At Hong Kong’s Clockenflap, IDLES Need No Translator

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The post At Hong Kong’s Clockenflap, IDLES Need No Translator appeared first on Consequence.

An IDLES show is an exercise in tension and release. From the droning first notes of  “Colossus,” the British band contracts and expands like taffy. It’s tension and release for both the band and the Hong Kong audience — a process IDLES refers to as the “energy transfer” that binds them together. IDLES like to rip, of course, but it can’t come from aggression, anger, or disillusionment, even if vocalist Joe Talbot spells those feelings out. It has to come from love.

Love is the guiding factor of not just IDLES’ upcoming album TANGK (out February 16th), but the project as a whole. Speaking to Consequence at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap Festival in December, Talbot and guitarist Mark Bowen found kindred spirits: “The energy that we create as a band is without a doubt understood, because our audience, and us, give everything we have,” Bowen says.

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According to Talbot, all of his songs are love songs — and not just the songs on TANGK, nor just the songs that deal with romantic connection. He means love in the most grand, sweeping way, love that transcends labels and extends onto the nearest body. “Every album I’ve written comes from love, and it’s not more or less political, it’s not more or less true, it’s not more or less intimate. It’s exactly what it’s always been, which is me trying to connect to something much greater than myself,” Talbot says. “Sometimes, people don’t look beyond the two dimensions of what they’re listening to. They think because I’m shouting, I’m angry. Or if I’m criticizing the authorities, it’s political.”

In the IDLES universe, every song, album, or onstage freakout is meant to be a hand extended outward. Just this year, IDLES toured the US on the RE:Set festival (alongside TANGK collaborators LCD Soundsystem), played festivals everywhere from Corona Capital in Guadalajara, Mexico to Australia’s Splendour in the Grass and Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, and even celebrated their first ever Grammy nominations for 2021’s CRAWLER.

With TANGK on the way, IDLES have yet another open-hearted offering that will connect them with fans all over the globe in 2024 and beyond. “Our message is love, and I write about the human condition, right?,” Talbot tells Consequence. “That is understandable in every language because when we play it live, you see our energy, you feel our energy, and you hear our energy.”

Read the full Q&A with IDLES’ Joe Talbot and Mark Bowen below, and get tickets to IDLES’ 2024 tour here. Also, check out Mark Bowen’s list of the 10 rock albums every fan should own here.

You guys are playing Hong Kong’s Clockenflap Festival tonight and then traveling to a festival in Thailand tomorrow. Do you view this as an extension of this year’s tour, or more of a preview of next year’s?

Joe Talbot: We don’t really see them as tours. Each bit is its own element, and we have a life in between. We’ve got kids, wives, loads of work to do. It’s not a tour, it’s a life. The worst thing a musician can do, and it takes a long time to learn this, is to have some sort of thing where you’re two people — you’re one way on tour, you’re one way at home. That’s why we’re sober, because it’s not a fucking month long party when you’re on tour. You’ve got responsibilities, you’ve got shit to do. So this is just a week away from home, where we are the same people we were three days ago.

Next year beginning in May you begin the first run of your US dates. Anything you’re looking forward to in particular?

Mark Bowen: The thing that I’m most looking forward to is playing the new album, TANGK. It’s proved to be very challenging, as much as it has been an album that evolved in the studio. But transferring it live has been a great challenge, and I’m optimistic about it. I think it’s going to launch our live show further forward.

Is it harder to translate this new album live than the previous album, CRAWLER?

MB: Yeah, I mean, we learned a lot of lessons on CRAWLER. And that’s helped that dynamic grow. But yeah, they’re more difficult songs to play live.

idles clockenflap
idles clockenflap

IDLES, photo courtesy of Clockenflap

You produced TANGK alongside Kenny Beats and Nigel Godrich. How did your collaborations with them come about?

MB: Kenny has been with us since Ultra Mono, and he’s now just a firm part of the furniture. I don’t foresee us ever making an album without him. He’s very much involved in the IDLES work, and he’s an incredible producer. We worked with Nigel for his “From the Basement” series, and that in and of itself was a dream of both of ours. Watching Nigel’s process throughout was a learning curve for me, and with the last few albums, especially on CRAWLER, what I wanted to do was get more involved in the production and songwriting and songcraft. Nigel is an expert in that field, with his work with Beck and Radiohead. He’s worked with people that have made left turns, who have reinvented themselves. So it was good to have him around to help us with that aspect.

Speaking of left turns, your new album has been described as coming from a place of love. In creating the album, did it feel like it was a left turn? Has it been a natural evolution and that’s where you ended up, or was it purposefully a different starting point or approach?

JT: I guess this album’s a left turn in the intricacies of making the music, not about writing the lyrics. Lyrically, it’s coming from love, the same as every album. Every album I’ve written comes from love, and it’s not more or less political, it’s not more or less true, it’s not more or less intimate. It’s exactly what it’s always been, which is me trying to connect to something much greater than myself. I am always longing to be a part of something, connect to something, connect to the universe, connect to people.
That’s why I started the band. There’s no other motive I have than to come with a place of connection. And that, for me, is love. And it’s always been my language — whether it’s self-love or loving someone or wanting people to come out in the world with empathy, to make better decisions for themselves, for people, for what they believe in, whatever it is. In a sense, I wanted to overtly name it love songs, so as to not misconstrue what we are about. Every song’s a love song.

Even one called “Hall & Oates”?

JT: Every song. Every song I’ve ever written is a love song. “Hall & Oats” is a love song about a best friend of mine. I’ve always come at this music with love. Sometimes, people don’t look beyond the two dimensions of what they’re listening to. They think because I’m shouting, I’m angry. Or if I’m criticizing the authorities, it’s political. Everything you do, if you are part of something, and you challenge it, that’s a political thing.

Does it bother you that your music is often construed as overtly political?

JT: To dumb down a pop record as “not political” is an ignorant act. If you label something and try and make it “not political” because you don’t see the politics in it, it’s ignorant. That’s how it works. You make art and people try and label it to understand it. Complexities are there. And that’s my business. Everything I make is political.

Is it a purposeful intent from the onset to be seen as making a political statement, or is it simply part and parcel of releasing art?

JT: The reading of my art is all my intention because I make the art and it will be read. Otherwise, I just keep it and lock it up in a box on my own, right? I love connecting with people. Some people see that as abrasive or a challenge because they disagree with me. Some people accept it. Some people misunderstand it. None of that I give a shit about. I love the connection and I love making music and that keeps me alive and has saved my life on more than one occasion. We’re in Hong Kong about to play live in front of an audience that have never seen us before. That’s a gift. Everything we have is a gift and I’ll keep making art. I’ll keep making music. Whether someone tells me I’m a fucking stupid liberal or a savior or a preacher or a fucking asshole, it’s their business. I am a musician, I’m a father, I’m a fucking good friend!

IDLES, Lexie Liu, photo courtesy of Clockenflap

You played the Corona Capital Festival in Guadalajara this year, and are set to return to Mexico during your North American tour next year. Do you find your music is interpreted or accepted better or differently in certain cultures than others? How was it received in Latin America?

JT: The dichotomy of what you’ve just said is the issue. Because of the way the Latino audiences are, they’re very animated and as a group, they allow themselves to melt and meld together and be an organism that’s easier to read — you feel the energy more because they’re louder, they’re more vibrant. That doesn’t mean they understand your art more than a solemn audience that are silent and then clap between songs. It’s just a different way. Our audiences around the world read our shit however they want, and they’re culturally different, which means they react in a physically different way. The energy that we create as a band is without doubt understood, because our audience, and us, give everything we have. It just looks, smells, tastes, feels different in every country we go to.

MB: I feel like our ability to translate that has improved as we’ve gone on. What we had done is we’d cultivated a different culture around our intentions in the band in the UK. When we first started touring the world, which was Europe at the start, it wasn’t that we were difficult to translate, but the translation wasn’t as straightforward. Our shows might be advertised as a rock or punk show, where there can be a macho, aggressive element, a lot of “middle finger, fuck you” kind of elements. And I think that we were taken aback by that the first time.

Whereas now, I feel like we’re masters of that element of the craft. Wherever we are, be it Hong Kong, be it Japan, be it France, Belgium… the reading of the room and the energy conversion and transfer that goes between the audience and us the whole time, we’re just more open to it. The other day, someone asked me of any big preparations or anything that we do before we go on stage, and the most important thing for me is completely unthinking. If I can not think about what we’re doing when we’re on stage, what we’re doing as performers or what I’m doing on my guitar, that’s ideal. If I’m thinking about having to do all that, then I lose it. What I have to be is completely unthinking because then the only thing that’s happening is the energy transfer.

JT: We’ve honed our craft of not thinking over time. That doesn’t mean there isn’t performance in it, there’s a theatre to it. But, to be vulnerable and to be free of that pretense… to be pretentious isn’t about performing or an act. Pretentiousness is defensive. You put up something and you premeditate something to hold, to hide who you really are. And I think that just being ourselves takes a lot of practice!

Is there a different feeling as a band when you play a festival versus your own gig? When you’re playing your own show, everyone knows every lyric, every word. You go to a festival, it may be the first time seeing you. What is that feeling like?

JT: It’s like a home and away gig, right? There’re certain players that away fans still love, because they have a sense of playfulness and they have a sense of individuality. This is most visible in soccer players right now. All the fucking fans around the world love that player. Because they’re just fucking good at their job and they’re free.

The best thing we had last year was a bunch of early afternoon shows at festivals around the world. You’re playing in daylight, you look out, you see the crowd grow from 500 people to 2,000 and they don’t leave… and that’s because we have mastered the art of being ourselves and starting the party and not waiting for them to give us gratification. We are fucking grateful before we come on that stage. We are grateful and we are free, and that encourages them to stay and do the same. There’s nothing better. It’s fucking magic.

At Hong Kong’s Clockenflap, IDLES Need No Translator
Matt Rosa

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