IDLES are a British rock band formed in Bristol in 2009. The current line-up of the band consists of vocalist Joe Talbot, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, bassist Adam Devonshire, and drummer Jon Beavis.
This documentary was directed by Mark Archer and it was originally born out of Mark’s interest in the journey behind IDLES’ music. In March 2017 he wrote to IDLES manager Mark Bent expressing his desire to make a short film highlighting their inspired 8 year journey culminating in the band’s biggest show to date – supporting The Maccabees at Alexander Palace. There was no idea at this stage the film would turn into what it became. In the same month, Sara Archer came on board to support the passion project by sourcing crew/equipment, budgeting, hosting interviews and beginning talks with potential distributors. Mark then met music photographer Lindsay Melbourne with an eye to include her photographs in the film, but Lindsay was to become much more involved, becoming one of the producers on the film and paved the path to an even bigger project….
During production IDLES found new success, breaking down walls with their first album Brutalism. Lindsay told Mark of the growing IDLES fan community ‘AF GANG’. As a result of Joe’s lyrics and his honesty on stage and in interviews, the AF GANG became a place where people would open up without judgement, quickly becoming an online support group to those that didn’t have one. It was a domino effect with IDLES leading the way publicly discussing mental health. The potential of IDLES’ growth, along with their community of fans excited the team and they committed to turning this short film into a full-length feature with IDLES and now the AF GANG at the centre of the story.
Throughout the production the film took many forms with multiple re-edits necessary, being the team’s first feature no stone was left unturned. The film was completed during quarantine in May 2020.
This film documents the band’s beginnings in Bristol and through their early releases (Welcome & Meat EPs) through to the release of the Brutalism and Joy as an act of Resistance LPs. From the opening shots of the film we see the intensity of IDLES shows. The love from the fans and the ever presence of artist, IDLES fan and gig fanatic Big Jeff.
Right from the start, the film’s editing and footage shows what an absolute roller-coaster it has been for the band and this is perfectly illustrated from footage of an angry exchange between Joe and a ‘fan’ in a 2015 gig. This anger soon turned into an absolutely incendiary version of ‘White Privilege’ and again, this perfectly illustrates the problems that the band are addressing, what they are dealing with and perfectly shows how the band reacts. From this unfortunate interaction, the documentary rewinds back to the start. We are introduced to the band members and memories of drinking in Bristol pubs The Golden Lion and The Old Duke. This section is a fascinating, sometimes hilarious, but ultimately tragic string of stories that tell how the original line up of the band met (including stories of Dev and Jon’s snoring) culminating in great early footage and interviews with original guitarist Andy Stewart. The documentary sensitively deals with the leaving of Stewart and the band’s subsequent feelings of loss.
Stewart remains a long term friend of the band and this perfectly illustrated the close knit community and open minded love affair that the band have with Bristol. After Stewart leaves, Lee arrives and the restart of the band and the post Welcome EP chapter of the band starts. After the release and shows played off the back of the Welcome EP where they were constantly told “you’re not right”, they released the Meat EP. Again, there were problems with acceptance and ‘bedding in’, in the local scene. This must have been particularly frustrating for the band at that time.
After the release of the Meat EP, and during the start of the recordings for Brutalism, Joe’s mum sadly dies. Shortly after, Dev’s mum dies and this is the point that these tragedies’ forged friendships that carry onto this day. The band produce the devastating track ‘Mother’ for the LP. Still dealing with the grief of the loss of Joe and Dev’s mothers, the band embark on a tour, but are plagued with self-doubt and ‘remaining true to one’s self’. The band are obviously still dealing with grief and the (OCD) related issues that come from touring with your mates and this all here for the viewer to see.
At the same time as this is all happening, the AF Gang are established. The AF Gang community immediately spreads exponentially and soon there are blogs, Facebook posts, etc. on mental health issues and this is all run entirely by fans of the band. 2017 sees the release of Brutalism and suddenly things change for the band. 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq gets involved and their inclusion on that year’s 6 music Festival is the turning point for the band. The Lamacq ‘Dentist story’ is suitable hilarious as it is integral to the bands trajectory! The film also lovingly documents both the writing and recoding process of the forthcoming Joy… LP.
The themes that are coming out of the new LP are the relationships with both one’s mother and father. The former in terms of love, affection and belonging. The latter in terms of manliness, gender and facing up to problems as a ‘man’. As well as these issues, the band also address identity, Brexit, xenophobia, Tory rule and Extinction Rebellion.
This new LP feels like a culmination and a chance to challenge all these issues and problems with a new found (and louder) voice. Members of the bands Life and Heavy Lungs feature heavily in this chapter in the bands life. In particular is Heavy Lungs frontman Danny Nedelko who moved to the UK from the Ukraine in his teens and is the eponymous subject of one of Joy…’s most treasured album (and subsequent live) songs. This message of acceptance of migrants, ‘foreigners’ and of course, Brexit is a massive theme in the LP and certainly reflects the tone of like-minded members of the UK post Brexit.
The release of Joy… sees the band touring America and their fanbase and number of followers go stratospheric. The footage from the tour shows band dynamics and the problems with living with each other in close quarters. But more than anything, the footage is great. It’s fun, frivolous and shows a band on the cusp of a greatness that they are the sole architect of. They deserve it.
The doc culminates in a very emotional performance at Glastonbury 2019 that really sealed the bands future.
What the doc shows more than anything is the importance of community, in particular the AF Group’s community. The AF Gang is a place to be who you want to be, when you want to be, without the fear of ridicule or judgement. The AF GANG is an online community of like minded souls, born from a thought of group founder Lindsay Melbourne in March 2017.
Meeting fellow fans at early IDLES gigs, conversation was had about creating a group that people could join and discuss their love of IDLES and talk about the gigs they had attended. Friendships were instantly formed as people quite naturally began to talk about more things than just this band they loved. The group quickly grew into something no-one saw coming and now boasts over 30,000 members worldwide.
It’s not wrong to say that this group has had and will continue to have the ability to change lives through the kindness and the love and support many of us need.
Don’t Go Gentle: A film about IDLES is a 75 minute feature film about finding strength in vulnerability. It journeys through the critically acclaimed Bristol band’s determination, friendship and adversity as they fight for a place in a divided socio-political environment, unexpectedly inspiring and unifying an international community along the way.
The makers have arranged 50+ screenings from 2nd July onwards across the UK. Be sure to come to at least one of these. You won’t be disappointed. All Is Love.
Review by Ioan Humphries