Be­ing an­gry is too easy, say idles’ Mark Bowen and Lee Kier­nan, whose new al­bum, Joy­asan­actof Re­sis­tance, re­veals a new way to protest

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Jonathan Hors­ley

Now that ev­ery­body in the world is an­gry, it would be an ironic twist in­deed if joy proved it­self the more sub­ver­sive and ef­fec­tive emo­tion to re­cruit in ser­vice to fu­ri­ous mu­sic. At least, that’s how Bris­tol-based post-punk quin­tet Idles see it. Af­ter their stri­dent 2017 de­but, Bru­tal­ism, Idles have earned a rep­u­ta­tion for traf­fick­ing in com­bustible angst, but they share a be­lief that re­shap­ing anger via the weapon­is­ing of joy might just help us ex­or­cise the de­mons that are pulling so­ci­ety apart. The ti­tle of their sopho­more al­bum, Joy As An Act Of Re­sis­tance, ar­tic­u­lates this mood suc­cinctly. Idles are look­ing past the anger and in­vite you to do like­wise. A colour­ful spec­trum of candy ap­ple reds and surf greens at Fen­der’s Lon­don HQ of­fers a play­fully in­con­gru­ous back­drop for gui­tarists Lee Kier­nan and Mark Bowen to dis­cuss a propul­sive sound rooted in grey and bru­tal real-world strug­gles. These strug­gles, brought to life through vo­cal­ist Joe Tal­bot’s un­spar­ing lyrics, tell of a coun­try on its knees, reel­ing amid a su­per­nova of re­sent­ment. So where does the joy fit in?

“Peo­ple al­ways get us con­fused when we use the word ‘anger’,” says Bowen. “There is def­i­nitely an el­e­ment to what we do that is anger, but it’s more about vi­o­lence. Our lan­guage, and our mode of ex­press­ing any kind of emo­tions with each other, or sen­ti­ments that we might have, our lan­guage lies in vi­o­lence and any­thing that we are deft in ex­press­ing is through some sort of vi­o­lence. That’s where we feel the most cathar­sis from. I think that the vi­o­lent el­e­ment is still in there but, from the out­set, we no­ticed that we were writ­ing a more pos­i­tive thing be­cause we were feel­ing more pos­i­tive, and we wanted to use more pos­i­tive chord struc­tures, ma­jor chord se­quences, just to con­vey the same kind of vi­o­lence but in a happy, joy­ous mode.”


Those fa­mil­iar with Idles will im­me­di­ately recog­nise the vi­o­lence Bowen speaks of. They will recog­nise it in the per­cus­sive tick-tock of Colos­sus, which opens Joy... with an anx­ious fuse. They will recog­nise it in the lan­guage of Nev­er­figh­t­a­man Withaperm, in the suc­cinct kitchensink ni­hilism of I’mscum, and the vi­o­lent grief of June, a song about the death of Tal­bot’s daugh­ter. They might not see the joy, not at first. But it’s there, all right. It’s there on Danny Nedelko, an an­ar­chic cel­e­bra­tion of im­mi­grants as our friends, col­leagues, and neigh­bours. It’s there on the sweep­ing punk riot of Gram­rock, and in Tal­bot’s arch lyrics, like when he’s surely quot­ing Toys­tory’s Woody on Rot­tweiler – ‘There’s a snake in my boots’ – or on the dystopian, greet­ings-card ro­mance of Lovesong. When the joy does show up, it serves a grander pur­pose, soft­en­ing the dog­matic hard edges of Idles’ po­lit­i­cal in­vec­tive. Idles have the courage of their con­vic­tions but recog­nise that you can’t dis­suade some­one of their be­liefs by declar­ing they’re wrong.

“It’s also very dif­fi­cult to stop that ini­tial anger burst,” says Kier­nan. “Ev­ery day I’m fed the news, I’m fed this new bit of bull­shit. And this is the point: that’s your nat­u­ral re­ac­tion, and a lot of us do feel that way ev­ery time there is a new bit of shit news that comes out. You get an­gry in­stantly, and that’s the whole point of this al­bum, to not do that. It’s not to just go straight to that first re­ac­tion, ’cos

that’s the eas­i­est op­tion ev­ery time, to just get an­gry and shout at peo­ple.”


Em­brac­ing the para­dox is all part of Idles’ ethos. On Joy . . . they put a smil­ing face on rage. They con­front ma­cho­ism and es­pouse the right for males to show vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and yet set it to con­fronta­tional ar­range­ments with Tal­bot strain­ing at the mic. They might urge cau­tion be­fore form­ing an opin­ion, but not when it comes to writ­ing and record­ing, when cau­tion be­comes the en­emy. They write bet­ter to a con­cept and yet strive to keep it as im­pro­vi­sa­tional as pos­si­ble. “It has to be ur­gent and au­to­matic,” says Bowen. “We try to be as au­to­matic as pos­si­ble, which, again, is con­trived – talk about di­chotomies and para­doxes!” As for gui­tar he­roes? Bowen thinks it’s too rock ’n’ roll. And yet they’ll read­ily cite Dick Dale, Brian May, and James Het­field. “Tol­stoy is my gui­tar hero!” says Bowen. “I fuck­ing wor­ship cer­tain gui­tar play­ers be­cause you have to recog­nise there are peo­ple who do it so much fuck­ing bet­ter than me. I can­not lis­ten to enough Dick Dale.” You can hear the Dick Dale in some of Kier­nan and Bowen’s more skro­nky, an­tic ar­range­ments, but Joy . . . sees them use their gui­tars more eco­nom­i­cally. “I now de­lib­er­ately play less be­cause I know I like to dance on­stage,” laughs Bowen. There’s noth­ing ex­plic­itly hip-hop about Idles, save for the pre­em­i­nence of Tal­bot’s vo­cals, but it in­forms Kier­nan’s play­ing in much the same way as Gang Of Four did on Bru­tal­ism. “There is a big in­flu­ence of Wu-tang on this al­bum, in many re­spects – the sin­gle-chord stabs and place­ments,” he says. Any­thing goes, so long as it’s hon­est. It’s pre­served in how they com­mu­ni­cate and how they record.


Af­ter track­ing Bru­tal­ism in Lon­don, be­ing spread out and com­mut­ing to and from the stu­dio, Idles chose Mon­now Val­ley Stu­dio this time around. A res­i­den­tial fa­cil­ity with a huge drum room, they could record all night if they wanted to, but this isn’t Rush or Yes; this is Idles, and you only get three takes. “It cap­tures a sense of ur­gency,” says Bowen. “It doesn’t al­low for any kind of navel gaz­ing. A re­ally im­por­tant thing in our mu­sic is the naivety. Most of what you hear on that al­bum is the first or the sec­ond take. We al­ways keep mis­takes in. We preach in in­ter­views and our whole ethos is about be­ing as hon­est as pos­si­ble and that’s the most im­por­tant tool for us, and prob­a­bly the best thing that we are at. Do­ing those three takes is the most hon­est way of go­ing about things, al­low­ing the mis­takes to be in­cluded in there is the most hon­est way be­cause...”

“...Be­cause we’re not that good,” says Kier­nan, fin­ish­ing the sen­tence. It’s as sim­ple as that”.


But, more im­por­tantly, if Idles’ sound is to work, it can’t be over-worked. Were it to lose its dan­ger, or be cleaned up, it would die. The beauty of Idles lies in their dis­fig­ured and frac­tured ar­range­ments, the chaos, the in­stinc­tive bursts of melody that com­ple­ment Tal­bot’s noir hu­mour. They’ve been called the UK’S best punk band and they’re not even re­ally punk; it’s as though punk’s fid­gety id has bro­ken loose, free of his­tory, to cre­ate it­self anew. For Bowen’s money, disco was more punk than punk, and who could ar­gue that Nile Rogers isn’t cooler than Sid Vi­cious? “Even be­fore that, you look at Chuck Berry and rock ’n’roll, peo­ple like Dick Dale and Link Wray, that’s punk, too,” adds Bowen, “even though it doesn’t feel that way be­cause it was a much, much more con­ser­va­tive time.”

Even now, not ev­ery­one is go­ing to get it. They might not care for the pol­i­tics. Fine. They might hate the mu­sic. That’s fine, too. In their short Mark­bowen (above left) and Lee Kier­nan ca­reer Idles have sup­ported the Foo Fight­ers, the Mac­cabees, the Dead Kennedys, Fu­ture Is­lands . . . to vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. “They push you harder when they are be­ing so neg­a­tive,” says Kier­nan. “At first you feel like you’ve been kicked. But then your brain just goes, ‘Fuck it!’” That’s all part of the fun. Of­fend­ing peo­ple in real time is all in a day’s work. Therein, again, lies the joy. “That’s one of the nice things about our band,” says Kier­nan. “Some gigs, we play so fuck­ing badly and it’s not that of­ten any­more, but some­times it’s pretty bad. we get for­given for ac­tu­ally hav­ing fun. You don’t al­ways have to play per­fectly. You can go out there, do some­thing you love, with all your en­ergy, and have a laugh.”

Joy as an act of re­sis­tance is out now on Par­ti­san Records

“of­fend­ing peo­ple in real time is all in a day’s work...”


Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

Idles hands

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