The slightly older generation of readers that visit this blog will surely have an opinion on this band. Anyone that was around the first time Joy Division or Siouxie & The Banshees screamed into view will find lots of familiar ground with today’s recommendation. Their first listen will either stir up a love for this band because of their affinity to the guitar bands synonymous with the late 70s and early 80s, or they’ll hate them because of how depressing it is to see how little music has moved on. Everyone else can stand their opinions in an orderly queue behind the A&R staff that line up at their gigs. This band is hot, very hot, a true buzz band, (for want of a better phrase), who are setting 2012 on fire like it was, well, 1979. Here at The Recommender, we are willing to debate why it is that people are readily assaulting one another for a view, so we can try and uncover the reasons behind the hype and, ultimately, assess if the music is actually any good. Remember the music, right? It’s that sound you can hear behind that irritating buzzing noise.
OK, so anyone away from the speeding hype vehicle that is the online music community, or the real life version, more commonly known as the music industry, may not have heard of the London quartet, Savages. This is understandable, as Savages haven’t released any actual music yet. Not one single, not one EP, nothing. Before today the only possible chance you may have had to actually hear the band would be by attending one of their recent live shows, although that’s unlikely unless you’re the sort of person who only goes to gigs if you’re on the guest list, or perhaps got a ticket to see the recent Vaccines tour and arrived early enough to see the first support band (something we did, if only we had the foresight to leave immediately after Savages had finished, so poor were The Vaccines!). The only other chance to witness their music would be if you’ve come across a Youtube clip of their debut gig in London at the end of January (see that video below and we dare you not to think of Ian Curtis). However, anyone actually working within the world of music can only have missed the chatter surrounding Savages if they’ve been wearing ear plugs in attempt to deter the buzz, which has reached tinnitus-inducing levels of loudness with every live show since that January debut.
Their first double A-sided single, Flying To Berlin / Husbands, finally gets to see the light of day next week, (on May 28th), through singer Jehnny Beth’s own record label, Pop Noire, (which was seemingly set up to release songs from her previous band, John & Jehn). They launch the single by playing a headline show at The Shacklewell Arms on the 29th May, and if their Great Escape showcase, or their other sell out live sets, such as the exciting ones they recently had when joining up with hyped mood-sters, Toy, or Manchester’s equivalent attention-hustlers, Pins, are anything to go by then this will be awesome. They claim to make music designed for the live show and so its upon the boards that the band have been earning their reputation. The basslines and drums follow each other and are played in the kind of rushing, thudded rhythm that you get when your car veers over the cats eyes on duel carriageways. Any other instrumentation arrives in tight crashes, but the star of the set is without doubt the Anglo-French frontwoman, Jehnny Beth, who has the kind of presence that scares and thrills, carrying a threat and a sense of danger, like your passenger leaning over and switching off the lights when driving at night, but thankfully their reflective music is bright enough to light the way.
There’s a resistance, a stubbornness, that befits the often ostinato rhythms and antagonistic musicianship. It’s meant to be challenging. There’s a sense that this is the antidote to all the synthetic pop that’s dominated over the last few years, as there’s nothing sugar-coated on offer here, this is anti-music. It’s more about attitude and delivery, or style and aggression, as there’s a dark, gothic distance in their eyes, similar to all those bands familiar to us from the post-punk era. If you don’t like them, then that’s fine, as it’s almost as though you’re not supposed to. Like My Bloody Valentine, there’s a lack of clarity in their chords and words, a willingness to not be very willing, a grinding fuzz befits their tone and a downward-looking misery is daring you to not understand them. It is in all this that their attention can be understood. You can imagine people coming out of their live shows with the sense that they’d finally seen something with the kind of grit and determination that makes them seem unbeatable. This band isn’t something a major label will place in colourful wrapping and expensive videos, this really does seem to belong to the next youthful generation.
The negative side to all this is that it’s a trick that’s been done before, rather a lot in fact. Does anyone actually remember Motorama? Not only did the punk and post-punk movements rally against the establishment, therefore unifying the disaffected youths of their day and exciting the music press, but they often did it with a lack of musicianship, focusing more upon the performance and the attitude. Ever since then a multitude of bands have come and gone, wearing their music upon their (torn) sleeves and enjoying a success that can best be described as ‘varied’. As wonderful and interesting as Savages are – and you can add Pins to this debate – will the sense that it’s all become a bit too reflective get in the way of their otherwise obvious talents? With every band that channels the sounds and attitudes of music’s history will we begin to notice that the image in the mirrored glass is fading ever more? Young people of today may not have been around thirty years ago to witness this style in person, but do they really want to climb aboard the Savages bus if all it’s doing is going backwards? You surely cannot locate the future of music by starting off in reverse?
In fairness, Savages aren’t claiming to be in anyone’s driving seat, or deliberately rallying the young crowds of today – in fact the lack of any political message is the one thing that perhaps separates them from the bands of yesterday – so we mustn’t unfairly attach any responsibility. Ultimately this is the danger of occupying the bubble caused by hype. The blowers of said bubbles are the music press, who will always get over-excited about the next big thing and wonder if they’ll be sweeping up a generation of young people with them, as bands have in the past. Sadly the Internet’s probably popped that bubble long ago, but as Toy, Pins and Savages share a gothic sense of industrial guitar music, as well as sharing a stage, you get the feeling there’s something unifying going on with all the hyped bands of 2012. To take talk of a new movement any further is a bit futile and rather arbitrary. At least Savages single is strong and powerful and their live sets deliver exciting performances, so what more can we all possibly ask for? For a band seemingly in reverse we imagine it will be even harder to shift lanes on this post-punk motorway, but that’s something we can only judge after we witness more music. If the Internet has put a stop to any new unified movements in music, it still allows a band to get up some serious speed, and for the most hyped band of 2012, surely that’s much more skillful, thrilling and dangerous if they’re doing it backwards. (MB)
SAVAGES – FLYING TO BERLIN