Earlier this year, the frontman of Nottingham electro-punk band Sleaford Mods accused Idles of class appropriation. “I thought they were kind of a street band,” he told The Guardian, “but it turns out they’re not working class.” He went on to explain why he found their unabashedly progressive second album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, personally offensive: “I also became jaded by this idea that we were a band that was campaigning for social justice, when we’re not, we’re just talking about what’s around us. Music can’t solve political problems. And I think their take on it is cliched, patronising, insulting and mediocre.”
When asked to respond by The Times, Idles guitarist Mark Bowen defended his band’s approach: “If you’re angry about inequality, you have to preach equality as an alternative rather than go, ‘fuck you, you’re wrong.’ Because you’re not going to get anywhere with that. The fact that we’re still talking about the same stuff punks were dealing with in the 1970s means that ‘fuck you’ thing didn’t work.” Singer Joe Talbot added: “There’s no authenticity in just being a prick to everyone.”
I understand class appropriation is serious business in the UK (I mean, I’ve heard “Common People”), but I’m sure I can’t really know the extent of Idles’ offense. It’s true that it doesn’t sound like they come from working class backgrounds – they met in college and briefly ran an indie night club in Bristol. British hipsters, then, would seem to be the general vibe.
So, is it phony for a bunch of hipsters to play up a blue collar punk image while singing about the dangers of toxic masculinity? It does sound pretty terrible when you put it that way.
But Idles pull it off (at least to these ignorant American ears), because they’re 100% sincere. All the joyful, angry, human sentiments Talbot is yelling about are completely earnest, whether he’s adopting a working class affectation or not. Maybe Sleaford Mods would have a point if Talbot were singing about his asshole manager at his dirt-paying job (check out the Mods’ terrific “Fizzy” for a delightfully genuine example of that). That would be phony, but that’s not what Joy as an Act of Resistance is.
It doesn’t require any deep analysis to judge what Idles are about, either. “Danny Nedelko” is a pro-immigrant anthem that opens with the line, “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant.” It’s as blunt as it sounds, and it’s positive, and sure, call it a social justice anthem. But inauthentic? You tell me what you feel when you get to the “yeah yeah yeah yeah / ey ey ey ey / Danny Nedelko!” chorus. Maybe you really can be authentic without being a prick to everyone.