The Bristolian beatmaker gives us the inside track on Idles’ mainstream success
With the release of their debut album,
Brutalism, in 2017 Idles were catapulted into the bright lights of the mainstream. Sounding like none of their contemporaries, the Bristol-based quintet bellowed a roar of defiance in the face of adversity, giving the beige-tinged music scene a boot up the proverbial in the process.
Brutalism’s rawness, anger, urgency and, above all, tunefulness found it cited as album of the year by many, and it’s no exaggeration to say it makes essential listening in the confused and uncertain times we live in. If ever a band had come along at precisely the right moment, it was Idles.
Fronted by bruising vocalist Joe Talbot – a sort of thinking woman’s alpha male – and driven by the scratchy and stinging guitars of Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, thundering bass of Adam Devonshire and the spiky, super-tight drumming of Jon Beavis, Idles create the sort of no frills yet thrilling post-punk that leaves even 50-somethings like your correspondent leaping around the room with youthful abandon.
The directness of the music is matched by the lyrical content; by turns confrontational, cryptic, revealing and vulnerable – occasionally all in the same sentence – the lyrics portray a street-level view of life in austerity Britain with unflinching honesty. Despite the sobering subject matter, at its heart the album (and the band) convey a message of dogged optimism.
To hear just how well the words and music mesh together listen to ‘Well Done’ and note how the band – led by a manic tribal tom beat-cums tuttering shuffle – provide the perfect foil to the acerbic lyrics. Chaotic it might sound, but this is well-organised chaos. It figures that while Idles may have burst into public consciousness with
Brutalism, theirs was no overnight success; years of playing, writing and honing have gone into getting the band to this point. Brutalism’s successor – Joy As An Act of Resistance – is one of 2018’s most eagerly-anticipated releases and looks set to propel the band further into the limelight.
Over the past 18 month Idles have toured almost constantly, cementing their reputation as a truly great live band. And this most British of acts has found that its appeal has gone global (their following in America alone is already beyond cult); the band’s tour itinerary is head-spinning. Rhythm spoke to genial sticksman Jon Beavis backstage at yet another sold-out gig.
It’s just over a year since Brutalism was released – how has it changed your world?
“March last year was our first ‘proper’ tour; the album came out one week into it, we didn’t really know what to expect and it just blew up. My whole dream was just to get in a cool band, play in Bristol and be a Bristol drummer, and that’s gone to playing across the world, which is frankly, just insane.”
Were you surprised at the reception the album got?
“We were all pretty sure that it was up there; it was definitely the right time to release that sort of music, given the political climate. People needed something that was in their face, really urgent and powerful.”
So from doing your first ‘proper’ tour in March 2017 you then spent the summer playing festivals in Europe...
“It was interesting to go between countries and see how everyone reacted to it, because in the UK everyone can understand the lyrics and sing back. One of the best crowds was the OFF festival in Poland; we were on in the afternoon and the tent was completely packed and everyone was going crazy... it was like, ‘How have they heard of us?’ To get that sort of reaction was incredible. And then from there we went to the States and same thing, everyone just gets it.”
It’s surprising how well it’s translated in the States...
“It’s very British, but I think part of it is our whole show, that’s a big tick for us as well. If you come and watch us you’re not going to hear the album played perfectly; live, it’s different every night. The guitarist (Mark Bowen) hardly plays guitar,