Review: Phoebe Inglis-Holmes.
‘It still just seems surreal that these people are here, they want to listen to my music and sing along to my songs’ Josef Salvat confesses earnestly, his cool demeanor faltering for a second as his humble disbelief peeks through. ‘It’s a strange thing, you write songs in your bedroom or whatever, it’s a very solitary process for me at least, then there’s these people making personal connections with it – it’s a bit of a gift.’
Stepping into the cramped, dim basement of Glasgow’s Broadcast venue, it’s clear to see the personal connections being made with the music know no boundaries; this crowd aren’t just electropop hipsters. Sure, there’s plenty of them present, but there’s also every other kind of person imaginable, united by put-on-your-dancing-shoes melodies that belie the twisted lyrics built to stab at your heart in the dark. An old fashioned storyteller, I need to know if Josef’s songs of lust and loss are personal. ‘Not all of the stories I tell are about me, but I’ve experienced the emotions – some of it’s autobiographical, but definitely not all of it. I can write about other people as long as I’ve experienced the feelings.’
And yet, this crowd almost didn’t get the chance to hover in animated anticipation, waiting for the stories to be spun; back in his hometown of Sydney, 26 year old Josef studied law as a ‘rebellion’ against his parents. ‘They said, “Why are you doing a law degree? Go and do whatever you want.” But I was proving a point’ he grins. ‘If I wasn’t doing this I would probably have steered towards acting. I was never going to do law, it was just a backup to music, a degree that looked good. It doesn’t feel like I’m acting on stage though. It’s been a tricky one to navigate over the past few years, figuring out if I have a persona on stage. I mean I’m performing for sure, but I’m not acting per se. It’s a part of me on stage there, but I don’t become Josef Salvat.’
Perhaps it is Salvat’s unequivocal belief that he is entirely himself on stage that makes his performance so assaulting. Strutting coolly, casually, onto the stage, with a superior gaze connecting with every member of the audience, he gives a feral impression as he launches straight into the first two songs back to back, with no introduction. His band are faultless, his voice velveteen – not velvet, due to a husky rasp from the roll-ups he nonchalantly referred to smoking in our interview. His continual eye contact and carnal sneer impress upon the crowd the power and confidence that the story of his twisted, sexual lyrics tell. If this is truly Josef, who sipped hot lemon water to soothe his voice and enthused the warmness of Scottish crowds to me, it is a very different side of him. We are only offered relief from the heady tension when Salvat brings in his next song, the uplifting Open Season, with poppy lyrics that for once match the soaring backing. Volume ramped up and audience letting loose, it is only then that we catch the glimpse of a smile and I feel like there, just there, we are no longer acting. We flow through the set, his robotic, stiff dancing punctuating each bass beat that is storming the room, enticing you to dance harder, sing louder. And yet, I leave feeling strangely detached. Maybe his carefully crafted words, built to batter both brain and body, are more autobiographical than he admits.