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Punk-rock/post-punk will never die according to the sight and sound of Bristol’s IDLES – though not in the mind of raucous frontman Joe Talbot (of middle class stock), who was said to have dismissed any such association with the erstwhile sons of ’77. From a city that championed The CORTINAS, The POP GROUP and The BLUE AEROPLANES, IDLES must’ve done their damnedest to avoid raiding their parent’s record collection. But then again, the lads weren’t born until the 80s or 90s.
Jason Williamson, singer of Nottingham’s punk duo SLEAFORD MODS, was less than impressed with Talbot’s affluent upbringing in an Exeter suburb, allegedly trolling the group on Twitter for the band’s lack of authenticity, or empathy, within a nation of food banks and evil austerity. Whatever the spat between the two d.i.y. acts, both parties were making a good living from a flogging the proverbial punk pony. In the IDLES defence, punk music is an expression; an attitude, a state of mind, and not exclusively a poor person’s privilege.
Formed in 2009, when bassist Adam Devonshire and the aforesaid Talbot met while attending 6th Form College in Exeter, IDLES struggled to find a style that would match their inner angst. In the end, a hybrid of sonic guitars and exuberant rhythms/beats came as second nature to these madcap youths. Lead guitarist Mark Bowen, rhythm guitarist Andy S (aka Andy Stewart) and drummer Jon Beavis were now fully committed to the cause; their first CDr spinning out free to interested parties attending their local Anson Rooms gig on 28th May 2011.
Their first official EP was dropped a year later; `Welcome’ consisting of four doom-laden dirges spearheaded by `26/27’. For many reviewers with a job to dissect the quintet’s sound, some stamped their cards as BLOC PARTY, or early EDITORS; others simply marked them out as post-punk throwbacks to The CURE, JOY DIVISION and/or U2. In order to distance themselves slightly from any unwanted pigeon-holing, the second track from the EP, `Meydei’, was given a Task & Bear makeover shortly afterwards.
Nothing was heard from IDLES for the ensuing few years. On their return to the fold in 2015, Andy S’s berth had been filled by Lee Kiernan; all in time for their first record, `Meat’ (issued on their own Balley imprint). Bolstered once again by a quadrant of power-driven cuts (`Queens’, `The Idles Chant’, `Romantic Gestures’ and `Nice Man’), the record and its “Meta” remix equivalent paved the way for some frenzied gigs across the nation.
No less than four individual download singles (complete with balls-y promo videos) were spread out over the course of the next year; the topical `Divide And Conquer’, the snarky anti-everything `Well Done’, the art-ripping `Stendhal Syndrome’ and Joe’s tribute to his recently-deceased `Mother’, previewing the 5-piece’s aptly-titled debut set, BRUTALISM (2017) {*8}. Incidentally, all but `Stendhal…’ received a belated 7-inch release (w/ B-sides) by the year’s end. Opening with the “chaotic discord” and “disorder” (sic Bristolian punk puns) of `Heel / Heal’ and the SLEAFORD MODS-esque `Date Night’, IDLES were nothing short on relentless rage, energy and expletives. Keeping the punk ethos alive and kicking was a thankless task.
A switch to Brooklyn-via-London independent, Partisan Records, was indeed a necessary evil if the growing popularity of IDLES was to be sustained. `Colossus’, `Danny Nedelko’ (concerning the band’s good friend from fellow Bristolians HEAVY LUNGS), `Samaritans’ and `Great’, rolled off the production plant in quick succession; all leading to the band’s shock Top 5-performing sophomore set, JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE (2018) {*8}. The record dealt with malevolent masculinity, self-loving/loathing, inverted snobbery, immigration and, of course, Brexit. One of the set’s most profoundly sad songs was `June’, depicting the time Talbot and his wife lost daughter Agatha during childbirth. On the other side of the spectrum was the group’s rare alt-rock cover of SOLOMON BURKE’s soul classic, `Cry To Me’, whilst the head-splitting anchor piece, `Rottweiler’, proved their bark was far worse than their embittered bite.
A year on from this uneasy and unsettling modern masterpiece, Talbot and the team poignantly played down any sarcastic or seething swipes by unleashing umpteenth download single, `Mercedes Marxist’. A third studio album was in the pipeline.
Until that day in the not-too-distance future, fans salivated over the A BEAUTIFUL THING: IDLES LIVE AT LE BATACLAN (2019) {*7} – a double CD recorded the previous December and capturing a band full of spirited resolve. Talbot’s “Scarface/Tony Montana” gritty growl must’ve reminded his French audience of the days of METAL URBAIN; `Mother’, `I’m Scum’, `Danny Nedelko’ et al spreading their cathartic rebellion against the establishment.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul-Dec2019

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