Idles
(Credit: Lindsay Melbourne)

Opinion:

The importance of being IDLES

IDLES, the Bristol-born rock band formed back in 2009, have just released their riotous third record Ultra Mono, a record which sees frontman Joe Talbot offer up less social commentary than on their previous releases but sees him kick back emphatically at critics from their so-called ‘contemporaries’ on the track ‘Kill Them With Kindness’. The title of the fifth song on the record epitomises the calm nature in which IDLES have responded to the numerous cheap shots aimed at the band since they were marked out as the saviours of punk. While many have questioned their credentials, this was never a title that was self-anointed and, on Ultra Mono, they’ve had enough with staying shush on the matter.

Last week, Fat White Family frontman Lias Saoudi took yet another dig at IDLES and has claimed that the Bristol band “represent everything that is wrong with contemporary cultural politics”. The latest onslaught of vitriol comes in response to IDLES lead singer Talbot speaking about how the incessant trolling he suffered from Saoudi made him extremely “angry”.

In truth, it is a very public to and fro which stretches back some months. In February 2019, Fat White Family took to social media in a post that also included an image of their tour dates, alongside the message: “Idles, the last thing our increasingly puritanical culture needs right now is a bunch of self neutering middle-class boobs telling us to be nice to immigrants,” the post read, “you might call that art, I call it sententious pedantry,” they added.

IDLES man Talbot, who for the main part has stayed quiet on the issue, then offered a response in an interview with The Guardian last week. “I’m not virtue signalling. I’m not hiding behind any sort of surrealist bullshit,” he said, clearly growing weary of the topic of conversation. “I’m saying: this is what I believe in.” On paper, he added, “I don’t think our message comes across as well. People think: ‘Fuck off, you cheesy bastards.’ We’re a band that has to be seen to be believed. You come to our show and you believe us.”

“I do hold on to those grudges,” he said on the topic of Fat White Family. “Their grudges, not my grudges. They make me powerful. It makes me angry. I was a very violent person. So yes, one day I genuinely had to stop myself driving up to London and finding him [Lias Saoudi, Fat White Family frontman] because I go through fits and pangs of, like: ‘Fuck off, just leave us alone.’” It was in that last sentence which offered up a tired point of view from Talbot, a creative clearly bored of the repeated ‘trolling’.

Shortly after Talbot’s request to be left alone, Fat White’s Saoudi decided to write an essay for The Social, expanding on his thoughts on IDLES and leaving no stone unturned in the process. “Given Joe Talbot’s comments relating to my shameless trolling in The Guardian last week,” Saoudi says. “I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify my position,” Saoudi writes. “In a way, I’m grateful to the band IDLES, for no other phenomenon in music over the last few years elucidates more clearly the brazen inconsistencies of the US import social justice faith currently permeating every facet of our culture.”

Saoudi’s column is eloquent and he writes his views from the heart, unlike his previous shots at the band which, in truth, looked rather flimsy and, on the surface, felt as though they came from a place of jealousy at IDLES’ success rather than anything of real value. However, the ongoing conversation does start to feel as though Saoudi is using the Bristol band as a vehicle to vent his frustrations at a music business that he seems to have become disenfranchised with, rather than a personal attack, which is a deviation from his previous taunts. But in the current world of music, IDLES feel like one of the few acts who are genuinely sincere, a group who have found success by spreading their message while operating within the mainstream and the relentless tirades feel misplaced.

While it’s true that with success comes criticism, IDLES appears to be peppered with more than most. The backlash for so-called ‘faux-feminism’ hit the group in yet more opinion-based think pieces, it was a topic which led to the band reflecting on their role within the industry. Ultimately, IDLES held their hands up to apologise for the decision to host only all-male bands as part of the support slot on their most recent tour. They do, after all, need to walk the walk if they talk the talk. Last week, they announced that the band would be taking an all-star cast of female support on the road with them next year, a billing which includes established names such as Jehnny Beth and Anna Calvi whilst also offering opportunities to more recent bands such as Shopping—it arrives as another example that IDLES are open to communication, open to learning and open to change.

While nobody is perfect, it is clear that IDLES are constantly working on proving a more positive reflection within their own work and, in truth, within the music industry as a whole. Having recently created ‘The AF Gang’, a Facebook community that has over 30,000 members, the band are attempting to gather like-minded creatives to spread their message of unity. Their fans have created a support network for one another that has given people a safe space to talk about anything that feels honest to them, topics ranging from mental health to recommending an album they think that fellow IDLES fans will enjoy and spreading the power of music.

This community wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the sincerity that shines through IDLES and their lyrics, words in which frontman Joe Talbot doesn’t attempt to portray what is traditionally perceived as the ‘perfect person’. Instead, his vocal is about his imperfections in their music and, at times, their personal lives. It’s what makes the recent attempts to make the band the public enemy of late ever stranger, a lot of the topics that the band are getting criticised for is from a rather blurred perception of the group rather than anything they’ve actually said or done.

Credit: Lindsay Melbourne

It would appear that certain people now prey on the band at every opportunity, desperate in their attempts to disprove IDLES and their ‘social justice warrior’ credentials. Take, for example, the moment they were slammed for their immediate silence following George Floyd’s death. Critics jumped to conclusions that the band simply pretend to care about people and, by not stating their opinion instantly, that they didn’t truly care when the truth is less salacious. In truth, however, when scratching a little below the surface and way deeper than social media statements, IDLES already had their creative brains ticking. It transpired that a friend of the band actually works for the Black Lives Matter movement and, as the campaign gained momentum, Talbot and the group discussed ideas on how they could help in a more concise effort rather than a simple shoddy social media post. Ultimately, Talbot designed a T-shirt with their long-time slogan ‘No One Is An Island’ which they sold on their website and raised around £36,000 for Black Lives Matter. It’s just one example of their considered progression and that actions speak louder than words.

‘Model Village’, the song from Ultra Mono, has been accused of being a track in which the band are looking down at Little Englander’s, classed as an unsavoury effort because of the use of terms like ‘gammon’. It’s from the same quarters who were lauding the band just two years ago for their song ‘Great’ which is taken from Joy As An Act Of Resistance and, in reality, the two tracks are like two peas in a pod, lyrically speaking. Both songs are cartoonish and hyperbolic, but isn’t that the whole point of punk? If you’re looking for highbrow socio-political essays then you’re in the wrong place.

The expectations of the band are no longer simply about their music. On their first album, IDLES left no stone unturned about their political stance on the Tory bashing anthem ‘Mother’, while on their second effort they looked at topics such as toxic masculinity, grief, flag-waving racism and everything else in between. Their willingness to talk about the subjects that other bands would shy away from has made people forget that before them there was very little to be excited about.

IDLES certainly aren’t perfect, after all, who is? But what they are is an authentic band determined to spread their message and unashamed of their dedication to doing so. They’ve improved countless lives with their brand of honest, hearty punk. It has made people realise they are not alone and the community that they have built thanks to their message of togetherness is hard to ignore. IDLES, to put simply, are still very important.

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