How Idles at Kentish Town Forum restored my faith in going to gigs
As a young girl and a music fan, I’ve had to become used to being in certain rooms filled overwhelmingly with men. Mostly it’s fine, but there have been times when it hasn’t been. There have been times when I’ve had to push to the side of a room, or to the back, because I’ve been made to feel that my presence as a small girl is actively ruining the experience of the men who surround me. With me there, they can’t slam into each other with quite the level of aggression they’d ideally like. There have been times when I’ve been groped in the crush, unable to figure out who it was that touched me. There was a time that I watched a front-man single out a beautiful woman in the crowd and made a sexual joke at her expense. The audience jeered.
Whenever any of these things happen, it sends a message to the women in the crowd: this space is not meant for you. It takes a lot to unhear that message, to erase it from your experience. You might begin to build up barriers, to resolve to always stand at the back, or not to go at all. The most recent gigs I’ve been to have been headlined by all-female punk bands, many of whom actively invite women to the front. I was nervous to see Idles play the Kentish Town Forum because I love them and I wanted to have a good experience at their show. I needn’t have worried though, because Joe Talbot, Mark Bowen, Adam Devonshire, Lee Kiernan and Jon Beavis had a message to send of their own.
First and foremost, it’s in the music. Joe Talbot’s lyrics might be delivered through gritted teeth, but his snarls belie a call for the unification of a struggling generation under a common cause: kindness. In an interview in The Guardian from a few months ago, Talbot talked about the gap between some audiences' reactions to his lyrics and his intentions—he worried that the message of impotent male rage in ‘Mother’ was getting lost beneath the base pleasure of getting to scream ‘Motherfucker! at each other when the chorus hits— but I didn't see that here. Perhaps that’s because Idles’ second album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance has since been released, and it’s themes of vulnerability, self-love and masculinity are even more clearly delineated than on their first record.
In fact, the band has been mildly criticised (hi, Pitchfork) for a supposed overuse of platitudes on Joy, but to that claim I’d say this: whoever wrote that hadn’t stood in a room surrounded by a load of 30-year-old + men singing the words ‘sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape, it starts in our books and behind our school gates’ with their chests. After having been anxious about what that room would look like, turning around to see almost every man in the Forum mouthing ’the mask of masculinity is a mask that’s wearing me’ was fully moving.
And if that moment wasn’t emotional enough, watching Idles on stage with each other was enough to break me. Throughout the show they hugged, they kissed each other’s cheeks, they laughed with one another, and their warmth radiated outwards through the audience. When Joe Talbot asked us to turn to our neighbour and give them a hug, the whole room erupted as we acknowledged the strangers we were sharing the space with, free of self-consciousness, embracing the cheese.
For me though, the culmination of the sense of community that had been building steadily throughout the show came during ‘Exeter’. Half-way through, fans invaded the stage and, instead of carrying on, the band simply surrendered their instruments to the invaders. Two girls took a guitar each, someone grabbed the mic and anyone without an instrument took on backing dancer duties. The old band encouraged the new, and for a split second the moment shifted from total chaos to a real-life scene from School of Rock. Who knew that something could be anarchic and adorable at the same time?
It was a night that filled me with hope not just for the future of my gig-going, but for the future of our collective understanding of masculinity. Those men in Idles do not have one singular idea of what it means to be a man. They might look how you expect a British rock band to look, but looks can be deceiving. Just the same, they might sound like they’re full of rage, but there’s so much that’s soft beneath those hard riffs. Idles aren’t afraid to contain multitudes: they’re furious and forgiving, jagged and smooth, wildly silly and serious as a fucking heart attack. There’s no one way for any person to be, and that room was all the warmer for accepting that there was space for everyone.
Were you there too? Let us know in the comments below!