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IDLES: ‘A while back, yes, there was anger in the band’

IDLES guitarist Mark Bowen says it’s now passion, not rage, that’s at the core of the band’s explosive live shows

IDLES play the Iveagh Gardens on July 11th

IDLES play the Iveagh Gardens on July 11th


With great power comes great responsibility, or so the saying goes. With Bristol-based band IDLES, however, the correlation between power and responsibility takes on new meaning. While it would be wrong to call the band and their music a community care programme, one of the more intriguing by-products of the music is the growth of a self-help fanbase that is almost as forceful as the band. It is amazing, says Belfast’s Mark Bowen – the band’s lead guitarist – that people can be affected so much by music they have taken to their hearts, heads and minds.

“An online community started by the fans arrived some time ago,” he explains. “The support network that is available through that community has been presented in a very organic way. The assumption would be that like-minded people have been drawn to the music and then taken it a step further. It’s certainly something that we never foresaw.”

A large part of IDLES’ music, he continues, is “based around ourselves. The topics that we deal with are really about personal introspection, initially from our singer, Joe Talbot, and then from conversations between the rest of the band. I guess that in turn has expanded into the online community as well as at gigs and special events. It’s an amazing thing, but not one that we expected or in any way contrived.”

[IDLES play Iveagh Gardens on Thursday, July 11th. Book tickets now]

Formed in Bristol 10 years ago, it wasn’t until 2016 that IDLES started to cause any kind of stir. Their debut album, Brutalism, was released two years ago, and while the music is the kind that blows cobwebs away with all the tenacity of a tornado, the lyrical content strikes as crucial a chord with their growing number of fans. Part of this is as much attributable to Talbot’s personal circumstances (his mother died during the recording of Brutalism; his daughter was stillborn during the writing and recording of the follow-up album, Joy as an Act of Resistance) as to the band’s mission statement: music being a safe space for self-expression without judgement.

‘Safe and respectful area’

“We want the music to allow a safe and respectful area for people,” says Bowen. “As a band, we feel we can share whatever we want with each other, that if we’re feeling a certain way – be it isolated, not being listened to – then we should convey that in the music. That mindset spread into the live shows, as well onto social media. Essentially, the music – as well as the music in a live setting – is for people to share how they’re feeling, to feel safe in doing so, and not to think they’re being reprimanded, scorned or ignored.”

Mention of the live shows is crucial, as over the past few years IDLES have gained a justified reputation for delivering sonic explosions that are often mistaken for distilled ferocity. Passion rather than rage, energy expended for positive results, however, is at the core of the live shows, says Bowen.

“A while back, yes, there was anger in the band,” he accepts. “It was that mid-20s feeling where we didn’t understand our place in the scheme of things. And yes, we use violence as a tone within our music, as well as an element of our movements on stage. I suppose that could be presumed by some people as aggression and anger, but that certainly isn’t the intent.”

Using such levels of intense aggression and energy as a form of catharsis, admits Bowen, is the primary motivation.

“When you explode in that way, afterwards there’s such a feeling of elation. The adrenaline surges positively, from fight-or-flight to coming through something unharmed. It gives you a real sense that you’re alive.”

IDLES play Iveagh Gardens on Thursday, July 11th. Special guests are Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and The Claque. Book tickets now