Brutalism. A term coined by architectural critic Reyner Banham to identify the Brutalist architecture movement that emerged following the Second World War, is also the name given to the debut album by Bristol’s brash, bolshy and vitriolic post-punk band IDLES - an album that displays just as much of a perturbing presence and is as monolithic as the constructions that inspired it.
“I’m fascinated by architecture, it’s what I like reading about and looking at. I like the idea of having some sort of colour or theme to work with as a brief when I do anything,” explains Joe Talbot, frontman of the band, to Clash whilst on the M4 driving to the first show of their tour at Bedford Esquires. “I never want to limit my ideas, but it makes my ideas succinct and helps me create a path towards something that works. I became obsessed with brutalist architecture, where it came from and that ideology of building something fast and quick that helps a community that have been totally fucked.”
As Talbot’s story behind the album unravels, it becomes apparent just how close ‘Brutalism’ had come to never materialising and how IDLES had been on the brink of disintegration.
After Talbolt and Dev (bassist) met at college in Exeter, the pair began to host a club night in Bristol called Batcave. “We were trying to do something a bit more interesting than your standard Indie night and along the way we decided to start a band ourselves. Mind you, it took quite a while to find the right people who would actually put up with us!”
Unsatisfied with their debut release in 2012 but determined to succeed, IDLES intensified their practice regimes to at least three times every week and set themselves strict rules to combat their wild lifestyles which were conflicting with the band. “It took us a long time to get productive because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing at all, we were fucking terrible for a long time.”
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For almost three years the band honed their craft and strove to write enough material for an album. However, soon it all began to seem too much. “I was fucking furious at the time. I was going back and forth between Newport and Bristol, visiting the hospital everyday where I was watching my mum die, sleeping on sofas, scraping just enough money together by working in a pub and DJing, just drinking like a fish and drowning in drugs. I was miserable and angry. I felt suffocated and that was my life. I was distancing myself from the boys with anger, and them with me through frustration and boredom. They were bored of me being a cunt basically. We weren’t getting on at the time, we weren’t enjoying it as much but we loved each other and loved what we were doing as a practice, so we wanted to make something that we were proud of whilst enjoying it again.”
Having almost reached their limit, the band decided to start afresh and write music that was in sync with their current situations. “We got rid of that laborious side of writing where you are trying to be good instead of just enjoying it.”
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The writing process made it cathartic for everyone because we became a unit again...
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In order to feel like they had done something with those three years, they released the furious ‘MEAT EP’ and started actively writing an entirely new album. “I came up with the idea of brutalism about three songs into the album. It was at a time when I was fucking struggling. We liked the idea of limiting ourselves and not dwell on songs too much. We started to write these big, bold, visceral songs that soon became the headstone of the album. They carried all our ideas of that time but it worked because we stopped dwelling on the writing aspect so much.”
“The catharsis of the album came from me but the writing process made it cathartic for everyone because we became a unit again. The album helped us bond again and with that we exulted all our shit we were carrying on our shoulders”.
Recorded and produced by Paul Frazer, known for his work with artists like The Prodigy, Wilko Johnson and Skindred, he understood the band and “that urgency was what was needed for the record. Tracking it separately gave us too much time to think and as we hadn’t recorded an album before, the worst thing we could have done was think. It was about expressing ourselves. We wanted to wear our album instead of the album wear us. We recorded [‘Brutalism’] the way we lived which was super intensely and disciplined, so the finished sound reflects how we live and what we are like as people. It was perfect, Paul nailed it.”
The 13 track debut album is a goliath sounding record driven by a simplistic, thumping rhythm section, topped with cacophonous guitars and obtuse, thought-provoking lyrics. “I hope that some people don’t get it because then I’m doing something right. I’m not going to spell any sense to you,” says Talbot, who then goes on to talk about his admiration for artists such as Thom Yorke and Kayne West. “They are both people who I love and take inspiration from as they open discussions, not close them, and that’s what I want to do. I’m not going to dictate my ideas to people and ram things down their throats. I just want to paint a picture that’s a slightly abstract, expressive picture of something but let the listener finish it off.”
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I’m not going to dictate my ideas to people and ram things down their throats.
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“I’m not Bob Dylan. I’m not going to write a story - I’m shit at stories! I’m good at one liners. I’m good at making you look like a cunt by saying one thing after you’ve rambled on for five minutes! I write to express myself and hope that that enlightens people along the way.”
From the belligerent opener ‘Heel/Heal’ through to the poignant finisher ‘Slow Savage’, Brutalism is an unhinged and severely vicious record that questions everyday conventions and isn’t afraid to attack certain taboos. It touches on a variety of familiar subjects heard all too often in punk music such as politics, ignorance and depression, but through Talbot’s dark, obtuse, yet often humorous lyrics, it is done in an enthralling manner that resonates with the listener.
Out now via Balley Records, IDLES are taking Brutalism from record to road for the rest of 2017. The band deliver an indelibly, savage live performance that leaves no wonder as to why they were invited to support The Maccabees on their Farewell Tour. “We’ve just gotta go there and play as well as we can to honour the fact we’ve been given such a fucking magic gift, supporting Maccabees in their closing shows, it’s a dream come true.”
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Words: Joe Hamilton