Savages state their intent up front. Their manifesto, to paraphrase that on their blog, is to provide the listener with the tools to re-examine their life, through positive manipulation.
The London four-piece have embraced the idea of a common mission in the way that the Manic Street Preachers, the Clash and Huggy Bear have in the past. They’ll often cite literary, philosophical and artistic interests. In fact, it almost seems as though they are artists, rather than a band.
“I don’t think it’s my place to say that,” responds French singer Jehnny Beth to this notion. She disliked my first question so much – about sourcing trustworthy colleagues in the industry who will be sympathetic to their vision – that we had to dissect it for a few minutes. (Savages record their interviews, presumably to ensure they are not misrepresented. Coming from them it seems delightfully edgy. Coming from anyone else it would seem a judgment on the journalist.)
An intellectual band that calls the shots in every aspect of their career could wind up provoking the media, but instead Savages have largely become an object of admiration and fascination. Their debut LP, Silence Yourself, caused ripples across the globe, yet they’ve stuck doggedly to the mission at hand – of creating a live show so immersive that it puts the audience into a hypnotic state.
On stage, the band dress in homogenous black and make unflinching eye contact (one reviewer described the gaze of Jehnny Beth as a “blowtorch”).
“You have to act like it’s a ritual,” Beth acknowledges, warming to the theme. “I like the idea of hypnotism – I was reading about it and now I practice it myself. I like the idea of trying to elevate yourself.”
There have been frequent comparisons drawn to post punk, but structurally Savages’ music is more similar to the sonic obliteration of HTRK, Fuck Buttons or My Bloody Valentine, coupled with the austere, droning repetition of Swans, PiL or Einstuerzende Neubauten.
Upon entering a show you’ll see signs recommending that people keep their phones in their pockets and don’t take pictures, “because it’s just uncivilised and we think it’s not really the purpose of going to a gig. Restrictions can give you more freedom.”
This ‘restriction’ enforces total engagement with the music and makes a show a meditative experience of being in the now. Literally, you should ‘silence yourself’… and listen.
Lyrically, there’s largely a focus on androgynous sexuality — it’s hard to say whether songs are from a male or female perspective – which boils relationships down to their sticky centre and encourages self-examination.
“We finish our sets whenever we can with a song that isn’t on the record, called ‘Fuckers’,” says Beth. “It has a very strong positive message to it and it’s delivered the right way, so that you can feel the electricity in the room. It’s kind of an uplifting moment – everyone is hypnotised, even myself. It’s something that cannot happen without the will of the crowd.”