The whirlwind of adoration that surrounds the nation’s favoured Bristol punk quintet has been on an unshakable rise since the release of their debut album ‘Brutalism’ in March last year. With that album, the world was introduced to a band disillusioned with everything around them but determined not to be beaten down by it.
This year, that whirlwind has hit fever pitch. Scoring a Top 5 album in the UK charts, performing on ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, selling out a headline tour of the UK, playing festivals and maxed out venues around the world… Honestly, it’s tiring just thinking about how much activity the group have managed to squeeze into the space of twelve months.
With the release of ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ this summer, Idles stood at the crest of a wave of earnest positivity, their anthems of acceptance, empowerment, and validation celebrated in a way that surpassed even their wildest imaginations.
“I don’t pay attention to the charts. I haven’t done since I was about ten,” frontman Joe Talbot laughs. “We didn’t think about charting. It wasn’t in our discourse.” It might not have been something that entered the group’s minds on the run-up to the release, but when the news broke that ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ had reached Number 2 in the mid-week charts, it was met with a sense of triumph and resolve. It sparked an outpouring of support with fans spreading the word far and wide, pushing the positive energy of the record to reach as many people as possible.
“It wasn’t through streaming. It wasn’t ’cause we did some surprise album at the last minute,” Joe details. “We haven’t got that sort of rooting in the industry. What we have is a good, old-fashioned fan base, based on word of mouth.” Mention Idles in conversation and chances are you’ll see it: what this band inspire is an enthusiasm and an excitement that just has to be shared.
“It’s writing about something we believe in, and people believing in us when we sing it and play it. It’s going out there and playing shows and getting people to bring their friends next time, buying our t-shirt, making things that all align with our artistic language, that people can believe in and invest in,” Joe expresses. “To get to Number 5 in the charts, that means that there are people out there that believe it and want to be part of it,” he continues. “In that sense, it’s huge.”
It’s a moment that felt like it was meant to be: all the frustration and fear and the drive for openness and acceptance that fuels the album recognised as an achievement, a celebration of life in all of its wonderful variety. With their hearts on their sleeves, Idles have never stood taller. It’s their unabashed nature and their unapologetic drive to be anything other than what they believe in that make Idles a band worth believing in.
“The producer [of Jools Holland] turned to us, and she said ‘Whatever you do, don’t cater for the cameras. Just be yourselves. We’ve asked you to be here because we want you to be you. You’re here for a reason’,” Joe recalls. “I doubt whether she had that conversation with Jess Glynne,” he laughs. “So we did it, and it just felt right. It made us feel like, ‘Yeah, we’re here because we fucking built this ourselves’, and it feels good.”
Theirs is a revolution of positivity – and indeed, joy. Night by night, city by city, crowd by crowd, Idles are making that energy felt. Go to one of the band’s live shows, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the throes of it all. “We’re in love with it,” Joe exclaims. “We’re in love with what we do. Everything about what we’re doing now feels good and fruitful like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” he describes, “which is great. The whole breadth of what’s happening is beyond our control, really. All we can do is so much. The people have spoken in a way that we weren’t expecting, and it’s magic.”
Magic is something that Idles possess by the bucket load. Speaking in the middle of their sold out UK tour, there’s little in which the outfit don’t find magic. The shows are magic. The crowds are magic. Tour mates Heavy Lungs are magic. Even the chocolate milk the band are drinking is magic. “I like being fun with things you love, and I love chocolate milk,” Joe grins. “So I started doing little reviews. Now we get free chocolate milk all the time; it’s fucking great. Very grateful.” He pauses for a moment. “Haven’t done one in a while ’cause I haven’t had any new chocolate milks” (is that a hint?).
The real magic, however, Idles are quick to insist doesn’t come from the band (or even from chocolate milk). It comes from the people who have bought into their music. It comes from the fans who pack out their live shows. It comes from everyone who shares in the experience the group facilitate around them. It’s something that’s perhaps most evident through the AF Gang (pronounced like Afghan): a community set up by fans, drawing people together through their shared enthusiasm so they can share in that energy collectively.
“It’s a beautiful thing. It’s nothing to do with us,” Joe states. “We haven’t built that. That is a congregation of active-minded, proactive, wonderful, caring human beings that want to look after each other, and have used our music as a catalyst to connect on a level that’s way more important and way more interesting than Idles.”
Attending one of Idles’ raucous live shows, that wonder and care is evident everywhere you look. During the band’s show at The Institute in Birmingham, any lull between songs is filled by the crowd making sure whoever is stood around them is okay, conversation between strangers abuzz with excitement for the group on the stage and the experience they’re all sharing in.
“It relinquishes some faith I didn’t have in people,” Joe gratefully expresses. “People did want positivity. They did want people who wanted to work hard for what they love, and show that they love it, instead of pretending they don’t care and that it’s cool.”
“We’re the antithesis of all of that bollocks that runs rife in this fucking industry,” he proclaims. “We’re tearing it down, day by day, show by show, Jools Holland by Jools Holland. Soon the narrative will have shifted and there’ll be lots of bands out there getting paid money to do magic music and actually show they give a shit again, about people, and the world, and music.”
And really, that’s all Idles want. Whether it’s something they create through their own music, something they promote through releases on Joe and manager Mark Bent’s Balley Records, or simply something they enthuse about when they encounter it, Idles are here to inspire, to encourage, and to seek out hope – and they don’t plan on slowing down for a moment.
Looking ahead over the next year, Joe is fast to rattle off the group’s plans. “Album three. Festivals. Bigger tour. Album three release. Retirement,” he grins (don’t worry: he assure us that his last notion “was a joke”). With work already in progress on the group’s third record (“it’s called ‘Chocolate Milk'” Joe teases), theirs is a spirit that refuses to die out. “Bigger and better,” Joe excitedly promises. “It feels good.”
Taken from the January 2018 / December 2019 issue of Dork.
Words: Jessica Goodman