Savages: Silence Yourself – review

(Pop Noire/Matador)

Hard to believe these days, but there was a time when music was not intended as mere entertainment. Quite the opposite: as the punk era gave way to post-punk in the early 80s, most bands came with manifestos. Their raison d'etre had to be about more than just dancing, or chasing members of the desired sex, or driving, or surfing. Bands were named after the women used as sex slaves in a Nazi concentration camp (Joy Division) or the political writings (scritti politici) of theorist Antonio Gramsci (Scritti Politti). Even Spandau Ballet, who came to epitomise the surface gloss of the 80s, were named after the twitching of prisoners hanged in a Berlin jail.

London four-piece Savages hark back to those days without apology and with a certain forbidding glee. Monochromatic of press shot and angular of guitar, they are a band dense with reference points, whose take on the era is so perfect they probably deserve an arts grant just for existing. Indeed, their every move thus far has been noted with approbation by several generations of music lovers palpably hungry for a band with something so quaint as a point.

A manifesto of sorts is printed on the cover of Savages' debut album, the arresting Silence Yourself – an artistic statement that is read aloud in the jerky, strobing video for Shut Up by singer Jehnny Beth. "You are distracted. You are available," it runs. She sounds like a cross between Siouxsie Sioux, Ian Curtis and any French intellectual you care to name.

Beth's Frenchness is the icing on the Savages cake, in a way; a licence for the band to refer to the compositional rigidity of Celine as an inspiration for Savages' own stark edicts, played on relatively unadorned bass, drums and guitar. It also explains song titles such as Dead Nature – not some eco-goth rallying cry, but a play on the French for still life (nature morte).

Silence Yourself reveals Savages to be a cross between the Horrors (fondness for black, allegiance to art-rock, time spent in Dalston) and Sleater-Kinney (devotion to Wire, lack of male members, stentorian vibrato) with a soupcon of the Knife (fondness for manifestos, tribal beats, forbidding glee). It is a series of dynamic affirmations and imperatives that begins with a lift from a film by John Cassavetes, which, consciously or not, lands Savages in the slipstream of at least one other femme-leaning punk band (Le Tigre and their polemical What's Yr Take on Cassavetes).

"I am here," declares one song, in which Gemma Thompson's eloquent guitar keens with atmospherics as the band's rhythm section, drummer Fay Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan, judders and looms, breaks and spills. She Will, by contrast, finds Thompson given over to a nagging melody line, while Beth finishes their most forthcoming pop song with a curdling scream. What Savages may lack in hues and dimensionality, they more than make up for in unity of purpose.

Shut Up, meanwhile, plays off against the album's title, the band's stated desire for some focus in the cacophony of modern life, and the frequency with which women's opinions, artistic and otherwise, are shouted down. "Did you tell me to shut up?" wonders Beth with incredulity and no little malice. Obviously, there are no love songs.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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