Perhaps the most obvious reason for Idles’ importance in the current punk rock landscape can be found in the title of their most recent album, Joy As An Act of Resistance (2018).
The highly touted album is a 12-track monster that fuses the moody dissonance of post-punk with the fury and energy of hardcore, and enough hooks to satisfy a full festival field. They’ve got all the classic punk fixings: gruff, aggressive vocals, jagged guitars and high octane drums. But underneath the surface there’s an ethos of compassion that undercuts well-worn punk and post-punk tropes.
In the last few years, there’s been a resurgence of the post punk genre, with bands like Savages, Shame, and Tropical Fuck Storm bringing the genre back to the surface. Moody, angular and dark, post-punk isn’t known for it’s joyfulness. Idles play with that: they use the aggression of punk rock as a Trojan horse of sorts to smuggle in a sense of caring to the listener.
Their debut, Brutalism, was a little closer to traditional post-punk, a humongous sounding record that was pure, raw fury. Underneath it all, though, there was a seed that made Idles so distinctive: honesty. With Joy As An Act of Resistance, they’ve taken that initial sound and refined it, added hooks and filled out the emotional spectrum, creating a space for themselves that’s at once filled with the punk rock spirit of resistance and a positivity and sense of caring that leaves them all on their own. It’s this ethic of caring that has resulted in a fervent, devoted international fanbase.
Joy… is filled with moments of traditional punk rock and masculinity, but they turn it on its head each time. From raw confessionals like “Samaritans,” where frontman Joe Talbot screams, “I’m a real boy and I cry/I love myself and I want to try,” which comes from his experiences surrounding the stillbirth of his child; or the violent compassion “Colossus,” where he rages, “I put homophobes in coffins,” Idles take tired expectations and make them fresh again.
In multiple interviews, Talbot has stated that he doesn’t think of Idles as a punk band despite their sound. It’s not hard to see where he’s coming from, given the way the band plays with subverting the essential tropes of their touch point genres, but, in some sense, that subversion is what makes them that much more punk.