Caustic punk rock with a flourish of wit and sensitivity.
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I’m just a really simple man,” says Idles vocalist Joe Talbot, before smartly pontificating on everything from Tory cuts to author Margaret Atwood and the poetic leanings of Muhammad Ali. It’s not only his conversation that puts paid to the claim. As a band, Idles make blistering guitar music that offsets its fury with wit, intelligence and sensitivity. Despite having only released their debut album, Brutalism, last year, Idles formed back in 2009, shortly after Talbot and bassist Adam Devonshire began running a club night together. They were soon joined by drummer Jon Beavis and guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, but despite putting out two EPs of caustic punk didn’t venture much outside their Bristol DIY scene bubble until a couple of years ago. Backstage at London’s Heaven, where the group are wrapping up their sold-out UK tour, the 33- year-old singer is totting up the perks of late-onset success. “One, we appreciate it more,” he says between puffs on a vape. “Two, we got to make loads of mistakes and not be criticised in a crippling way.” Thirdly, Talbot points to his earlier hedonistic lifestyle, “I wouldn’t have toured well when I was 24 because I was massively into stuff that would’ve probably killed me.” Like a post-hardcore Billy Childish, Talbot howls his way through a series of stark, seething statements over clanking guitars
and pummelling drums on Brutalism. The album is heavy in more ways than one: on it, Idles tackle subjects including misogyny, depression and grief. For Brutalism’s follow-up, out later this year, the band will be adding the problems of toxic masculinity – or, as Talbot puts it, “a trope of crap that you teach yourself ” – to that list. Another topic they’re keen to talk about is Brexit. Talbot believes that Exeter, a song that connects the tedium of his hometown with the senseless violence of its inhabitants, has struck a particular chord with fans. “Coventry, Blackpool, there’s fuck-all to do there. The people who came to our shows from those places are at a point of frustration,” he says. “They want something new, ie, Brexit.” Talbot says he cried about the referendum result, but due to the band’s growing fanbase in those areas now feels like a “mouthpiece of a group of people that are marginalised”, something that’s made him less combative and more understanding when it comes to politics. “Now I’m on a bigger platform, I cannot encourage people to be like, ‘Fuck you, you’re racist.’ Just because their beliefs may seem racist, doesn’t mean they are innately hateful towards that race, it just means they’re terrified, they’re poor and they want change.” Onstage that evening at London’s Heaven, Talbot is keeping his principles at the forefront of the jubilantly sweaty punters’ minds, speaking about the positives of immigration and dedicating a song to the NHS as the band roar through their debut. Throughout, Idles create an atmosphere that combines incandescent punk rage with a real sense of compassion – even Talbot would have to agree, doing that is far from simple.
“I wouldn’t have toured well when I was 24 because I was into stuf f that would have probably killed me.” Joe Talbot
Better late then never: Idles (from left) Joe Talbot, Mark Bowen, Adam Devonshire, Lee Kiernan and Jon Beavis.