Across The Divide: Notes On The IDLES Live Experience
“For the last fucking time, we’re not a punk band,” exclaimed IDLES frontman Joe Talbot at a gig in Manchester last year. It’s understandable, of course, why Talbot may not want his band referred to as punk. The title, which once represented a controversial cultural phenomenon and anti-authoritarian ideas, has become something of a cliché in recent years. Everything from young techno producers making music in their bedroom, to the new wave of auto-tuned, trap inspired hip hop artists have been described as punk, yet, as I stand watching the band playing their first Belfast show (and opening with the apocalyptic ‘Colossus’ from ‘Joy Is An Act If Resistance’) I’m struggling to find a better word to describe them.
In truth, you probably couldn’t have wished for a better time to see IDLES. With Brexit a laughing stock and a Conservative government loathed by both sides of the leave and remain debate, the chaos sounds oh so appropriate.
“The best way to scare a Tory is to read or get rich,” screams Talbot, moments after emulating pro wrestler Triple H by spraying a fountain of water from his mouth. ‘Mother’, taken from the band’s debut record ‘Brutalism’, is one of the most emotionally felt on the night. The record was written in the wake of Talbot’s mother’s death. She suffered a stroke which led to the singer becoming her primary carer, before NHS cuts contributed to her death.
“Mother-fucker!” screams Talbot, as guitarist Mark Bowen spins dangerously on the spot. The energy mutually felt amongst every member of the band is a wonder to behold. More than that, the understanding amongst a performance of such unpredictability is breathtaking. At any moment Bowen may jump into the crowd, in just his briefs, to the chaotic delight of the audience. Any rule regarding crowd surfing seems to have been abandoned tonight, and rightly so.
“We’ve waited ten fucking years to play here,” snarls Talbot. “He’s one of your own!” he shouts, pointing at Bowen.
The band make their way through ‘I’m Scum’ (with a quick dig it Sleaford Mods for good measure) before arriving at ‘Danny Nedelko’.
“This is a song about how much I fucking love immigrants!”
Bowen climbs onto the barrier to scream the words to the crowd below. The rebellious political jabs are relentless. Art is a reflection of the artist’s environment. Talbot, prowling the stage like some sort of caged animal preparing to make his final attempt at glorious escape, is not a madman - merely a man driven mad by the current state of things political, social and emotional.
He puts the mic into his mouth and metaphorically ties his hands behind his back. However, this is not an execution of a person who defies his fate. There’s an acceptance in the gesture, resilient symbolism that, no matter how many of us you may silence, you will always be opposed.
Throughout the performance Talbot hits himself with the mic. This may be perceived as hyper masculine, but it is merely a mask. The energy erupted by most of IIDLES' work is overwhelmingly positive, commenting on issues such as toxic masculinity, loss, love and mental illness and treating these topics with an incredible sense of sensitivity, respect and revolt.
Bowen is well on his way to be becoming one of the finest contemporary guitarists around. I found myself standing dumbfounded (on several occasions) as I stood attempting to note what his energy looked and felt like. When I looked at my notes the next day it simply stated – Holy fuck.
The stage becomes a column of light as the band prepares to belt out ‘Gotho 1049’. Named after an asteroid, but inspired by the thoughts of the mentally ill, Talbot begins to sing, “my friend is so depressed, he wishes he was dead, I swam inside his head, and this is what he said...” before a screaming audience return “Help me! Help me! Won’t someone set me free? There’s no right side of the bed with a body like mine and mind like mine.”
As with a lot of IDLES work, it’s an intrinsic, honest and uncensored view into the human mind. They are very much the band we need today. Never before had I felt such a mutual understanding and connectivity between band and audience. Frustration, revolt, passion, happiness, sadness, love, loss... It’s all here. Everything that bothers and appeals to you, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry. It’s all felt right here, and delivered in such fiery and animated fashion.
“We hate the Tory scum”, says Talbot as their performance reaches its end. Much has been said about Talbot’s voice for the working class, mostly by Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods. Talbot grew up the son of middle class parents in a suburb in Exeter, which is why his support of the left wing is being accused of being hypocritical by Williamson, but, as Tablot rightly stated in a recent interview with The Independent, “this idea that I can’t speak out against austerity or food banks – I can’t say I’m fortunate enough to be able to feed my child? What the fuck is wrong with the guy?”
The thought that someone from a more affluent background can’t speak about things that are happening to working class people is really quite frightening. That, in itself, contributes more to a divide. IDLES symbolise the frustration of the people better than most. There’s a reason why it’s so believable.
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Words: Andrew Moore // @agmxxre
Photography: Ryan Campbell
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