew Fort are joined by Irish food blogger Naimh Shields and of course Mr. Herbert to discuss how food is consumed and perceived in the UK, and how through music messages on other art-forms can be delivered.

It has often been said that Herbert’s chat is as beguiling as his music, and he doesn’t let us down in tackling the UK’s culinary madness, talking of the ubiquity of pigs in everyday products (lipstick, margarine, paper, bullets and so on) and the horrible life each leads before squealing and bleeding its last for our satisfaction, and to our general ignorance. The ability to separate ourselves from our own actions is capitalism’s most perfect trick. Ignorance is indeed bliss in his eyes.

He slays ready meal culture, berates the lies we are told about where food is grown and packaged and manages to juxtapose homegrown food culture and DIY catering with the ethos of punk and acid house. By now we are eager to hear how this demonstrated.

Tonight’s musical set-up is centered on what looks like a hay lined boxing ring, with four corners wrapped in three layers of musical strings. The ‘Sty-harp’ is operated by its inventor Yann Seznec, tapping and playing some strings, pulling and twisting others to create swirling, echoing effects on top of pig samples of blood drips, innards, bone crunches and guttural grunts. He looks lost in machine-love as the evening unfolds, a mad-cap pig in shit, orchestrating a castration.

The music is not coffee table fodder, it is at awkward and obtuse, and some sounds are unpleasant, but Herbert’s composition and transition towards a head-nodding crescendo is captivating and pulsating.

His four-strong band, each introduced “on pig” all wear white lab coats, a neat nod at the food processing world, while Seznec documents the passing of tracks by changing into one adorned with each month of the pig’s life on the back, until he finally pulls on one in red, to signify its echo-chamber drawn-out passing.

Tonight’s chef Rosie Sykes takes to the stage to cook at this point, cutting, cooking and of course sampling her three course meat-filled offering, which is what the audience dive into after the show’s climactic deep space swine filled finale.

As everyone sits down to eat Herbert comes over, lamenting his malfunctioning laptop, but loving the reaction of the audience. Clash quickly asks what message would he want tonight to ultimately have, to which he wrote on our carefully stamped ‘One Pig’ napkins: “We need to listen more carefully.” Food for thought?

Photos by Marc Sethi

For a photo gallery of the performance click HERE, and click HERE to find out why we gave Matthew Herbert’s album, ‘One Pig’, 10/10.