Idles Are Beefing With A UK Band That Accused Them Of ‘Virtue Signalling’ And It’s Coming To A Head

Like a lot of musicians, Idles discuss political and social issues in their music, which has drawn criticism from some of their peers in the UK rock scene, as Stereogum notes.

Last year, Sleaford Mods leader Jason Williamson explained why he doesn’t care for Idles, accusing them of “appropriating, to a certain degree, a working class voice.” After that, Fat White Family chimed in, agreeing and writing in a Facebook post, “The last thing our increasingly puritanical culture needs right now is a bunch of self neutering middle class boobs telling us to be nice to immigrants; you might call that art, I call it sententious pedantry.”

Months later, in a Guardian interview published last week, Idles’ Joe Talbot addressed the situation. He insisted, “I’m not virtue signalling. I’m not hiding behind any sort of surrealist bullsh*t. I’m saying: this is what I believe in. I don’t think our message comes across as well [on paper]. People think: ‘F*ck off, you cheesy bastards.’ We’re a band that has to be seen to be believed. You come to our show and you believe us.”

He added that he was bothered by what Williamson and Fat White family said, noting, “I do hold on to those grudges. Their grudges, not my grudges. They make me powerful. It makes me angry. I was a very violent person. So yes, one day I genuinely had to stop myself driving up to London and finding him [Fat White Family leader Lias Saoudi] because I go through fits and pangs of, like: ‘F*ck off, just leave us alone.'”

That prompted a response from Saoudi, via an essay for The Social that was published yesterday. He began, “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.”

He started with a backhanded compliment: “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 US 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.”

Elsewhere, he said the band is emblematic of a larger trend, writing, “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.”

He wrapped up by extending something of an olive branch to the group by noting that he admired the intensity the showed in an early live performance of theirs that he saw: “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.”

Read Talbot’s Guardian interview here and find Saoudi’s full essay here.