Great Britain in 1975 is a nation in turmoil – the worldwide energy crisis and the decline of the manufacturing industry have sent inflation and the national debt skyrocketing, and unemployment is rife among Britain’s working classes.
Coal miners’ strikes have disrupted electrical services bringing about scheduled blackouts across the country.
The Sex Pistols, decidedly working class and proud of it, are the right band in the right place at the right time. Their angry sound, in-your-face lyrics and outrageous performances resonate with the young, out-of-work and frustrated youth, spurring the punk rock movement that is now not only accepted, but celebrated in British music and culture.
Great Britain in 2018 is also a nation in turmoil – many in Britain are still digging out from a worldwide recession that occurred nearly ten years ago. This includes the UK government; cuts in social services and other austerity measures have put further pressure on the population. “Brexit”, which nearly half the nation opposes, will see Britain leave the EU within the next two years facing a new, uncertain economic and political future.
And now it is the post-punk band Idles that are in the right place at the right time and poised to become the right band – the Sex Pistols of Brexit.
“People are scared – these are very uncertain times,” says Idles singer Joe Talbot. “In America, you’re in quite a strange place where the media and the president are at loggerheads and no one really understands in this post-truth world that we’re living in who to trust, and when you can’t trust the people above you, that mindset transcends onto each other. People are scared and angry and they want someone to blame so they can get out of their situation.
“Our purpose as a band and as human beings is quite universal. We are coming from a left, liberal point of view, but that’s not to say we haven’t worked really hard to encourage people to [participate in] open discussion. We come from a place of love, and we come from a place of anger and fear, and what we’re trying to do is channel that anger and fear into something and try to change things pragmatically.”
After years of playing in and around their home base of Bristol in the southwest of England, Idles’ 2017 album Brutalism has launched the band into the consciousness of a much wider audience. BBC 6, one of the most respected radio stations both in the UK and around the world, has been touting Idles in its programming for the past year. Idles were the only band invited to open for the Foo Fighters at their London gig. They’ll be re-introducing themselves to SXSW audiences in early March before hitting the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland, Monday, March 19.
“I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist.” The opening lyrics of “Anarchy In The U.K.” became the call-to-arms for a generation of angry, out-of-work youth everywhere. The Sex Pistols’ short, repetitive lyrics, all the vile shit they wanted to say to the world forced into a 2-minute blast, stuck in audiences’ heads as slogans.
Talbot writes anthemic punk rock lyrics – the repetitive shots taken in the single “Well Done” can easily get stuck on loop in your head. It’s opening line, “Why don’t you get a job?” immediately opens the door to addressing the employment-related problems that have been plaguing Western culture for the last decade. “Always poor, never bored”, the refrain to the song “White Privilege”, is an all-encompassing definition of working class culture in 2018 in both America and the UK narrowed down to just four memorable fightin’ words.
Talbot explains, “[The album] is shaped around dealing with grief; it started off as quite a personal thing but then it turnt into something quite universal. It feels like there are a lot of things dying around us – youth centres around the country being closed, the NHS is slowly being killed off by the government – and that’s not socialist brainwashing, that’s the truth.
“Everything I write is from personal experience. I’m not good at writing stories, or, character acting. I can only write about what’s going on around me. I haven’t got the best imagination, basically. I’m a shit liar.”
Talbot and his bandmates have more personal experience than the Sex Pistols ever had by virtue of being older and wiser. They aren’t prone to the legal and moral troubles the Pistols brought on, they’re better educated and far more enlightened to the ways of the world.
And they are far better musicians. Idles are a tight band with catchy riffs and driving melodies, some of which sound like pure metal, some, atmospheric rock. The music is as blunt and unapologetic as its accompanying lyrics.
“Artistic expression” by the Sex Pistols was limited to The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle and even that can be debated as qualifying as “art”. Idles doesn’t have this problem. The Brutalism album is named after the blunt, colourless concrete block style of architecture that so many of the UK’s “council estates” (we call them “projects”) are built of – devoid of unique shape or colour, as flat and grey as the British sky.
A commemorative edition of the Brutalism album exists – it contains the ashes of Joe Talbot’s mother who passed away just prior to Idles making the new record.
“[The Brutalism album] was all about that period of my life when I was losing my mum,” says Talbot. “What better way to make the vinyl a limited edition and to actually put her ashes, to put my mother in the vinyl. It’s just an artistic choice, I guess. And she would have loved it. She would have said it was hilarious.”
Talbot admits to being a bit concerned about being criticised for the move initially, but says the response from the music community and the public has been quite positive. He hopes his concept of artistic expression helps open doors for discussion about death.
“I think people are quite timid to talk about death, to talk about the dead body and the ashes and to touch the body, to think and talk about it. In other cultures, people are a lot more robust about death. I want to start changing people’s perspectives and the language around dying. It’s important to be open about it and learn about it rather than acting like it’s not going to happen to every single one of us.”
The Sex Pistols never ventured into true intellectualism, nor did they really have to. Idles, on the other hand, breaks out into a world where every truth is questionable and the evidence isn’t trusted, where ignorance and intellectualism are at war with one another, and “brutalism” applies as much to governments and social media as it does the Idles’ album or an architecture style.
The right band at the right time, on both sides of the pond.