The Stool Pigeon have been among the first to discover the post-punk mix of this all-girls band which is quite far from being another all-girls band. They interviewed Savages exactly one year ago when very few have heard of them.
Since then, Savages rise has been phenomenal.
I’m not a statistics expert and don’t mind to google but I am pretty sure it is unprecedented at least since I am in England that a band which has released only a single, Husbands, and a 4 songs live EP, I Am Here, would sell out a venue of the size of the Electric Ballroom in London. To make the closest example, a couple of weeks before this place was not sold out by Dinosaur Jr for a parent NME awards gig.
Savages have checked points that other artists wait years to reach. In the space of three days, it was May 2012 they were elevated to the status of “New Band of The Day” on the Guardian and a “Rising” act for Pitchfork.
Towards the end of the year they got even bigger. To play at Later… with Jools Holland? Checked. To be on the BBC “Sound of 2013″ list? Checked.
Hype is a thing but UK taught me that hype alone doesn’t bring bands very far. Remember Duffy? “Oh true Duffy, what happened to her?”. Remember Morrissey and NME praised The Courteneers? “Oh yeah, they were… erm…”. Exactly. That.
The shares of lads-in-skinny-jeans, jangly, guitar-driven, indie rock, ares not doing well on the music’s City.
It is also true that girls’ lead and all-girls band are the obvious, expected and welcomed consequence of the dullness of seeing the same band cloned for 10 years the same songs, from The Strokes to The Vaccines.
Selling Babyshambles, buying Warpaint. Selling Franz Ferdinand buying Savages seems a great investment in 2013.
Still Savages don’t live out of a positive market environment. The opposite. They contribute to this positivity with a dose of energy that materializes in lively live shows that in about a year gained them a legion of fans.
Every one of them is here tonight and they are waiting for the summer to be there, when the live energy will have translate into their debut album.
The festival season, with no Olympic Games and Glasto come back is expected to be great this year and, from Field Day ahead, I am sure Savages will be filling up any possible summer stage. Let’s hope Global warming remembers UK.
As for this cold winter date, the Electric Ballroom gigs is warmed up by a dance company performing a contemporary choreography off stage. When Savages time arrives, they appear out of dense blue smokes as white lights. which is a perfect metaphor of the way they emerged on the British scene.
They don’t look savage. They sound savage. Look-wise band is closer to Warpaint than to Siouxsie or any other post-punk 80s act everyone recall when writing reviews.
I can’t see much of PJ Harvey in their music as well. Even because [PJ fan mode: on] when you name PJ Harvey you have to specify which period of PJ career you are referring [PJ fan mode: off].
If I really have to base my impression to something happened in the music scene in the past, the hooks recalling Peter Hook when he was friend with Joy Division is the first thing to come to mind. Naturally the bass comes out of the mixer louder than the rest of the band. The biggest praise to their music goes to, Gemma Thompson, on guitar. She has a neat recognizable style made of crushing chords coming out of nowhere to displace the people listening and place the songs in a contest which justifies the buzz.
On top of this, Beth Jehnny is the undisputed frontwoman. As often happen when a band singer doesn’t play any instrument, she grabs the attention. Magnetically. All the eyes are on her despite the light engineer does a great job on spotting the rest of the band when they are central to the song. Beth Jehnny recall Ian Curtis at his most flipped the way she moves, which is not a dance, not yet.
Last, I may be the only one to see this, the chorus of Husbands reminds me the chorus of Patti Smith’s Horses, same way to sing the “h” of Husbands as Patty sings the “h” of Horses. The repeated word release from the anxiety of the previous verses a feeling of liberation that emerges when the song evolves and submerge the 1000+ people aware to have been part of one of those I-was-there show of 2013.
“Whoa, I woke up and I saw the face of a guy
I don’t know who he was, he had no eyes
His presence made me feel elated
His presence made me feel, all elated oh, oh
It’s on the final hour, it’s on the final hour
Of myself, of myself
God I wanna get rid of it
God I wanna get, get rid of it, yeah, yeah
Get rid of it
My house, my bed, my husbands,
Husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands
Husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands
Husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands
Husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands”
Savages, according to setlist.fm played 13 songs most of which I expect to be part of the forthcoming album. All it has to happen now is to get it out and play, play and play it again live till the day it will sound memorable. That day isn’t that far.
Music photographers usually stand in the pit between the stage, and the barrier that separates the artist from the first row fans. We are standing there with the security guys before the show and, differently from the security, we leave the place after the first three songs of the show. Most of you reading this blog, either because you are a concert photographer or because I said it million times, know this.
What I never told, is what sort of relationship we engage with those waiting fans. I’ll start here a new chapter “in the photo pit” talking about fans types. Hundreds and hundreds of concerts often gives me a good experience of what to expect in the pit and which Disciples I am going to meet.
Tonight I didn’t know what to expect with Savages, to be fair. All girls band gather adoring boys and girls emulating their idols to compete with the band and be hope to be adored by those boys . Pust punk bands tend to gather nostalgics of the 70-80s grrrriott heydays. Bands hyped by the blogosphere gather hipsters, IT students and retro vintage lomo photographers.
Savages are these three things together and gathered a bit of everything but on the front there was a concentration of angry middle age men fuelled on testosterone and beer and covered in tattoos.
Since we entered the pit, they have been insulting me and other photographers for standing in the way repetitively telling us to fuck off. I am sympathetic. To explain that we are there for 10 minutes or that the stage of the Electric Ballroom is high enough they will see everything doesn’t really help. Defensive response in this situations gives them the food for mind they need to get more energy for their anger. The only way is to ignore them, do your job, walk off and let them enjoy the gig.
The most interesting bit of the (very short) discussion wasn’t about the swearing. Was about the fans philosophy of ownership. The two more agitated standing there kept saying that “We have been following this band for months and months when you didn’t even know they exist”. They don’t claim to be there standing and waiting for a long time, or that we arrive to the front the last minute with no efforts. No. They claim ownership. They don’t want media to record and spread what they perceive as their lovers.
This is a key passage of the book I will never stop praising, Empire of Dirt, which analyses the attitude of people towards British English Scene from an anthropologist’s point of view.
A key passage discusses the way the fan feels betrayed when an artist he has discovered began to be appreciated by a big public. They first claim ownership, then will leave the band accusing it of screwing the original feelings. It follows the same emotions of leaving your girlfriend because you feel betrayed.
Have you ever heard a friend saying “I loved them at the beginning, now I don’t follow them anymore.” Yes? That! As a dropped boyfriend, they are very angry, in principle with the band (but that doesn’t arrive to the conscious), then with anyone else they consider guilty of screwing a relationship that only lives in their fantasy. At the end of the gig you’ll find them queuing at the merch stand for a chat and an autograph.
As a music photographer, be ready to be insulted by some of these people. It’s part of the game.