Check out the latest in our Music Profiles series. “Savages singer Jehnny Beth claims that there is “no bullshit on stage”, and since their first gig in 2012, London’s Savages have been smashing stages all over the world.’
Savages’ first 7”, the ‘Flying to Berlin’/‘Husbands’ double A-side (Pop Noire Rec’s), dropped roughly half a year after their first gig. It has 2 solid tracks. It comes in with a distinct groove which becomes gradually becomes more punk-y, and then straight into a much harsher second track. There’s a simplistic yet orchestrated style, and cries of, “God I want to get rid of it…my house, my bed, my husbands!…”, it is apparent from the start that Savages are, as their name suggests, “aim[ing] to remind us that human beings haven’t evolved so much.” (Savages manifesto #1 savagesband.com).
The women reminding us of this are Camille Berthomier, aka ‘Jehnny Beth’ (vocals), Gemma Thompson (guitar), Ayse Hassan (bass), and Fay Milton (drums), and since their first demo they’ve refined their sound over the course of 2 studio albums, ‘Silence Yourself’ (2013) and ‘Adore Life’ (2016).
Lead singer Jehnny Beth runs Pop Noire Records, a small independent record label- releasing mainly French bands, due to the fact that Beth is from France, now based in Hackney. It’s ran with musician Johnny Hostile and French director Antoine Carlier. They release music together, mainly Johnny and Jehnny’s projects, their artists include Lescop (French electro-rock), Savages, John & Jen (Johnny and Jehnny’s band) and Johnny Hostile.
Gemma Thompson started playing guitar as a noise guitarist, purely making feedback and fuzz noises for a band, and did this before she ever learned it “properly”. Her past experience is definitely reflected in Savages’ range of fuzzy and atmospheric tones of feedback amongst minimalist riffs, and the switching between melodic and discordant. Bassist Ayse Hassan plays in a dark electro rock band called Kite Base with another musician called Kendra Frost, they’ve released a couple of 7”s and an LP to boot. As far as I could find, drummer Fay Milton, has no musical side projects. However, she is a filmmaker, her most notable work being Very Important Things, a documentary series dealing with the issue of climate change.
‘Silence Yourself’ (Matador Recs) reached number 19 on the UK Charts, yet it’s definitely the more rugged of the 2 albums. It evidently draws some influence from post pun: listening to the album I could hear the fallout of bands like The Slits, Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. In it you hear 1/2/3 note basslines, instrument drop outs/ins, and sudden changes in tone and tempo, as well as the obvious vocal resemblances. However, unlike a lot of post-punk bands, Savages have a notable clarity in their sound. In terms of musicianship and recording quality they’re great; easily better than a lot of the bands they probably took influence from around the time they were starting out. Another distinct difference, which also makes their record unique to now, and not a ‘could-be-80s-post-punk-record’, is the fact they’ve definitely taken influence from indie rock, certain guitar progressions reminded me of being a kid listening to some of my very first The Strokes CD’s; and to be honest it blends into their mix nicely.
For a band that are trying to remind us that we haven’t evolved so much, they’ve definitely evolved in strides since their first record. The punk edge seems a lot less in your face, compared to their earliest work, and that isn’t a criticism. I feel that Savages are a band that are really doing their own thing, and exercising their artistic abilities. Their lyrics show a prominent theme of sexual liberation and freedom, which is reflected in their almost genderless presentation on and off stage; this physical form of poetry shows an attention to detail which doesn’t occur to most.
As a group, and as individuals, Savages have achieved a lot. They’re full of experimentation, with stage and audience placement at their shows, lighting effects, choreographers, poetry: you name it and they’ve done it. It’s no wonder they’ve caught the eyes of more established musicians; Jehnny Beth’s got collaborations with members of The Strokes, The XX, Primal Scream and most recently a banging track with Gorillaz, ‘We Got the Power’, under her belt. All this has been achieved in the band’s first five years, and I’m really looking forward seeing which direction they’ll go in the future.