IDLES “represent everything that is wrong with contemporary cultural politics,” Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi says
Last year, Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods took a few shots at fellow Brits IDLES, accusing them of appropriating a "working class voice" (Sleaford Mods) and calling them "self neutering middle class boobs" (Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family). Those accusations stuck with IDLES, and vocalist Joe Talbot brought them up in a recent interview with The Guardian:
I never said I was working-class," although, he adds, criticisms like Williamson's "devalue how hellish two of our bandmates' upbringings were who were working-class". Nor is he, to use a phrase he doesn’t like at all, "sloganeering". "I’m not virtue signalling," he says. "I’m not hiding behind any sort of surrealist bullshit. I’m saying: this is what I believe in." On paper, he says, "I don’t think our message comes across as well. People think: 'Fuck off, you cheesy bastards.'" But on stage is where they are loud and clear. "We’re a band that has to be seen to be believed. You come to our show and you believe us."
But when Talbot has an axe to grind, he can’t just drop it. "I do hold on to those grudges," he says wickedly. "Their grudges, not my grudges. They make me powerful." They also wind him up. "It makes me angry," he says, tensing. "I was a very violent person. So yes, one day I genuinely had to stop myself driving up to London and finding him [Lias Saoudi, Fat White Family frontman] because I go through fits and pangs of, like: 'Fuck off, just leave us alone.'"
Saoudi responded to this latest from Talbot in a lengthy essay on The Social. "In a state of frenzied arrogance around 18 months ago I took it upon myself to hurl a few digital petrol bombs at some of the country’s most beloved acts from the comfort of my hovel in Streatham," he begins, continuing, "As the groups shit-stirrer in chief I almost felt obliged to start casting stones after those wilderness years, a bit of conflict is good for the art, I thought. Given Joe Talbot’s comments relating to my shameless trolling in the Guardian last week, I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify my position."
In a way I’m grateful to the band IDLES, for no other phenomenon in music over the last few years elucidates more clearly the brazen inconsistencies of the U.S. import social justice faith currently permeating every facet of our culture. This is a band that purports to be about unity and zero tolerance of prejudice of any kind, yet feels it necessary to pour scorn on anyone that comes from a small town that hasn’t quite managed to adopt the same middle class metropolitan point of view they call their own. Having been beaten, spat on and racially abused in a village growing up, I can confirm that a great deal of bigotry does reside there, but who is Joe Talbot to wag his finger and cast judgement on these people? Who is he to deny these people a pride in their national identity? It was always the kids from the crumbling council estates that would lay into you, not the ones whose parents, like mine, lived in detached bungalows and owned their own cars. When you grow up economically oppressed in a world which offers you ever diminishing prospects, a world where violence and abuse are the norm, sooner or later the hopelessness of it all has a fairly good chance of morphing into hatred: labelling these people scum isn’t progressive, it’s decadent. I’d go as far as saying it’s tantamount to blaming the slave for his chains. The racial hatred I encountered in the backwaters wasn’t pathological, it was that of the animal suddenly forced into sharing its cage with some new and terrifying creature.
The group represent everything that is wrong with contemporary cultural politics, with a left to whom the future used to belong, in defeat now collapsing into whimsical utopianism. A left in love with its own marginality. Theirs is the sound of an inverse solidarity, one that revels in the sanctimonious condemnation of people not quite up to speed whilst offering up no valid counter strategy. Languishing at the bitter end of the philosophical quagmire of individualist fundamentalism that came to define the previous century, in a world of increasing brutality and confusion, personal failure is now most easily drowned out in illusory collective action. Let’s all warm ourselves by the fire of false atonement! Immigrants are beautiful! Bury all the homophobes! Half of my family are homophobic Algerians, what say you to them? The personal dimensions of our current crisis are thus conveniently left to one side, resulting in a one size fits all ‘trickle down morality’, an unquestioning subscription to which allows one to feel like less of a power-fixated narcissist, which 101.4% of us inevitably are in the late capitalist west.
Wrapping up the essay, Saoudi writes, "I don’t want to finish on a sour note. I’ve got no interest in beefing with this group of individuals, only what their huge popularity represents where politics infringing on art is concerned. For me, straight down the middle post-post-punk represents a collapse into nostalgia, born out of a refusal of the present, in a world where the future has been all but cancelled. That being said, when I saw the group play a tiny venue in France a few years back, just before they blew up, it was obvious they were pouring every fibre of their beings into the performance. Anyone willing to sweat nuts and bolts on stage like that, regardless of the underlying message, deserves our respect, and for that I duly salute them. If Joe wants to get in his car and drive to London to mete out some form of rough justice on account of my expressing my opinion about his group that’s fine with me. It’s awful when you get a public rinse down; I should have at least qualified my comments last year. If it makes him feel any better, the tundra of abuse I received from both his fanbase and that of the Sleaford Mods after that outburst did rattle me to the core. Even Saul was disgusted in me at the time, just imagine how awful that feels."
You can read his essay in full on The Social.