Best new band in London? They're certainly wild at heart, but you'll need to see them to hear them
Words Luke Turner
Photography Joseph Tovey Frost
First gigs are all too often like first kisses — clumsy words and awkward noises, slobbery, overly enthusiastic and ultimately forgettable. Not so for Savages, whose live debut in January was an unqualified success. Called up as last-minute support by British Sea Power the morning of a show in Brighton, the London-based four-piece were thrown in at the deep end, their intense mixture of howling gothic psychedelia and swing-heavy, dub-tinted rhythm section destroying all-comers.
“We thought a lot about what the first Savages gig might be like, but it couldn’t have been better than what happened,” says singer Jehnny Beth. The group is the brainchild of guitarist Gemma Thompson, with whom Jehnny had already collaborated with in dark pop duo John Et Jehn.
“We didn’t think we’d have an all girl band initially. It’s a weird one, it all just came about,” Gemma says. “It became the three of us with Ayse [Hassan, bass]. Because it is like a gang, everything each person does is equally important, so all their individualities have to be four girls.”
That fourth member is drummer Fay Milton, whose background is in dance music, especially UK Garage, “which is really different from these guys,” she says with a laugh. Their influences range from “up-and-down rollercoaster music” like Queens Of The Stone Age and The Gun Club to the harder sounds of Einsturzende Neubauten and New York no wave. The latter, says Gemma, gave Savages “the idea of taking things apart. We want to get our ideas across with as few marks or as few notes as possible.”
“We went through a phase of removing the choruses from each song, and they all seemed to get better because we did that,” says Fay. The same goes for lyrics: “I try to write a lot and then go ‘no, no’. I take as much out as I can,” adds Jehnny.
Going on that debut gig, and a second packed performance in London two weeks later, this honing is what gives Savages’ songs such power. “When I started Savages I said I wasn’t going to write any love songs,” says Jehnny. “I wanted to write about war, or strange people. But then I stopped being too radical with that. ‘Hit Me’ is about how desire can come from awkward places. There shouldn’t be any moral prejudice about that. It is about the love of blows.” That Savages are all women, she adds, “frees me so I can talk about violent things; it creates artistic distance and tension.”
For now, though, you won’t be able to hear a single note from Savages. With a desire to “play loud”, they’ve chosen to sharpen their fearsome live show before releasing music. A single fragment of guitar noise they’ve posted on Facebook is, according to Gemma, an “intentional” red herring. “That’s just Gemma’s noise,” says Jehnny. “The sound of her brain.”
A live vid has floated onto YouTube. Have a watch…