Savages : Manchester Deaf Institute : Live Review of best new band in the UK
Photos Alex Statsko
Manchester Deaf Institute
Savages have arrived just when we needed them.
A dark and noisy affair but with great songs the four women of Savages have created one of those perfect bands. A band where each cornerstone of the band is crucial to the dynamic of their sound.
Brooding and intense with a feral power and subtle lyrical nuances about love and lust this is the perfect pop band for 2012. That is pop in the way that we understand it here ÃÂ at LTW. A pop that is ÃÂ lost on the mainstream buffoons who have turned pop into an idiot show parade.
Because they wear black and have a melancholic edge some people are saying Joy Divison and Goth both of which are recommendations in my book. Both words don’t even tell 1/10 of the story here. Joy Division have already had their media knighthoods bestowed on them years ago and their dark shadow is still a fascinating place to wallow in. Meanwhile Goth has been much maligned by fools who only scratch the surface and skip over the likes of X Mal Deutschland, early Birthday Party or mid period Siousxsie and a whole host of bands who were never really Goth. Bands linked by an audience who tended to wear a dark shirt and push their hair up into vertical shapes. There was no such thing as Goth. It was no perceived scene but a dark and intelligent music that has mainly been brushed away by the draconian rewrite of post punk history. A history which now favours the more music press friendly dressed down bands and still sniffs at the rest of the bands who were equally innovative.
This is not Savages battle but hopefully their about to arrive success will help people refocus on a period that is taken very seriously outside the UK. Not that this tells the whole story. The band are very much of the now. They may have their roots but they perfectly match the tension and underlying darkness of these uncertain times in the way that only the best bands can. Bands sometimes unwittingly have their anntennae so perfectly tuned to the times that it can’t help but infect their music. Savages are a perfect example of this. Plus they add a very female perspective onto the increasingly laddish culture of guitar bands giving the form a whole new kinda swing and feel from the drum patterns to the different kind of tension which is a really important factor to their sound.
Savages have come along way since we reviewed their first gig in London back in February. Then, in those far off days of six months ago, they were considered a side project of frontwomwan Camille Berthimier from her French indie band John and Jehn. Her band were making a mini name for themselves on the indie underground with the pair of them ÃÂ based in France making a less abrasive but still melancholic indie sound. John and Jehn released two albums and a handful of critically acclaimed underground singles after Camille had finished acting in a 2005 French film A Travers La Foret. There are hints of the Savages in John and Jehn but ÃÂ Savages is quite an astonishing leap into darker terrotaries and the added musical tension of a band were each player is a lead instrument. A tension that ÃÂ is key to a new, abrasive and more emotionally brittle terrain.
Savages seem so perfect that a few people are worried. Pointlessly worried. Instead of celebrating the best new band to appear for ages people think there may be some sort of hype going on. But why worry? every now and then the music scene still manages to throw out a group who have it nailed down perfectly. All this writing is not hype. It’s a celebration.
Savages are ruling it in Manchester tonight.
This may be a band still young enough to get nervous about the sudden responsibility of being the most checked out band in town but the inner resolve and power of their music quickly cuts through. What is quickly evident is that the band are very much four piece machine. The rhythm section is quite something else with Fay Milton delivering those off kilter drums that perhaps hint at early Joy Divison but are already creating their own language. She is also a dead on drummer. The beats are powerful and dislocated and eminently danceable as well as imaginative and leave plenty of space. A space which is handy because Ayse Hassan plays a seriously heavy bass which has been dumbly compared to Peter Hook but her bass lines are far closer to the king of bass, JJ Burnel or prime time Tracey Pew from the Birthday Party. It’s in the sound and rhythm and the way that the lines are a clipped, twanging rumble driving the song with their melody and power but also tight and tough and perfect for dancing. This is a far different territory to Hooky who plays the bass like a lead guitar, Aye delivers a double edged sword- a bass that is the spine and also the lead in its prowling power.
This all leaves space for Gemma Thomson’s guitar. The second member to join the original line up of the band when it was just an idea when she hooked up with Jehn at the tail end of John and Jehn. A time when Camilla was looking to strike out and do something different and confided in the guitar player. Her guitar slashes across the rhythm rumble. It alternates between white noise, shattered glass rhythm and these really cool little twanging breaks. She creates a dynamic in the songs and like all the best guitar players she also creates a real tension and resists the neverous twitch to drown everything out with riffing and boring solos.
Jehn is then left to swoon and soar over the top or hiccup her vocals or chant or emote in a genius, unconventional way that is both melodic and soulful. There have been lazy comparisons to Siouxsie and Ian Curtis and whilst she has the swooning metallic KO of prime time Sioux somewhere in her voice she is also very much her own woman. Her poetic words are clipped and abrupt before she hooks into a soaring chorus or a intense chant at the end of the song. Jehn has a different dynamic range to Siouxsie and it’s a lazy comparison to make thinking that every woman singer in a band who wears black must by a clone of the great Sioux.
Jehn’s intense stage personae and clipped short hair also sees her compered to Ian Curtis but again this is lazy. Are we forever going to be trapped in a loop of people uttering ian Curits when a bush baby eyed vocalist with a thousand yard stare takes the stage? Jehn is creating her own language and her own stage presence. Even tonight, when she is hampered with a migraine that sees her leave the stage for new song song I Am Here which is delivered as an instrumental by the rest of the band waiting for their singer to return. Meanwhile she is throwing up backstage but returns with her power and charisma intact.
New song, Another War, is a real stand out. It’s another dirty disco, post punk masterpiece and a sign of a band progressing and improving fast. Savages are leaving the future behind in another noisy exorcism that still has a pop punch to it. Husbands sounds great and is part of their debut Flying to Berlin / Husbands debut single released through Jehn’s Pop Noire label as a download and now as a much sought after seven inch.
Husbands has all the parts of the band’s sound that really work- that running bass- that strafing guitar that switches between a noise maelstrom and twanging neo Dead Kennedys licks. Taut and powerful, it’s like the early Slits if they had enough time to learn to play. There’s something about all girl bands that feels far more cutting loose and dangerous than all male bands. Maybe its because there is less of the gang thing maybe? There is more of an openess and a very human emotion and more space to let eachother breathe without that fierce competiveness off the male musician syndrome. Lyrically their are sexual references, subtle human nuances and a real sense of psychodrama…
Flying to Berlin has a top bass line- a cyclical thing with a neat slide at the end of each line. it also has a twanging guitar that hints at Magazine and exists in that blurred space inbetween post punk and early Goth. It’s that timeless moment of experimentalism that threw up so many musical question marks that generations of bands have attempted to answer them.
Savages take these ideas and make sense of them in their own modern way. They have somehow managed to carve out their own space as the song features another great vocal from Jehn who manages to sing in so many different styles with subtleties and inteligence in her voice that creates a whole new now atmosphere.
The more recent Shut Up has great bass line and a spidery lead line as the band hit the end of their set with an abrupt She Will.
It’s been a perfect 40 minutes. A statement of intent. A geurilla raid on the future and the sound of now. Savages are the band of the moment and we should celebrate the fact that the coolest band in the UK is for once the best new band in the UK…