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IDLES: A Retrospective

IDLES- “Local Bristolian band turned global neo-punk sensations and mental health advocates”

The band have announced that their new album “TANGK” will be released on February 16 next year. What better time to look back on their journey to success and influence on the music scene?

By Matilda Sunnercrantz Carter, Third Year Music

When thinking about the Bristolian music scene we often look back on the trip-hop craze that blossomed in Bristol in the early nineties or the Drum & Bass scene that many associate Bristol with today. With Bristol’s multicultural and widespread selection of venues, there’s no wonder it has become a hot spot for musicians to come together and create something new. This being one of the main factors in IDLES' journey to becoming one of the most famous bands from Bristol today. With lead singer Joe Talbot’s unique vocal delivery and their heavy neo-punk sound, they brought something new to the table, winning the hearts of people across the globe.

In the 2021 documentary “Don’t Go Gentle: A Film About Idles” by Mark Archer we get a look into how the band was born. In 2009, lead singer Joe Talbot found himself immersed in the Bristol music scene. Bassist Adam Devonshire “Dev” had started working at The Golden Lion on Gloucester Road, where they came to be a part of a beautiful community, passionate about a similar music scene. Talbot describes this time as very valuable, giving him meaningful friendships that many of would lead to IDLES becoming the band they are today.

Their backstory truly is the epitome of the Bristolian music scene and culture. Playing in packed venues with sweat dripping from the walls, the band certainly had to work hard to gain recognition. Describing Bristol as “the asshole of ambition” and a “forgiving city”, drummer Jon Beavis and Dev express how the Bristolian community are very happy and content, allowing you to work at your own pace. Yet this being the reason why it’s so hard to have a breakthrough beyond the city. Talbot describes how the indie scene that was popular at the time had become rather “cocaine-fueled”, leading bands to “look very good but sound very bad”.

They wanted to do something new, something of their own. Considering the band formed in 2009, it took quite some time until IDLES would become a household name. After releasing their debut album “Brutalism” in 2017, the band started gaining recognition across the country. In an interview by Rob Hudson for Medium (2017), Talbot expresses excitement of the band going on a UK tour after previously only ever filling a room in Bristol and London. Yet it was their 2018 LP “Joy as an Act of Resistance” that would become their big claim to fame.

The band has described themselves as “the angry band”, not afraid to voice their opinions and political values. Yet those aren’t the only topics they touch on. By openly discussing mental health, anxiety and toxic masculinity, they have become important advocates for mental health awareness in the mainstream media. The band have not only touched on these topics in their lyricism, but also been very vocal about their personal struggles.

Talbot has been very open about the impact the tragic loss of both his mother and stillborn daughter has had on his mental health. In the documentary, Dev also opens about losing his mother. These personal experiences aren’t expected to be shared, but I think it shows a very raw and human side to them that we rarely witness from celebrities. Therefore, destigmatizing mental health challenges and fighting toxic masculinity.

With punk carrying anti-government and anti-establishment ideologies, IDLES are a breath of fresh air in the sub-genre neo-punk by combining the punk spirit with lyricism touching on a wide range of taboo topics. We can see an example of this is in their song “Samaritans” of their 2018 LP “Joy as an Act of Resistance”, where Talbot sings about toxic masculinity and the expectations men are fed by society.

“ Man up, sit down, chin up, pipe down. Socks up, don’t cry, drink up, don’t whine.” - IDLES, Samaritans (2018)

In 2017, Music Photographer Lindsay Melbourne created the Facebook group “AF-gang” in hope to give people a safe space to open up about their mental health, whether it be addiction, depression or simply feeling down in the dumps. A place for the IDLES community to bond, help each other and also give the fans a way to connect with the band. In the documentary, admin Brian Mimpress expresses how vital the “AF-gang” and the album “Brutalism” have been for his journey to improve his mental health, stating that the album in fact saved his life.

After struggling with severe anxiety for years and missing countless gigs, Mimpress was looking for something to “wake him up”. Having not attending any gigs for a decade, he decided to see IDLES, describing it as one of the best experiences in his life. Six years later AF-gang are still going strong with a staggering thirty-seven thousand members.

There’s no surprise IDLES fan base is so tightknit. In the documentary “Don’t Go Gentle”, Talbot is seen spending time with fans, getting to know them personally. What IDLES and their community have created together is a rare sight in the music industry today and speaks volumes about their character. From playing at local Bristol venues to being known across the globe they haven’t lost touch with what has meant the most to them from the start, community.

So why not grab a pint at The Golden Lion, take a listen to some of their tunes, let out some rage and get pumped up for their new album? You are in Bristol after all. And if their post-punk sound isn’t your cup of tea, you can’t help but admire their story and impact.

Featured Image: Tom Ham

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