What Australian Punk Can Learn From IDLES

Punk rock is a term slapped on anything these days with a slightly over driven guitar and riffs a notch too heavy for the classic rock station.  It’s also a genre littered with sub-genres, some terms often so rubbish they belong on the War on Waste.  Electropunk, crust punk, anarcho punk, dance-punk, art-punk.  Punk was more than a genre of music in the mid70s to early80s.  It was a movement, a counter-culture, one that challenged the culture of the day.  Though stylistically different, I like to think of Folk and Punk to be in a similar vein.  The great folk poets of yesteryear tested the listener, urging them to challenge the norm with a basic four chord progression.  Punk did the same, urging its audience to think differently or stand up for something they believed in, with a basic four chord progression, only a little faster and a lot heavier.  The themes of world change and citizenship heard in The Times They Are A Changing and Blowin In The Wind can be seen in The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash.  God Save The Queen’s sympathetic view of the working class rather than its hierarchy is seen in Johnny Cash’s music, Neil Young and Tracey Chapman.  Punk and folk have always had strong political foundations, whether it’s a protest song or an anthem for an anarchist movement.  But it’s something lacking in the modern punk bands of 2018/2019.  Especially in Australia. Popular (male) punk bands sing about smoko, about who’s got weed, or how depressed they are because their girlfriend broke up with them.  I saw a shimmer of hope back in 2015 with The Smith Street Band’s anti Tony Abbott anthem Wipe That Shit Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face, but nothing has really resurfaced since.  Local band Good Boy are doing a decent job with some semi-political lyrics in their latest singles, but it’s not enough.  British punk band IDLES on the other hand, are a beacon of shining light, projecting a heavenly aura down upon us with their political and socially relevant lyrics, catchy hooks and mosh-worthy riffs.  Their 2018 single Danny Nedelko is one of the best punk tracks of the last decade.  It’s an important track about refugees, acceptance and compassion.  It’s the punk equivalent of Woody Guthrie’s 1940 folk classic, This Land Is Your Land.

In today’s era of wall building and Brexiting, of hate speech and struggle for acceptance, Danny Nedelko is an anthem to challenge the world’s current climate.  Written for lead singer of Heavy Lungs, of which the title takes his name, Danny Nedelko is an ode to IDLES’ friend, a Ukrainian refugee.  “My blood brother is an immigrant, a beautiful immigrant,” lead singer Joe Talbot bellows.  [Heavy Lungs would reciprocate the single with their own, an ode to Talbot: Blood Brother.]  “My best friend is an alien, my best friend is a citizen. He’s strong, he’s earnest, he’s innocent,” Talbot continues in the second verse.  But it’s the pre-chorus and chorus that prove Danny Nedelko to be the compassionate anthem of acceptance, not unlike This Land Is Your Land.

He’s made of bones, he’s made of blood
He’s made of flesh, he’s made of love
He’s made of you, he’s made of me

Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain
Pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate

Now sing it to the tune of This Land Is Your Land.

IDLES’ chorus lends itself to classic punk tropes, in a pub war cry chant that is both quintessentially English and punk-rock.  It’s simple chord progress in the chorus feels straight out of The Clash’s back catalogue.  The band have taken from punk’s roots, using the chant-like chorus to emphasise their message.  It’s unlike IDLES’ previous singles that are more hardcore punk in nature, showing the deliberate attempt to make Danny Nedelko something to cheer and scream in solidarity.  It’s a political punk anthem, something rarely seen amongst the paint by numbers punk tracks that litter the internet.  Thanks pop-punk.  In our heightened political climate, more tracks should be uniting people, more tracks should be challenging the status quo.  I just think that punk music is the perfect avenue to do so. 

Punk bands should learn from IDLES, who’ve taken what their contemporaries did in the 70s and 80s and transformed it for a modern audience.  Australian punk should learn from IDLES.  Drop the meme rapport and weed anthems.  It’s getting old. I think it’s important to consider, especially as British MPs voted on the proposed Brexit deal today.  And as the US Government is still in lock down.  And as the Australian parliament hasn’t had a consistent Prime Minister since 2007 and struggles with its own political crisis whether it’s on St Kilda’s beaches or in the Kimberley.  There’s some shit going down in the world, I’m just glad IDLES are at the helm. 

Luckily IDLES grace the shores of Australia next week and hit Brisbane on Australia Day no less. 

For tickets and information click here https://www.livenation.com.au/artist/idles-tickets

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