Idles – Interview 2018

Every now and then a band will turn up and simply blow almost everything out of the water. With its sheer vitality, its life affirming qualities, and its bravado. Idles are one of those. Taking their cue from what is almost universally regarded as an incredibly vibrant period of music making – the post-punk era – Bristol’s Idles are fearless adventurers, and socio-political questioners, perfectly in tune with the chaotic and uncertain times we live in. They released their powerful debut album Brutalism in 2016 to high acclaim. The massively anticipated Joy As An Act Of Resistance is their follow up, with quickly sold out dates through the summer and autumn cementing their status as perhaps the most exciting band on the planet.

“We started out during university. Dev (Adam Devonshire, bassist) and I decided that Dj’ing wasn’t enough and we thought we’d give it a go,” says frontman Joe Talbot. “We all met through Dj’ing, at the Bat Cave, in The Elbow Room’s Pool Bar, the room upstairs. Loads of B-sides, and proto-typical music of the stuff we liked at the time, a lot of post-punk, goth and garage. Everything we loved about music, we loved for the same reasons and we clicked immediately and had loads of great ideas. So, we cracked on.

“The meaning of Bat Cave as a night is the same meaning as Idles, which is trying to inject the passion back into it. Unadulterated passion. Not looking for kudos, but looking to evoke meaning and feeling behind all the things that music is about.”

More than just a band dishing out song after unconnected song, Idles are a political-art collective of like-minded individuals, looking to makes sense of their worlds, and using what they have learnt and know, to disseminate messages about subjects and ideas like masculinity and femininity, hatred and communion, and vulnerability. It’s about opening dialogues, with the starting point being what you love.

Where does the album come from, is it a lyric in one of the songs? “No, no, no. Every track was the same. The idea was to give ourselves a brief to work towards, so that the record we were making had a concise dedication to it. All our individual dialects and languages within our own art form comes out; we’ve all been given a purpose as individuals that we can work towards in a synchronised way.”

However, it wasn’t so easy at the beginning, a huge false start de-railing the initial plans for the new album, as well as tragedy and sufferance, including addiction, and the still-born death of Talbot’s child, Agatha. “After writing the second album we realised none of the songs fitted in, so we got rid of 15, 20 tracks, and started again. And we lived that ‘joy as an act of resistance’ first. I improved, I went to counselling. I went through trauma, which made me address joy as an act of resistance even more. And my partner helped me a lot with my addiction and my grief, and helped me open up and be more vulnerable, which is what the album is all about. Which is being vulnerable, and allowing your audience to see your vulnerability, as an inclusive tool to open minds and hearts for a better result. Obviously we are in a time where things like Brexit and such is a result of sectarian and defensive thinking. And we want to come to a better future. And by doing that as liberals we found ourselves surrounded by people who called themselves liberals that were acting fascistically on the internet. Just calling people stupid and racist isn’t helping anything. So, we wanted to come to a better result with our art and our music.

“We did that thing that bands do, resisting that first album’s success, and trying to ignore it. What we needed to do was embrace that success, and be aware of our audience as a way of infecting our art. We kind of see a different way of responsibility to our messages, and changing our music accordingly, and embracing it, and enjoying ourselves. So, every song, every lyric, every piece of art, everything that is on that record – visually and aurally – is joy as an act of resistance, in our lives. The whole album is about looking at grand political issues but reducing them to what is important, and what politics is about, the welfare of an individual, and the beauty of humans as individuals, so that they can feel safe, and keep their family and friends safe.”

Jeff Hemmings