Release Date: Nov 17, 2014
Record label: Stolen
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Experimental Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Noise-Rock
With Christmas coming up many bands are rummaging around for cash-in ideas they can throw out quickly to their fans; expanding existing versions of their last record, or perhaps pulling together a covers album or a rarities collection. Coming on for two years since their debut, Savages certainly need a new product to keep their fans interested and those responsible for their finances must have been overjoyed to hear the band had something up their sleeve for the festive marketplace. Then those same people will have heard Words To The Blind, the band's 38-minute-single-track collaboration with anglo-Japanese artpunks Bo Ningen and presumably shat themselves and burst into tears.
This 37-minute collaborative recording was committed to tape live in concert in May last year, but the roots of ‘Words To The Blind’ go back far beyond the 2012 origins of the alliance between London-based punk artists Savages and Bo Ningen. This blazing composition takes inspiration from Dadaist ‘simultaneous poetry’ performances at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire club in 1916, where the conflicting voices of multi-lingual participants reflected the Great War raging across Europe. Adopting the same technique, Savages singer Jehnny Beth speaks softly in French, while Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe mutters in Japanese.
As two of the wilder bands to earn acclaim in the 2010s, it's easy to hear why Savages and Bo Ningen are mutual fans. On the best moments of their debut, Silence Yourself, Savages lived up to their name, bringing some much-needed passion back to indie rock; a similar restlessness informed Bo Ningen's breakthrough album III, which transformed psychedelic rock, Krautrock, and more into something uniquely their own (and also featured Savages' Jehnny Beth on a track). The bands' collaboration Words to the Blind, a partly improvised, 37-minute performance described as "sonic poetry" and inspired by the Dadaist movement, could have been paralyzed by pretension, but the sheer energy both parties contribute makes it an often thrilling listen.
As far as collaborative matches go, Bo Ningen and Savages go together like rhubarb and custard. They’re different bands cut from the same ilk; relentless sonic explorers that can switch between brutal onslaught and taut, restrained minimalism in a nanosecond. It’s a combination that seems to produce experimental results, occasionally electrifyingly brilliant, and always plain weird.
On the front cover of their 2013 debut, Silence Yourself, UK quartet Savages seized our attention with a printed manifesto about seizing our attention: "The world used to be silent, now it has too many voices," it began, "and the noise is a constant distraction. " Their remedy for distraction was disruption—that is, to make a spine-jolting, whiplashing, smartphone-shattering noise that couldn’t be ignored, coupled with uniformly stern appearances and a striking lead singer, Jehnny Beth, who can seem like she’s peering into your soul and draining you of your secrets even when she’s glancing in another direction. Savages assert an ironically severe, almost militaristic aesthetic for a band who says its primary objective is to promote "emancipation" from cultural conformity and institutionalized oppression.
The video trailers for Words for the Blind capture a commanding and ethereal performance from two of the most innovative bands performing today: dressed in black, in a black room, and surrounded by white light and haze. The videos are a blunt experiment based in surrealism and Dada, with the bands set up in a U-shaped pattern and the audience standing in the middle. The recording creates a facsimile of that configuration by broadcasting Bo Ningen from the left channel, Savages from the right.
Sound poetry lives in the air, as opposed to lyric poetry, which lives on the page. You can read sound poetry written out, but it’s sort of like reading sheet music: The text is a blueprint for an intended experience, not the experience itself. This Dadaist technique blurs the line between literature and music, emphasizing the sound of syllables over the meanings of the words they form.
On paper, a collaboration between experimental avant-garde Japanese art/noise punks Bo Ningen – who now reside in London – and the over-hyped, overrated Siouxsie & The Banshees wannabes Savages seems unlikely… Then again, the latter’s Jehnny Beth does appear on one track of the former’s latest album. Of course, the next logical progression for the pair is a 37-minute, one-track collaboration – or, as the press release puts it, a “simultaneous sonic poem inspired by the Dadaist concept of the Simultaneous Poem”. Hifalutin pretensions aside – though it’s difficult to separate those from this record – what that really means is both bands getting into a room together and farting around in front of a live audience, improvising unstructured noise sequences based on five “chapters” in an attempt to consciously create art with a capital “A”.
Formed when the arch Anglo-French post-punkers took time out of a late-night recording session to catch the London-formed fully-Japanese band (go figure) in all of their live apocalyptic glory, the Savages-Bo Ningen partnership first bore fruit in the guise of an innovative ‘simultaneous sonic poem’ performed on a specially-designed ‘U’-shaped stage in May 2013. With a set built to allow the audience to feel the full force of this eardrum-damning musical blast, Words To The Blind was no ordinary collaboration. But rather a good old-fashioned piece of performance art- more audiovisual happening than sleazy cash-in.
Two of Britain's most intense bands - post-punk act Savages and acid rockers Bo Ningen - square off against one another in a 37-minute live performance recorded in London's Red Gallery and mixed in stereo to capture the experience of the two groups performing on either side of a U-shaped stage. Inspired by the Dadaist concept of simultaneous poetry, Words To The Blind's one-track, half-improvised composition opens with Savages' Jehnny Beth and Bo Ningen's Taigen Kawabe whispering in French and Japanese over each other with increasing urgency. Droning guitars, agitated cymbals and buzzing bass gradually awaken around them, building into a pounding storm of metallic chaos.