Music / Bristol

Feature: IDLES

By sarah jade, Saturday Mar 18, 2017

IDLES are one of the few Bristol bands who have made a spectrum of impressions over the past 7 years.
I first met the band when I worked at The Old Duke in town. Their lead singer, Joe Talbot, hocked up a huge handful of phlegm and presented it to me like a gift. My eyes watered, my stomach churned and I was nothing short of enraged. 7 years later, Joe has crafted lyrics to songs which do exactly the same thing. Brutalism is the embodiment of rage, disgust, stomach churning accounts of inequality but is a gift to those who accept it for what it is. A huge middle finger to the status quo of society and a screaming hug for those affected by it.

Idles are fundamentally known for their aggressive approach to current affairs and have present political issues rarely seen in other bands from this city. The song ‘Mother’ highlights the struggles of women to balance work and Motherhood but also the underlying everyday sexism we have all grown used to with lyrics like ‘sexual violence doesn’t start or end with rape//it starts in our books and behind our school gates.’

Their song writing has built stamina which is paralleled by their following. The band are currently embarking on a 20 date tour which is a surprise to some as their new Album -Brutalism, aside from a few cryptic tweets and Facebook posts, seemingly came from nowhere.
So how did they go from playing the usual venues packed out mainly by their social circle to selling out cities and selling an album before it even launched?

Ahead of their sold out gig at The Fleece, I caught up with Joe and Bowen over a cider to talk about the Tour, Male privilege, Feminism and the people they credit for the recent jump in success.
What does it mean to you to be playing in your hometown on International Womens Day?

J:Everything. The fact we are in our hometown and have sold out at The Fleece is amazing. Expected, but the one you look forward to the most. But the fact that its not only IWD, but the 2 year anniversary of my Mothers death means that it has poetically tied in with the theme of the album, The role of womanhood. Its serendipity at its best and it is such a beautiful thing.
The album for us is so important. We are exploring the roles of women. I am in my life, Bowen always is. We both have actively feminist partners who are constantly teaching us. As their roles change, our have to also.

Can you pinpoint the time you became conscious of feminism?

J: When I started growing up and finding things offensive naturally. You know, sexist jokes, racist jokes, homophobia. I grew up in Devon where sexism is still a funny thing to shout around in bars. Mother in law jokes are still funny down there. Being in a small town, your shit starts to itch. I got bored. Its like fishbowl mentality. Everyone goes to the same places all the time, beats each other up- goes home. Within that there is no room for growth of philosophy. When you want to expand or learn or change, you pick up on things. Like ‘hold on, my Mum works 15 hours a day to make sure I am comfortable, why are we making jokes about women?’. Its just not OK. Not that a woman’s worth is measured by her labour, it just triggered recognition on my part and made me want to explore gender inequality. Without my Mum I would be fucking dead!

Do you still feel there is an element of sexism in Bristol?

B: Its ongoing. I see it all the time on social media. I had a friend who commented on an anti feminist page and I wondered how the hell it was even coming up on their feed. I don’t understand that tact. Because feminism is becoming more prevalent, male privilege is also which for some, their instant reaction to that is to go to the opposite side and shout from there. Why not just plead ignorant or admit to not being informed because they are comfortable where they are?

J: Its Apathy. People don’t like the idea that you have to evolve or wake up and look at yourself. Its not men angry at equality, they just don’t like the idea of looking in the mirror.

B: I had a chat with friends and one of the boyfriends starting talking about the plight of the white male. I talk to everyone about male privilege and its always just a ‘nice chat’. But there are these types of guys, normally the type who lack confidence or something, I don’t know, but he ended up throwing a chair at me because I called him out on male privilege

Has there been any political conflict within the band or where it was heading?

J: We are not all in unison no, but we are all definitely on the left.

B *laughing* except that Lee is alt right….

J: Ha! No, no. Lee is from a proper working class background from the Shire so he has a different outlook than us. But his sensibility is left. He is liberal, he would never look at a gay person any differently than he would look at me. He is just savagely working class. He is the most different in the group because we have all come from newer class backgrounds. He is a work horse, straight down the line, unpoetic. He completely changed the band in the sense that he is very pragmatic. He loved Idles before he joined but stylistically he had never played like us before. He solved that problem which in turn solved us. We were fighting everyday before Lee joined 3 years ago. Andy S, our previous guitarist, left because there was no love anymore. We really had to look at ourselves and ask ‘ do we really want to keep doing this?’ and Lee came in and made us all knuckle down and stop pretending to be what we thought a band should be. He saved us.

B: Andy leaving was a gift in a way, we were all really sad but it really woke us up. Then we got Lee who has taken us out of this hole and into something of substance.

Was there anything else effecting the bands decay?

J: Yeah, Me. I had a horrible attitude and spend 5 days a week in Newport then come to Bristol, sleeping on horrible sofas surrounded by fag butts. I developed a resentment for both sides of my life. The band is the only thing I had to look forward to but it became one of those relationships whereby I abused the thing that was closest to me. I would come to practice with all of this aggression and heat.
As soon as we took the discipline out and stopped practicing as much, we got stronger. As soon as my Mum died my world expanded. Hall and Oates started playing in my head. Alcohol and drugs didn’t seem as important. I was suddenly allowed to indulge in my passion and I think that really shows on the album.

B. We stopped being so concerned with ‘making it’ and being signed and we injected humour into it. You can be taken seriously with humour in your work. Even putting an album out became less of an important thing.

J You don’t realise how much time you can waste by getting the band to do anything but enjoy playing. I find it absurd now to think I made Jon our drummer send our stuff out to a list of 30 bloggers. What does that even achieve? Like, ‘What are you doing Joe?’ We now go by enjoy it enough and the bloggers come to you. Which they do. Because no one gives a fuck about you until you get good enough.

Anything or anyone you can credit for the bands current success?

J. Our manager, Marco. Iv known him for years as he was the drummer in Fortune Drive and he was the centre of our social circle when he lived in Bristol. He was like a pig in shit when he heard us play. He booked us a gig at The Boiler room in Guildford and he and the soundman were the only ones there. We smashed it and he became our manager. Whenever we play radio 1 or radio 6 I can hear him shaking with joy down the phone and that is the sort of guy I want to be around. He gets paid if we get paid. He is an integral part of what we have become. He calls me every single day with some new project or insight. He is the bands subversive cheerleader.

B.. I don’t get that side of him because I cant speak to people on the phone. There is a big gulf in our relationship with me living in London now but I trust everything he does because of where we are since having him on board.

J.. loads of people have turned to me and said ‘ditch the manager man, what are you doing’ and people have said to him ‘these guys wont get anywhere, get rid’ ,but look. Sell out gigs. Album out. 20 date tour. We have the love back with Lee and Marco.

ANY tracks past or present which have a special meaning for you?

B. Imagined Communities for me. It was the first track which really made me feel I was in a band. We didn’t sound like a GCSE band anymore, it sounded like something I would listen to.

Do you think there is room for politics in any other genre, specifically bands with females?

B..I think unfortunately not. Partly because our music is so masculine and aggressive but it never gets mentioned because its so obvious. I think if a female lead band put out stuff like ours the first thing they would be talking about is image. That’s not me being faceacious, that’s me identifying the fact that women, whatever the message aren’t currently received in the media as seriously as men are. Its really difficult for women to be heard without it being a problem for some people. Its really unfair but sadly true. We know that part of our success is down to exercising our male privilege, its unavoidable as middle class men.

J. One of the problems is liberalism. Its not about us, as men, apologising. Its about expressing our opinions as people. We wont ever ignore our position but we do want to contribute to a collective narrative that everyone can think about. Feminism is that. Finding an equilibrium that resonates with everyone. Recognising flaws in the status quo and correcting it together.

B. Look at artists like Anoni. She has experienced male privilege and now is probably struggling with it after identifying as a woman. Soon her case wont be as isolated as more doors open with gender fluidity.

The track Mother comes across as a nod to female empowerment and a middle finger to the pressure put on women forced to survive the conservative regime. Is this something you have always been aware of and did anything change in you since your Mum died?

The main thing that changed was my ability to write as easily. Someone said that I had a ‘silent stream of consciousness’ which isn’t true. Its more like (and I hate saying this out loud) abstract expression from a dire, dire stake. Grabbing hold of something, making it ridiculous and still letting it have weight behind it.

B. I would agree. That’s a good way of putting it.

J. I’m not putting lobsters on phones or anything, I am just passionate about this. Ask my friends from Exeter college. I have always been politically vocal, more uppity and annoying back then. Up until recently, more angry but when my Mum died I struggled to find a clear route. I want to keep my progression there. I was really enjoying being a writer and I had become more comfortable. But now I am working 65 hour weeks as a care worker, I am about to have a daughter, both of which will demand more from me than anything before so its not that I have become lazy about writing, I just am so pushed by other aspects of my life I find finding the time to do so really hard. Its almost like I need someone to punch me in the back of the head. I used to write a song in an hour. Now its a month. I also do the merch, album cover, everything. I haven’t had a day in so long where I can say ‘I haven’t got anything to do today’. My life used to be so occupied with nothing when I was a drug addict and now I have let go of so much of the shit I turned to for comfort, I am busier than ever.

Are there still people from that time in your life who are apart of it now?

J.. No. Well yes. I was an only child but had a brother die before I was born. I filled that space within me with my own brothers. People I trust, that are honest and passionate. I don’t suffer fools. People I connected with during those times who I still consider friends but since letting go of all the shit I harboured when I started the band, I find myself less reliant on their presence and approval. That’s not saying I don’t still love them and want to hang out when I can but my path changed when my Mum died and you can only take so many different influences with you. Alcohol and drugs made me be dishonest with myself and project a person who I didn’t like. If you make friends in that state it makes sense that some go when you wake up a bit. I realised we got on because we weren’t sober.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no evangelical, Iv had two pints with you tonight but I am taking things seriously. The band but more importantly fatherhood. My girlfriend is about to take a 5 year career break to raise our child. Imagine if I didn’t give everything I had into this and just went on benders the whole time? I used to do that every weekend but the thought of it now makes me sick. The whole band have come out of this ridiculous and unsustainable phase of alcoholism which I can fully credit for why I am sat here about to play a sold out gig. We turn up early, remember the sound engineers name, we are respectful of all the cogs that have to turn in order for us to exist. People are coming to see you, don’t turn up half fucked. Always work hard for people who want to see you or have helped you do this. This attitude can be applied to everything. I treat my relationship as a partnership. My girlfriend is one of the best nurses in the country. Even if she wasn’t I still want every penny I earn to go to her. Its not mine. Its ours. She will be earning that money. She will still be working when I am away. She will be working. As a Mother.

The album ‘Brutalism’ can be bought from their website

Related articles