London 100 Club
The room is a seething mess of flailing limbs and sheer joy with a mixture of wild youth and punk vets who never gave up the joy of embracing new twisted musics. The band are on full throttle with a hypnotic intensity and raw power and deeply intelligent core that is all at once captivating and intoxicating. Whilst the venue, the 100 Club, with its long and celebrated history is the perfect underground burrow for a moment like this.
And IDLES are very much the band of the moment.
The band’s 2018 second album, ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ from the title to its content is a perfect document of these times. It both proves that guitars are still urgent and modern and captures the soul of the resistance of the younger generations against the increasingly banal older world.
It’s full of great, wild songs and an intense passion that redraws the battle lines on toxic masculinity and a broken Britain and added to the themes of the NHS and immigration from their 2017 debut ‘Brutalism’ creates a wild manifesto that is trying to find a high decibel personal truth in these fake news and cultural monolithic times and proves that guitar music is as wild and feral and as wide awake as it ever was.
Somehow it has become a big success charging into the top five of the album charts alongside fellow travellers like Sleaford Mods and other wild poets of the moment picking through the detritus of modern culture and making an urgent and thrilling noise from the remains and proving that art is still a powerful and perfect conduit for intelligence, passion, dissent and communal bonding. IDLES are a high decibel, powerful force for taking the empowering message to the people and sharing in its joy whilst making a noise that invigorates and thrills despite what the corporate machine tries to tell you.
Maybe the real revolution here is the empowerment the band provide with their high octane live rush and their deeply intelligent records. Creativity is for everybody and not just for the rancid celebrity culture handing out their crumbs of talent on large golden platters. In essence, this is what we older folk would understand as punk, but part of the beauty of the band is that they don’t want to be trapped by the ancient codes of a brilliant musical movement from 40 years ago. This rejection of the past is powerful and timely and one that I totally embrace. The 100 Club with its beautiful endless history ion music and its key role in the punk movement is a perfect backdrop to underline this. Just because you are wild and free and make a glorious noise and sing about about life and a politic does not make you a punk band. This does not disrespect the past it is about creating your own narrative without the shackles of another beautiful movement. This is the now and they are entwined with their own concerns, musics and world and they are dealing with a future and not a past and whilst they can still embrace the form they are certainly working in a very different way to create the same kind of impact.
IDLES deal in a 21st-century socialism – as in being social. This is not a dogmatic lecture, this is a humanism and a dealing with the mess collectively. Live they are also a collective experience with the audience being part of the show. They sing about those basic ideals that shouldn’t even be a problem. Stuff like the NHS. The ultimate humanist idea – a basic decency that is being chopped away by cold-hearted, greedy, filth who want to profit from your sickness.
Opposing that is not grand ideology but a basic human emotion and it’s that kind of politic that IDLES deal with so emotively and perfectly. And it’s this dealing with the personal politic, that kind of honesty – without the grand lectures – that makes IDLES so powerful and so easy to identify with. IDLES are not claiming to have the answers but they are dealing with the now and that makes them urgent. They sing about being flawed and confused and that’s what makes them important. They sing about being alive and celebrating the moment and that’s what makes them empowering.
Embracing the chaos and finding a clipped control in the noise IDLES amble onto the stage coaxing their wild beast into action. The collision between their unassuming appearance and demeanour and the cranked intensity of their live show is wonderful. It’s like the very power of what they do shocks even them.
There is a level of intensity here like Fugazi and that angular end of American post-hardcore – the athletic and intense rhythm sections, the noise skree guitars and always those unexpected licks of melody to prevent it from becoming too monochromatic. The guitars are not simple thrash – there is the thrash dynamic of course but there is also a well thought out texture in the playing with copious use of FX pedals from tight slap-backs, delicious reverbs and gonzoid noise before returning to the clipped dynamic.
Their music is pure feral and a rancid imagination. Colliding sharp and angular riffs and driving clipped spine bass line from Adam Devonshire, the bass man who formed the band with Joe in college in Exeter in 2009. With his twitching beard Adam is hitting the road after being the promoter in Bristol and maker of great cups of tea for visiting bands and supplies powerful linear bass lines, the drummer, Jon Beavis, is a joy to behold – totally pounding his tribal beats and energy switches and the pair of them construct a multi-rhythmic, terse, rhythm section for the corrosive caustic corrugated iron guitars of Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowen to slash and burn over the top. The guitar players dance their scarecrow dances across the stage with Mark Bowen a twitching lunatic, dressed in just his undies, lost in an insane staring hour of mania as he leaps around the legendary 100 club piano scampering back across the stage lost in his lunatic thoughts like the electric piper at the gates of a very noisy dawn.
Meanwhile Joe Talbot is the unwilling, but charismatic voice of a lost generation, a generation sold out by Brexit and stuck in a no mans land off a careering out of control world where the old school toxic masculinity is making its last fleshy land grabs while the scurrying small mammals of a deeper intelligence are finally taking over. Joe captures this with his intense 1000 yard stare and deeply personal lyrics, his body contracted by the colliding riffs and his ruffian street poetry barked out at maximum insanity making sense of the senseless world. His lyrical skree tackles everything that matters like the aforementioned toxic masculinity inspired by reading The Descent of Man [by Grayson Perry] and crumbling Brexit Britain with a sharp poetic focus and a heartfelt intensity.
And yet…this wild and thrilling noise is a kind of pop music with anthemic tunes and splendid moments for the hopping crow like singer to conduct with his body and his mesmerising eyes.
This wild night like so many on their endless tour is endless proof that just when the naysayers thought it could never happen again we have a band that not only grabs the zeitgeist but wrestles it to the ground with their explosive music.
It’s compelling stuff and makes the band the best known of a revived UK guitar band scene that takes its cues from the ancient punk lore but is very much standing on its own terms. This new noise is delivered by bands like Shame, Slaves, Fontaines DC, Murder Capital, LINES, Fat White Family, Cabbage, Glove and many many more making these vital times.
It’s another revolution.
Another reshaping on the noise by another generation of outsiders and deeply intelligent musicians who want more from their music and have somehow turned the noisier stuff into an urgent and twitching, dark and filthy, high decibel pop that is breaching the walls of the mainstream with IDLES about to run amok at the stuffy and boring Brit awards in a couple of weeks.
Tonight’s gig is a snapshot of this moment. A wild and feral truth in a time of digital noise and fuzzy opinion. At the end of the set, they are jumping into the crowd, breaking down the artificial barrier of performance and end the set with howls of feedback and ad-libbed drums from Mark Bowen that go on for ten minutes. It’s an anarchic improvisation of wild noise that breaks everything and surfs on the sheer joy of sound. It’s gloriously messy and beyond the tightly controlled world of the Brits and a joyous defiant howl against the showbiz machine.
IDLES challenge is to take this wild, life affirming, off-kilter Xerox of life into the heart of the grinding showbiz machine and it’s one they will embrace.