elf hatred always comes with the easy path. I know very well that you hide your profound melancholy behind that edgy boy attitude. And then you sink. You hate yourself. You hate everything you’re surrounded by, like a buddhist monk in a McDonald’s. Walking is too slow, scooters are ridiculous and cars are just hideous. I retract myself like a gastropod in order not to touch the horrors surrounding me like an imam at a charcuterie. And then, I sink, worn out by my own style. A lifestyle more centrist than a pack of chipsters, extremely cautious about my choices, under the austere scrutiny of purists, having their eye on the greater evil. The dubbiest artist you listen to is Haxan Cloax. Asocial in search of LIKES like a Romani at a stop light, suspicious of your own desires. Self-distrust of any easy source of pleasure, you sob but don’t let anything show. And now, what am I going to tell you about, little schizo? An easy drink and a fashionista band? Self hatred is so delicious.
What a smart introduction to exonerate myself from talking about a hyped band and a domain at its top mediatic exposure – all of this without caring to create a darkmail address. But my conscience is zen and I intend to enjoy life. Two years ago, I had visited the Cauhapé domain, on a heavy afternoon of august. In the depths of Jurançon, a difficult location to establish (and nope, it’s not the ‘cross-country skiing’ Jura, nor the ‘whiskey’ Jura but the Béarn), lying between the mountains and the ocean, Pyrenees foothills landscape where vines integrate within the valleys in the forest, corn fields and cattle breeding farms. An authentic French region with great white mansions and paved courtyards; a peaceful and seducing gourmet region (ducks and other creatures are also part of the ambience) where the false sense of tranquility may suffer casualties from the summits. So, a visit around Cauhapé: very trendy, a vineyard tight as a drum, impeccable and professional hosting, flawless installation. Wines are as mastered. I’m particularly fond of the dry ones: powerful nose, full of sharp baroque exotism with a vivacious palate; a bit edgy and full of tonicity. I’ve been searching for a long time a band to match with such a surprising South-West treasure, full of ‘savoir-faire’ and finesse. Considering the genre of rock that I usually listen to, I obviously struggled to find an associate for this impeccable and flawless domain. Until the day I stumbled into the Savages live and backstage.
Attention to detail,
obsession with control
Accessing the domain through a gigantic but odd entrance, we can immediately sense a strict monitoring of the whole process, from the vines to the tanks, to a very cautious bottling. Henri Ramonteu makes no secret about it: “the hand of man is omnipresent in the vine, detail makes perfection”. Attention to detail, obsession with control: from the first song, Savages sets an uncompromising scene, rigorist and mastered. Athletic bass-drums section (I’ve been told that the drummer comes from the drum&bass scene – no less), the guitar lets a dangerous tension hanging and a voice fully carried by Jehnny Beth, outfitted to minimum detail, captivating with her graceful rage (or the other way around) and her imposing delicacy. Extreme precision of placement, playing and interpretation. Punks on high heels, they orchestrate a dark ballet of slamdancing, caressing death and finitude. A tight balance between the roundness of the drums (yep, with a large snare reverb, and getting away with it) and the guitar/voice’s cold fury is as fascinating as the nose/palate contrast of the Jurançon Geyser. And definitely as persuasive. And then, the persistent work slowly settles, a violent urge to seize and show – no matter what – an indestructible desire – whatever the object is, as long the pushing reaches far – which is, I believe, the essence of post-punk. A way of saying « no, nothing at all / No, I give up nothing”. And the four girls on stage surely don’t.
Of difference between
nuance and patchwork
Cauhapé vines take advantage from a climate and a terroir influenced by multiple factors : mild winds from the ocean and cold ones from the mountains, with mild late seasons but frosty winters, with foothills that provoke different expositions to the sun and altitude. Ramonteau continues with this logic when he attacks the assembling of the variety of vintage vines, enhancing its own characteristics while keeping both balanced (small: aromatic and nervous; big: obviously wider and gourmet), by bringing back old traditions (the unforgettable Courbu, Camaralet and Lauzet). He assembles these different nuances, searching for an aromatic combination to be able to express without being bold and putting it all out. All these to preserve a very particular style attached to the region. Subtle difference between nuance and patchwork that implies knowing where to stop. Savages are in the search for “a live music with enough nuance to generate a scale of emotions”. And knowing where to stop when it comes to using references (the Siouxie and Banshees’ experiment ceremonial), gimmicks (industrial screeches, cold wave breaks), and ropes (from the Joy Division revival to the subtle mention of the groups starting with “Black…”). All of which proves determination and control. To transform weakness in the force to make a statement, as if sole words could suffice to exist, assuming without having the choice, bringing back the details that give sense beyond “the 80’s revival”…
To draw a straight line you need a referential
Because this statement, both contemporary (economical crisis) and timeless (sentimental crisis), brings back the details that count: urge, combat and style. We mortals locked in descriptive statistics and the burden to be free, searching to emerge somewhere between fatalism and an imaginary escape, we find here an invitation to keep our heads up. As Ramonteau loves to say, “it is more difficult to seduce than to impress”, as he struggles to make a terroir rise again without silencing what makes it different (wines from this region were once sold as bistrot wines, without revealing any potential). The Savages machine certainly is impressing, but Jehnny’s fragility gives flesh and blood to the whole, using all of live techniques with the ease of an actress (that she happens to be). Her voice looks at you and her eyes talk to you, precise and penetrating. Her foot on the monitor to address the crowd, her fingers waving all over the audience to commune with it, standing on top of the amplifier to illuminate, on the ground to agonize: for sure, the whole emotional scale is shown and everyone succumbs by the end, highly carried by an ever widening and roughening guitar, an obsessive beat and the chanting that pierces one last illusion in this tunnel of noise. Obviously, this is not Killing Joke style tunnel of noise we’re talking about, but it does make some leather jacket move among the audience, finally bearing the satisfying smile of the guy that came to the concert to get blown away and rush the destruction of his cilium.
Savages have this manifesto edge to them. Their obsession of control (sort of speak, this is not the Gestapo) applies to the audience as well: please avoid iPhones and love-killing angles. A real live band with a need for intimacy: “let’s make each evening special”. What could be considered as pretentious becomes just a way to consider live music and to raise your expectations, and settle the rocker’s dilemma: act like a friendly saltimbanque, a sensitive clown or an inaccessible diva? Just play the music you decided to play as simply and seriously as possible. As far as delivering living performances that get more immersive as it goes, you can feel the girls’ exigency when I meet them before the concert and they’re physically and mentally concentrated (“hey, hello! Try out some wine? Pretty cool but now I’m warming up you see?” says the drummer focusing on her electronic pads, in an almost ‘student ritual’ ambience before performing). The urge to offer something strong mirrors the need of hosting under the best conditions. And it is not Ramonteau that will deny this obligation to taste the wine under optimal conditions, being an expansive passionate character that attracts you to make you experience these wines. Just by observing him at a wine expo and admiring how all curious people end up around him and his persona. Extremely concentrated, ritualistic, even definitely straight for some of them (“it’s a cool idea but I don’t drink” OK Larbor, you suck. Still have a long way to go in the field of interview preparation): to draw a straght line you need a referential. A music that’s very ‘straight to the point’, a sharp and very vertical wine, both artists rush to a point that we can imagine known only to themselves. And we just want to instantly follow them so we can get the very dimension of these referentials.
During my visit to the wine domain, the afternoon ended by a thunderstorm, tearing the mountainsides, as the surviving substances of the vines were chanting in my mouth. I come out with the same flowing feeling after the Savages performance, emerging between feedback noises and tears, happy that I’ve forgotten, the time of an instant, that I am a hater, touched by the grace of not rejecting a pleasure.