The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


LIVE REPORT: Savages Blast Electrowerkz
Luke Turner , October 16th, 2012 07:11

After their pummelling of Jools Holland, Luke Turner catches a magnificent Savages performance at London's goth church, Electrowerkz. Pic thanks to Seb Heseltine

There are many reasons to love Savages, and one of them - their appeal to the vaguely outre fops of every stripe – is apparent before one has even stepped through the door of Electrowerkz. There's a seven foot tranny having a smoke and a chat as a cheeky chap with a sniffy nose pokes his head around the corner asking "'ere mate, who do I show the ticket to?" And inside, the merch stall is run by two young men whose aesthetic one might encounter on a naughty Google image search for "tattoo" and "twink" .

So yeah, it's pretty Suede, all those good bits of the 90s that were squashed by Britpop and then The Libertines. It attracts a mixed crowd too - as well as the coterie described on entrance there's Gorgeous Paul, as he was known about clubs like Trash a decade ago, a man of big hair who was as straight as he never seemed to be. And Brother John Robb, whose Louder Than War website has been among the most vocal of supporters of this group.

Electrowerkz is a venue most known for its goth nights, and as Savages launch into 'City's Full' with giant fans revolving around them in the white light like an old 80s goth video, it's clear that what they're drawing from is a very European sound. This is not merely because Jehnny Beth is French... perhaps one could argue that female musicians are less parochial. Or that guitarist Gemma Thompson is knows how to tease melody from squall, or perhaps that Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton seem to exist in a rhythmic space of their own. Hassan still seems to be chewing the same piece of gum I saw her focusing and nodding out on back at their first gig in January.

Should we mention gender? It's a tricky one. When I first interviewed them back in February I didn't want to mention the fact that this is a "gripped hand mirror" (as we were taught to remember the symbol at science GCSE) group. Perhaps now, though, after catching this evolution, it becomes harder to ignore. Why is there no other new guitar group outside of the outer reaches that I want to listen to or watch at the moment? They give good context, for starters, keeping the audience primed with statements thus: "Savages are a self-affirming voice to help experience our girlfriends differently, our husbands, our jobs, our erotic life, and the place music occupies into our lives. Savages' songs aim to remind us that human beings haven't evolved so much, that music can still be straight to the point, efficient and exciting." But perhaps it's not that this is an all female band, more that they deal in ambiguities and blurred lines that most are afraid to approach.

Bands in the British indie realm have, since the mid-90s, been trapped in a rather masculine idiom. The Arctic Monkeys could never quite untwist themselves from Oasis' boorishness until they made the equally hoary desert trip to hang out with Josh Homme. Or Bloc Party, who at first promised much of what Savages now deliver, but could never escape the trap of wheedling, asexual emo. Savages' rhythm section have a very female understanding of the power of tom and bass roll as means of swinging things forth. Gemma and Jehn's dialogue is one of pure androgyny, one I've not seen before - when Carl 'n' Pete hammed it up in The Libertines, it was always self-conscious, slightly embarrassed, obviously at odds with the presence of the wispy young girls waiting in the wings... the stories one heard. Quite why Palma Violets - former Savages tourmates who sound as foul as the confectionery they're named after tastes – are gracing the cover of the last remaining rock weekly when you can have something like this is beyond me. Does the nation really need another indie band who are an impersonation of a baby seal on Holkham Beach impersonating The View?

Hype? Well, this is a far less direct Savages than at their first gig, more atmospheric, stylised, smart. They're basically playing a second album set – quieter periods, jams, tension and release - after releasing one single. If that's not a refusal to play along with hype then I do not know what is. I hope they find a record label that deserves and nurtures them.

When Savages appeared - unexpectedly – on Jools Holland a week or so ago and appeared to wipe people away, a friend texted to say "I know why you love them, they sound like British Sea Power". At first I thought this nonsense, but increasingly makes sense, especially when you consider the ferocity of 'Husbands' in comparison to BSP's 'Spirit Of St Louis'. This is a very un-American take on post punk and the gothic sounds of the 1980s that stares, under a severe fringe, out towards Europe. It's developing, too - you can hear the influences, but they're increasingly being stretched and turned into something new. For some reason this seems hard for the British audience to take - the mass indie market prefers "woah ho-ah oh" dinky rink odes to chips or The Libertines' empty soundbites about Albion.

A band who can demolish Jools Holland's boogie-woogie jam wagon with such panache, but at a complex venue with appalling sound such as this, feel as if they're holding something back, not giving everything to the audience, prowling around us with a 'just you wait'. Towards the end, when the lasers kick in, Gemma is playing like Bernard Butler schooled on Mute's back catalogue rather than Neil Young... Ayse and Fay hold down a groove and Jehn can be seen in the wings, lost in her own dance... And you wonder just what the hell it will be like when, in 2013, Savages really strike.

Savages are currently heading off for their first American dates. They play London's Electric Ballroom next February, tickets here

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.