Savages: Electric Ballroom, London – live review

Savages tour the Uk in July!Savages
Electric Ballroom
live review

There is much hyperbole and big talk in rock n roll and often enthusiasm is mistaken for hype but as Savages reach an astonishing peak in their live set I can’t help myself and lean towards Luke Turner, editor of the great Quietus website and blurt out that Savages really are the best band in the Britain right now.

I know bands hate this kind of thing but at this moment in time they not only capture the moment – they own the moment.

We have reviewed them on the site several times so I think we all get the drift that musically their combination of the inventive and darkly tinged brilliance of the so called goth bands like Bauhaus and Joy Division has been brilliantly utilised and moved forward into a new millennium. They also have a post punk thing going on there and moments of the dirty disco of Section 25 and any band from the last 30 years who wanted to get creative with guitar, bass and drums and not do the same old thing. I don’t want to dwell on influences to much because, too be honest, Savages are really a breath of fresh air and sound totally new and the so called influences are mere signposts to where they are coming from and not an accurate distillation of their brilliance.

In the few months since we have last seen them they have moved into fast forward. Then they were thrillingly chaotic, a brand new band blinking in the spotlight with their own way of making a new noise. Now, barely a year in, they are in first gear. The big venue suits them, the room is packed and the size of the place lets the space in their songs really breathe without losing the compressed claustrophobia of their sound. Suddenly you get the sense of the sheer size of these songs and the way that they have a dark dub undertow to their sound that they explore really effectively on their slow songs. It’s these slower songs that are really coming to the fore now – atmospheric and brooding and filled with possibilities and great guitar dynamics.

You can hear hear all of Gemma Thompson’s thrilling guitar noise, like Bauhaus she never does anything boring like a riff or a solo- just an inventive use of noise and sound. She is never lazy, never overplaying and with a total use of dynamics. The boy guitar players need to get in a queue and check this out because somehow Gemma has reinvented the most overplayed instrument in the world and has found a way of making her own language from the electricity and it sounds amazing.

Luckily she has one of the great rhythm sections to work with. It’s all very well reinventing the guitar but if the drums and bass are plodding you will crash dive instantly. Fay Milton is a powerful drummer, all pounding toms or concise but never lazy rhythm options whilst Ayse Hassan plays one of those lead basses that is always hooked around a great line, driving the songs forward as she dances on the sheer joy and raw power of the music.

In the middle of this maelstrom stands Jehnny with her waif like charisma and those eyes that transfix the room. Her angular presence and undertow of anger, her cropped hair and her intensity make her one of the great singers. She owns the room and has the iconic presence of a young Rotten or an Ian Curtis or any of the key singers who were doing things their way and not in the please love me bullshit of the showbiz ponies shaking their tail feathers.

It’s this brilliantly non conformist but cool as fuck personae that makes Savages stand out. She is also a brilliant singer who makes each song have its own life with her various shades of singing that has lazily been bagged with the mighty Siouxsie- like that is the only woman anyone can think of who didn’t sing like a pop blonde, when in fact there is an endless tradition of great female singers that we will not list here for now.

The anthemic Husbands is their best known song and has grown into a monster whilst their non typical, set enter, Don’t Let The Fuckers Get You Down, is almost an almost simplistic chant, a defiant mantra for the dispossessed and the pushed aside.

In these psychotic and dark times people often ask if there will be a new punk, somehow expecting a whole army of bands to suddenly appear singing songs about tower blocks and the dole, instantly missing the fact that most punk wasn’t that obvious whilst getting lost in the idea that we needed a rerun of one of the great rock n roll movies to save us all from ourselves.

Savages haven’t come to save us, they just instinctively and by chance make the creative and thrillingly dark and delicious sound that perfectly mirrors where we are at right now but also with a timeless edge, raw power, inventive brilliance that maps out the future.

They are also a great pop band and the perfect antidote to the boring Brits and their mixture of ‘Dorm- indie’ posh boys and fixed grin boy bands. This feels like a Sex Pistols moment, a moment when a band tears the fabric of conformity and the only question that hangs in the air is do we dare run with this…a riffreflected in Fay Milton’s flailing top knot, Ayse Hassan’s increasingly sturdy bass, flaying guitar from Gemma Thompson.

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12 comments on “Savages: Electric Ballroom, London – live review”

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  1. Gemma Thompson was, of course, a founder-member of the Partly Faithful – a band she actually instigated, to give her an outlet for those Bauhaus-inspired guitar stylings. What she’s doing now, with Savages, was previewed to a great extent with the Partly Faithful.

    Trouble was, the Partly Faithful didn’t have any PR bods or other industry partners on their side, so they never experienced the carefully-engineered rise out of the underground that the Savs have enjoyed. In fact, the band seem to have been meticulously erased from the Savages story…

    From a journalistic point of view, there’s surely a bit of a scoop waiting for someone there – the inside track on the band that prefigured Savages, but Nobody Ever Mentions. Curiously, that’s one story it seems no journalist wants to touch.

    In a way, I don’t mind that, because it means I get exclusive dibs on the Partly Faithful in my webzine. I’ve heard their forthcoming album, with new guitarist Anouska Haze, and it’s a killer. Anouska is a genuinely creative guitarist – the John McGeoch to Gemma Thompson’s John McKay, I’d say – and she’s pushed the band far further into the out-there zone than I think Gemma could have done.

    Keep an eye on for more, folks. Because you won’t read about this anywhere else!

    • A review on a badly written Goth webzine hardly merits the big takeover! Savages are of the now. Who cares what bands they were in before? Your review doesn’t mention any of the bands partly Faithful were in before does it? a scoop for someone else ho ho!

  2. Totally agree with John, Savages are a GREAT band. I saw them last night, and they make a mockery of many current acts touted as “The
    Next Big Thing”. I was fortunate to see Joy Division back in 1980, and they have the same intensity that magnificent but short lived band
    achieved. Right now, they are the best live group in the UK.

    • except for The Partly Faithful, the better band in Britain – just think what impact Savages could have made if they had songs and atmosphere and something positive to say about how to change the world before they ever considered getting onto a stage, making a record or selecting the best producers to bring out their sound. Anouska simply completes the band & adds focus to their momentum.

      • Michael, You could say that about many bands that have risen over the decades, at least Savages are great at what they do.
        The band that pre-dates everything was a band called Hindley, (which i actually had the pleasure of seeing live on a number of occasions) which two members of the savages were in. I’ve read that when they broke up – the two girls then had side projects (inc partly faithful) and also continued to make music together which blossomed into savages. There is no scoop on partly faithful and they were not the band that pre-figured savages…it was a project that one member was in, just like the other members side projects during the time. I had a listen to partly faithful and they are good but the music doesn’t appeal to me. Good luck with the new guitarist, i was never a fan of her last band as i don’t like the sexualisation of a grown woman wearing a school uniform, i have many issues with that on many levels. A good guitarist though…

      • and Partly Faithful have something to say about how to chnage the world apart from playing old Goth riffs? Nothing worse than jealousy is there? lets enjoy the fact that a band as good as Savages are getting the push.

  3. Great photo’s of the gig, great review it made me fell like I was there.
    Perhaps not.
    Didn’t Robb review Savages last year?
    Has it taken him 8 months to decide Savages are a great “pop band”?

  4. While historical revisionism is regrettable.. this is all in the past and I don’t think it really does anyone any favours to keep digging it up.

    For the record, I think Savages are a great band and I just wish there were a few more people like John Robb and Michael Johnson covering great music that often gets ignored.
    Negative comparisons between Anouska and Gemma are unfair, they are both fantastic guitarists that have graced PF with their individual styles.. I’m just pleased that I’ve had the privilege of working with both of them. Now.. on with the show :-)

  5. johnny robb you old scene jumper….lol
    first heard the band on joolz, then watched them live in bham….it was as if another band had written unknown pleasures and they were southerners and not mancs.As Tony Wilson so eloquently put it “they are playing music because they have to” , and its that serious and hypnotic….just glad i got to see em live because we all know this is a special band and hype means fuck all without the songs.

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