Something is happening, isn’t it? There’s a lot of bad stuff happening out there, that’s for sure—I mean I am writing this on the day it was announced that Tory architect of death, Iain Duncan Smith, would be receiving a Knighthood—but something else is stirring. I can hear it whirring like a distant army stomping across the hills. It is an army; an army of love, compassion, empathy and tolerance—brought together by a unified love for a punk band. I sound pretentious as f**k don’t I? I don’t really care.
I remember the exact moment I first heard IDLES. 2017, I was driving the long, but pleasant, commute through the fields of the Gower Peninsula, listening to my beloved Radio 6. Somewhere on that journey through the Torified Countryside, “Stendhal Syndrome” started playing. I laughed out loud at the line, “Did you see that selfie what Francis Bacon did? Don’t look nothing like him, what a f**king div”. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated it. I knew I loved the music but was this a comedy band? Shortly after that, I downloaded the album, and I fell head over heels in love.
As with anything I am passionate about, I tend to go all-in and get maybe a little bit obsessive. But I was almost 40; I had—at least I thought I had—grown out of that kind of thing when it came to music. Yet here I was, struck with awe like the teenage me when I first heard Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails.
The last few years have been hard. I lost my very well paid job, my son had many health problems and required life-saving heart surgery (thank you NHS for saving my baby!). My income reduced by two-thirds, and the cost of living in Brexit Britain went up ten-fold. In five years, five of my friends committed suicide. I’m far from the only one who is going through a terrible time in the UK at the moment thanks to Conservative reign that for some reason the majority of people seem to be enjoying as they keep asking for more—the masochists/sadists.
Now we live in a world where the people at the top are not just fine with but actively promote sexism, racism, fascism, classism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and the oppression of the poor and physically and mentally in need. I could go on and on. So when I heard the entirety of IDLES’s first album Brutalism, I was overjoyed. Here was a band writing catchy punk/hardcore songs, with incredibly poignant but simple lyrics, and without being the slightest bit patronising. They didn’t tell me how I should feel or what I should do, other than to love myself. Now, there are many, many artists protesting all of the articles of hate that I’ve mentioned above, but nobody does it with the power, passion, humour and honesty of IDLES.
I listened to Brutalism for months in my own little bubble. 2017 was my darkest time depression-wise, so the thought of socialising with anyone wasn’t even on my radar. The cover of the album has a picture of frontman Joe Talbot’s mother. She inspired the album on many levels. Talbot had cared for his mother up to her death which coincided with the album’s recording. In Crack magazine he stated the songs on the album are “to do with the roles of women in my life. It’s also to do with the role my mum played pre and postmortem and also about progression and grief as a theme and eventual rebuilding.”
When I heard that visceral grief, that internal rage that I couldn’t articulate myself, it just connected, and listening to the album became a daily routine. It was clear that Joe Talbot understood me, and people like me, and listening to the album helped me get through the day. It helped me cope because I didn’t feel so alone with my thoughts, sadness and anger.
As a woman, it is particularly refreshing to hear songs by a group of men who are fierce about the rights of women, and everyone in the LGBTQ community. Songs like “Mother” really hit home for me.
“Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape
It starts in our books and behind our school gates
Men are scared women will laugh in their face
Whereas women are scared it’s their lives men will take”
“Divide & Conquer” is an ode to the disembowelment of Britain’s treasured NHS. “A loved one perished at the hand of the baron-hearted right” stands alone as the monolithic truth, a sad lyric that blisters on just how f**ked we all are and has never been as relevant as it is right now.
Then, at the end of 2018, the boy band from Bristol released Joy as an Act of Resistance and if I thought Brutalism was good, man, I was about to get my head blown off. Every single track on this album is downright brilliant; it is the anthem album us antifascists needed to come out swinging.
“Danny Nedelko” became the band’s biggest hit so far—a joyous celebration of the importance of immigration. Danny Nedelko is a Ukrainian immigrant, frontman of Bristol band Heavy Lungs and friend to the members of IDLES. Danny himself features in the official video for the song, and I had the honour of seeing him on stage with the band for the song when I saw them play the Bristol Downs Festival at the end of August.
“He’s made of bones, he’s made of blood
He’s made of flesh, he’s made of love
He’s made of you, he’s made of me
On Joy as an Act of Resistance, IDLES have collectively reached the conclusion that anger, recrimination, and bitterness will eventually eat you up. The band have exchanged those ideas for compassion, tolerance, and inclusivity, in full knowledge that these are the characteristics that lie at the core of a progressive society. Additionally, the music acts as a broad guide to how to look after ourselves by promoting mindfulness, in the hope that by, first healing ourselves, we have a better chance of improving our society.
And this is that whirring noise I was telling you about earlier. There is an army forming, and it’s getting bigger by the day.
It was for an article here that I stumbled across the AF Gang (spoken like Afghan), a group on Facebook for IDLES fans. Freelance photographer Lindsay Melbourne founded the group after she got to know the band while doing photography on their Brutalism tour in the spring of 2017.
Not long after, Lindsay met Louise Hughes, when IDLES played Bermondsey Social Club, and they got to talking after Lindsay spotted the IDLES tattoo on Louise’s finger and asked if she could take a photo of it. Lindsay told musicto, “We got on really well, and we had both noticed that we’d met a lot of people—people of all ages, but quite a few aged around 30 to 50—who would all tell the same sort of stories, who all had a shared experience. And it just seemed obvious that we needed to do something.” So she approached Joe Talbot and asked him if they’d mind them setting up the group. He was very supportive, and the rest is history.
Purely set up to exchange stories, information and more about IDLES, the AF Gang has slowly but surely morphed into a manifestation of the band’s mission statement, a safe space to share vulnerabilities and worries as well as marvel at the togetherness that IDLES have fostered in so many. It also—almost too poetically to be true—gained its 10,000th member on the 10th day of the 10th month of 2018, on what also happened to be World Mental Health Day.
Just over a year later, and the group now has almost 25k members, and I am one of them. I mostly lurk in the background, giving my support from the sidelines, mostly because I know that if I really dive in there, no one will ever see me again.
I cannot tell you what a wonderful place it is. I look forward to having a mooch around in there every day, reading the fans’ stories about the band, the gigs they’ve been to, the people they connected with while they were there. But it’s so much more than that. People wear their hearts on their sleeves, talk about their grief and loss, their worries and their triumphs. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE in that group is supportive, encouraging, thoughtful and empathetic. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; everyone is met with respect. And if you don’t behave like that, you’re out. The group’s motto is “All Is Love,” and it really is.
My morning is made brighter each day by group admin Brian Mimpress, who hilariously tells us about his bus ride to work, his weight loss journey and what he’s listening to. I genuinely love this man despite never having met or spoken to him. He feels like a friend. He is a friend! Whether he likes it or not—it is a beautiful thing. Which just so happens to be the title of IDLES’s newly released album recorded live at Le Bataclan in Paris, at the end of 2018. Marvellous it is too. Honestly, if you get a chance to see the boys live, just do it. You will not regret it.
AF Gang has just opened their new website AFGang.co.uk where you can read Brian’s bus adventures, buy merchandise, discover musical inspiration and find your way to the FB group.
I think I can speak for many AF Gangers that IDLES have saved them. Yes, by their music and lyrics, but also by building this amazing community of people who look out for each other. They give so much to their fans; be it sending birthday videos and messages to fans in hospital, hanging out with fans after their gigs or making sure that any circle pit in the crowd has female representation and that it’s a safe, non-violent space to celebrate their music. IDLES really are something else, and they deserve all the accolades they are finally getting, and then some.
IDLES and the AF Gang bring me and thousands of others hope. In the aftermath of the devastating General Election results here in the UK, these folk were disappointed but got right back up on their feet fighting. These guys are the future, and I am so glad to be part of this multicultural, multigenerational meeting of minds.
So, if you’re an IDLES fan, check the group out for yourself and join the gang, and as Brian Mimpress would say, “Long Live The Open Minded.”