Hailing from the dark, dank recesses of Bristol’s underbelly, incendiary post-punks Idles have had a busy year. Sharply-dressed and with fury galore, the intense fivesome let both their opinions and facial hair run amok, combining brooding Interpol-esque indie-rock and lumberjack beards with the furore of classic punk.
The live shows are bitter, sweaty and with an atmosphere thicker than blood – but there’s a pop-tinged layer to their noise which claws the dapper lads from the seedy depths of emodom and into a Bauhaus era of acute, striking post-punk. Coming up from barhopping stroppers to fully-fledged beacons of angst, Idles have had a 2012 diary packed to the brim.
Punk’s not dead, but it’s on life support. Modern punk bands may be good, even excellent, but they’re still just a pastiche of the former glory. It was a genre formed of rebellion, formed of boredom and hate; anarchy reigned supreme and the chaos of a punk gig is still comparable to none – broken bones and lacerations are no longer the norm. It’s refreshing to see a band so angry, with so much to say and a passion unrivalled in a sea of slacker-rock and post-chillwave. They may not be strictly punk sounding, but the ethic is there. “We are an angry band. I think for all of us, we’ve always been drawn to passionate people which includes each other and more importantly, our ‘idols’,” says Joe Talbot, vocalist. “As the singer, my passion comes through anger and I think it will for some time until I feel this cathartic process change course and I’ve exorcised my demons. We do have a lot to say and I think that shows because we love each other and respect each other’s opinions, and that must translate through our music. Lyrically, I draw mostly on fear and anger – about politics, family and friends. We want our music to evoke passion, but we can’t force meaning. As long as people know we give a shit, that’s a start.”
From turbulent upbringings, Idles have always had an electric stage presence, building their entire reputation on low key performances. “Our aim with live shows is to give the audience our full efforts and attention. There’s been a barrage of 90s throwback ‘slacker’ bands of late, which is great, but I feel it’s a fucking insult if I pay money to see someone and they look aloof or like they don’t give a shit. That’s why I call our music ‘Recession Soul’, it’s unpolished music full of passion for a time when the ‘Diva’ shouldn’t survive.”
They bear similarities to Joy Division and The Walkmen, but what actually makes them tick? A lot, apparently. They list classic soul artists like Otis Redding and Etta James, modern indie like The National (“The beats are like lyrics, you can finish a song and find yourself singing the parts,” muses sticksman Jon Beavis) and Foals. They love Trentemoller, Iceage, Mansun (“They were the first band I was completely obsessed with,” says Adam Devonshire, bass) and New Order. Mary J. Blige, The Manics. Lauryn Hill. This is a band as much at home with Mogwai and Little Dragon as they are with Schoolboy Q and D Double E. “I think the passion of soulful singers is something I believe in more than anything else and that has definitely spurred me on to sing, but I understand my vocal range will never reach those heights. The passion is what influences me. I think the other big influence is hip-hop with it’s out and out aggression, protest, and approach to rhythm which inspires me recurrently,” enthuses Talbot.
Lead guitarist Mark Bowen reveals: “I don’t actually know how to play guitar, so hearing other people like Graham Coxon sound like he’s making it up soothes me.” Rhythm axeman Andy S. has broken his thumb, so just tells us he likes to play “anything ambidextrous…” Though they may be stoic and fervent onstage, they quip like the rest of us, talking at great length about favourite tracks, artists and records. Despite the rage, they can muster the strength not to hulk out and sulk everywhere they go. They may have a lot to say, but it doesn’t overshadow the finer things.
London is normally the ‘go-to’ city for aspiring musicians, but more and more frequently, we are seeing acts spring up from further afield. Bristol is one city which is leading the pack in terms of new music, staking a claim as pioneers of dubstep and home a burgeoning indie scene. “[Bristol's] abundant, talented, welcoming, colourful, better. It has it’s disadvantages, but so does London. We’ve probably worked harder than if we were from London, but the downside there is it’s harder for people to take you seriously. The important thing for us as a Bristol band is summed up in our song ‘Imagined Communities’ – it’s important not to get caught up in the ‘where we’re from’ as it leads to bullshit Tribalism, Nationalism or Racism. Fuck that.”
Their Welcome EP has been a fantastic glimpse into the inner workings, and a hint towards what we can expect in the future. “We spent a long time writing ’26/27′ and it became an amalgamation of a few songs we had, as is the way with many of our tracks. We finished ’26/27′ around the time we could afford to record, it was also our most accomplished song so we went for it. ‘MEYDEI’ came not long after and was written in a very short space of time, maybe two or three practices. We started with Dev’s bassline and the rest came naturally. Once ‘MEYDEI’ was written we knew we had the basis for a great EP. ‘Germany’ was the last one we wrote and was purposely written for Welcome. There were parts that we’d been messing around with for a while but it all fell together at the perfect time. We wanted something that would bridge the gap between ’26/27′ and ‘Two Tone’, we felt ‘Germany’ was perfect for that.”
Their recent single ‘Two Tone’ is a belter. With a hypnotic, strobey video they unleash a gem, replete with harsh yowls and a thundering chorus, interweaving vocals and a sinister melody. “It was written on a guitar line I [Talbot] ‘wrote’, which is obvious to anyone that knows us because its two notes and I can’t play for shit. We loved playing it live, but were a bit worried whether people would take to it on record. The risk paid off and it’s become one of the more popular tracks.” Popular indeed. The EP was hugely lauded by critics and many of the tracks are now set staples – they weren’t too shocked at how well it went down though. “We enjoyed making it and playing the tracks live so we were confident. We care what critics think as they’re part of our audience among other people, so it all matters, but we’ll never lose sleep because we work hard with no regrets.”
As for what’s next, well, they’re coy. “We’ll be writing and playing music. I can’t guarantee anything else…” And how about a debut full-length? “We will always have an LP in mind we’re just waiting for the right moment. And yes I have a title, but the boys will too, I suspect.” Though they remain tight-lipped, the Bristol scene and the music industry in general will feel the rumble underfoot as these hotly-tipped post-punks shake the foundations on their rise to the top. With a pure, passionate aggression and the down-to-earth attitude of genuinely top blokes, Idles look to have a surely fruitful 2013 ahead of them.
Welcome is available now through Fear of Fiction.