Sunday, 24 February 2013


A band of four women called Savages beating life into the neglected corpse of post-punk artsy rock. It’s such a perfect a concept it’s a wonder it’s taken so long.

Hardly a year since their first gig and with only one single and a live EP behind them Savages are packing a thousand people into the Electric Ballroom. The anticipation is palpable, only a few months ago they were playing small pubs and now they’re being touted by sections of the music press as the best band in Britain. Tonight they’re under scrutiny. Are they really that good?

Savages’ two most common (and easiest) comparisons are Joy Division and Siouxsie & the Banshees and there are elements of both, not least with Jehnny Beth’s manic arm pumping, Curtis hair and stare and the way she punctuates her vocals with sharp Siouxsie-like yelps and howls. They don’t sound as much like the Banshees as I expected or hoped apart but they are dark, intense, abrasive and have knotty rhythms driven by bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton. Gemma Thompson less plays a guitar and more plays with it – throwing out shards of scratchy sound and waves of crashing noise.

The head battering raw power of “City’s Full” and “I Am Here” stand out but with only five released songs there’s much unfamiliar material. Lacking any real immediacy - there’s nothing as corny as big choruses, catchy hooks or instant melodies – the set drags in the middle when the pace drops before a speedy livener (my notes read “fast loud shouty one”) followed by their ace-in-the-hole “Husbands”, which is frightening on record and bloody terrifying live. They close with a repetitive funk chant of “Don’t Let The Fuckers Get You Down” which feels a cheap shot, too calculating, and unbecoming of them. 

Savages are at the in-between stage of being too big to play 35 minute sets in Dalston pubs and not offering enough to sustain interest here for a full hour. A few more “Husbands” would help but it’s early days and the real judgement will come with an album. 


  1. Your (excellent) review is exactly how I imagined they would be! I love your description of the vocalist's "Curtis hair and stare" - I hadn't thought of it like that but so true. I've only seen them on 'Later' - but watching them felt so strange, like being transported back in time to a very specific place, where it seemed as if I was witnessing my contemporaries from those first post-punk days, and then had to pull myself up short and remind myself that these could probably be my daughters (aarghhh!). I found their sound a little cold and angsty for the way I am now, still good but not so compelling for me personally these days - but I feel SO supportive of them for doing it. I do wonder if, in spite of what we think of as progress, it is actually harder to be like them now than it was thirty years ago. And that's an odd thought. Will be interesting to see what happens next.

  2. Appreciate your thoughts C. I don't have that direct experience or knowledge of that era but wondered at the gig how close they were to those times and that maybe circa 1979-81 people could've seen countless bands that sounded like Savages, which you've confirmed. That's neither a good or bad thing as it seemed fresh - in a deliberately backdated kinda way. I'm looking forward to hearing more recorded material.

  3. I would argue whether it sounds fresh...There was a surge of bands doing 79-81 post-punk (badly) in Shoreditch around 2008-2009 - Romance, Ulterior, Ipso Facto, Experiment on a Bird, O Children, Kasms, and few others. Although they were all dreadful, for a while they were getting considerable press attention, and it seemed like full scale post punk/goth revival was on its way. But it all fizzled out really quickly - most of those bands never even got around to releasing an album (even though most of them signed a record deal) - they simply did not have enough interesting material. More often than not, they were talentless poseurs for whom that particular choice of music (or being in a band in general) was merely a trojan horse for getting them on a cover of 'Dazed and Confused'. Savages look like a band that missed that bandwagon - one or two decent songs and fillers which are blatant siouxsie/Joy Division rip-offs. Maybe it's just me feeling 'hangover' from those days of 08-09 (although I'm sure I cant be the only one), but every time i hear a band 'doing' Siouxsie/bauhaus/Nick Cave/Joy Division/PIL, i want to vomit...I can't think of anything more un-fresh.

  4. Fair point but a few dreadful bands playing to each other and their mates in Shoreditch doesn't mean jack to the wider world, whereas Savages MIGHT and they do sound different enough to most other bands around today (although as we've established not different from 79-81 which doesn't matter in my book as I wasn't there and aren't always looking for originality). I'd agree they have one or two decent songs - as alluded to in the review I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt on the rest for now as they at least interest me.

  5. I heard 'She' on jjj just now and had to look them up. Straight up i heard the joy division knock off and Siouxsie sound, but loved it. You don't hear this stuff anymore and Im keen to see where they go with it ..even if the seeming 'knock offs' just take you back to good music of the past

  6. That's a good point - it doesn't really matter when stuff was made it's the way one song or band leads to another and the discovery or rediscovery of great music.