Shooting hoops with IDLES

Bristol-based quintet IDLES are not what a punk band is supposed to be. They’re kind and courteous, they’re proudly joyful and willing to explore their softer sides. And they wear these traits on their sleeve – defiantly.

They’re one of the most interesting and important bands currently making the rounds, so while they were in Sydney as part of their latest Aussie tour, we caught up with the lads to play some basketball and chat about the importance of empathy in punk music.

Photos: Dani Hansen

It’s important to cut through the bullshit with kindness and compassion“: We caught up with Bristol band IDLES to shoot some hoops and chat about empathy in punk music.

HAPPY: I’ve been lucky enough to catch you guys live two times over the past two nights. At your Oxford Art Factory show, you thanked the crowd for being equally rambunctious and respectful. With your brand of punk music, was this a balance that it took time to create?

JOE: Yeah I guess so. Over the whatever amount of years we’ve been going, there have been people that have misunderstood what we’re about, but it’s been pretty consistent over the past couple of years. Australia’s probably been the easiest we’ve had it in a new territory, as far as audiences go.

MARK: We didn’t need to discover the ‘respect’ thing, you know. We were never dickheads. It was just something that we felt we needed to talk about, because people don’t want shit like that when they go to shows. When people do stupid shit, they’re doing it out of some weird insecurity.

JOE: It’s getting caught in the moment as well.

MARK: It’s good to try and avoid that.

HAPPY: In Australia, there’s this ongoing issue of certain people not feeling welcome in a moshpit or in a crowd. Do you feel like calling out certain behaviour has had an impact on this?

JOE: Not in the grand scheme of things, no. But we don’t really have any mosh pits.

MARK: We do have some pretty vibrant crowds though.

JOE: There’s always going to be lively people at the front. We had to address a few things in Europe, but that was never too important. It was more important that there was a good mix of people; age, race, gender. We were there to make everyone feel welcome, and I think everyone else picked up on that quick. I don’t really know what it’s like here normally, and we don’t really know what it’s like anywhere else. People always say: “this town’s really quiet” or “this town’s really aggressive.

MARK: It’s never really true.

JOE: It’s never what people say. We’ve just got our own crowd.

HAPPY: Well on the surface, your music does sound quite violent…

JOE: Yeah.

HAPPY: But as you dig deeper, it’s quite the contrary. What purpose do you think that violent sound serves in getting your message across?

MARK: Well we’re all very interested in the sound of violent music because of its cathartic nature. It’s very much a release. I love listening to loud, aggressive, heavy music because it scratches that itch. That’s where it comes from. Also, you can be kind of blunt. It’s a useful tool for being frank. You can use it as a blunt object to bludgeon your point across, rather than an intricate, innate thing.

JOE: As a taste thing, I think collectively we’re all into the same shit, but in very different genres of music. There’s an untold, tribal, primal love for certain kinds of music. The tone and the attack. It’s the same for art and literature. It’s the rhythm of it, it’s the attack, it’s the violence of the tone. That’s what grabs attention. Also, in this day and age, I think it’s important to cut through the bullshit with kindness and compassion.

HAPPY: So you think there is something valuable in aggression and violence?

JOE: Yeah, definitely. His favourite film is There Will Be Blood

MARK: It’s No Country For Old Men. Which is probably more violent…

JOE: We’ve drawn comparisons to things we love like Caravaggio. You know, it’s only painting, but the contrast between the light and the dark creates a very violent atmosphere. It’s a very dramatic atmosphere, which evokes life more than tepid art does. Life is very unforgiving and violent.

HAPPY: In your music, you often take themes of violence and channel it into a sort of empathy…

JOE: Yeah.

HAPPY: Instead of framing a certain person as evil, you might attack the circumstances that fostered their point of view. Do you feel that the act of songwriting has forced you to view things more empathetically?

JOE: Absolutely. As a group of friends, we all went that way. We’ve allowed more space in our songs to listen. While we were recording Joy As An Act Of Resistance, we realised the importance of progress coming from empathy, compassion and understanding. It’s about listening to your opposition, or people who you wholeheartedly disagree with. There are so many instances in history, in music and in culture more broadly, where people have attacked their opposition instead of attacking the situation. It’s about striking up a conversation about why we are where we are, about why Brexit happened… instead of just labelling someone a fucking racist. It’s thinking about why we’re here, and changing it.

HAPPY: You’ve spoken previously about this embarrassment, particularly among men, of feeling pain. Your music is obviously quite honest… did you ever struggle with overcoming that embarrassment of feeling pain?

JOE: Yeah, that’s a daily thing. Saying that you’re in pain is an act of vulnerability, and that is embarrassing. It came in a lot when we were writing Joy, and it was quite humbling – you know, talking about difficult things in my life, and having that laid bare in front of so many people. It’s not quite embarrassment, but parts of embarrassment. You feel naked. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier.

HAPPY: With Joy As An Act Of Resistance, you wrote the title for the album before you started writing the songs, is that right?

MARK: Yeah, we always work to a brief. It helps our creativity to give ourselves a manifesto or something we can work within. We noticed a pattern in what we were writing at the time, and a pattern in our experiences. That’s where it came from.

HAPPY: Do you feel like the meaning of that phrase has changed or evolved for you?

MARK: Well it’s come to mean so many different things, you know. For one, it could mean not being your standard, archetypal coke head who doesn’t care about anything, and actually being joyful and dancing. It’s also being mindful to people who have opposing thoughts to you. Rather than attacking them, it’s saying “well you think differently to me, let’s work this out.” It’s talking in an open and honest way, instead of attacking for the sake of it. There are lots of layers to what that phrase means and we’ve slowly been uncovering them all.

HAPPY: And before you had written that title, you had written a whole bunch of songs, but you scrapped them all. Is that right?

JOE: Yeah. Well not all of them. We kept Rottweiler, which was the first track we recorded after Brutalism. But apart from that, yeah. Whenever you’re staring into the abyss of a new album, it’s a complete clusterfuck of what you want to do and where you want to go. I guess you’re not very confident and you question yourself too much, and you tread too carefully. We began to realise that we were pandering towards the gratification of things that had happened before. That’s exactly what we left behind to record Brutalism. So we had to remind ourselves and start again. That’s where the phrase came from.

HAPPY: The album has been quite successful. Do you feel like extra eyes influence the way you operate as a band at all?

JOE: I do, yeah. But not on the writing side of it. You’ve got to stay dislocated from the gratification of “I really like your music“. We’re just making music to make good music. The more you overthink its impact, the more you’re distracting yourself from why you started doing this in the first place.

Joy As An Act Of Resistance is available now.