Oh shit, that’s a beautiful sculpture – says Joe Talbot on our way to the table, where he’s supposed to give us an interview. He stops for a while to admire one of many works of art in Valley of Three Ponds, where Off Festival takes place. Few moments later he tells us if Off is better than Primavera, why bands like his Idles are getting popular at the moment and why he prefers festivals over clubs. He’s amazingly nice and smiles a lot – as opposite to what we’ll see two hours later at his bands concert. Aggressive and relentless Idles show is considered the best gig of the whole festival by many, many people.
You’re here for, like, half hour, I guess. What are your first impressions from Poland and especially Off Festival?
I can’t say anything about Poland, because I haven’t seen anything. But I love this place. The setting is beautiful – lakes, all the families swimming in the lakes. It’s beautiful. And woodland setting is perfect. I wanna live in the cabin when I’m older.
In the woods?
Yeah. As far away from my girlfriend as possible. I wanna build a small, modernist cabin in the woods. Maybe in Poland. This is beautiful. And it’s probably about the same price as in England now, post-brexit.
Have you heard anything about Off Festival before you came here?
Yeah. Of course. Mainly that there is a beautiful setting and the lineup is always amazing. And this year it’s the best I’ve seen. Maybe Primavera is a close second, but this is the best lineup I’ve ever seen.
Usually when you come here, you know couple bands, but the rest of the lineup is, like, „Okay, it’s probably good, but I have no idea what it is”. So if you could invite here some bands, that you think are good and yet to be known, which bands would it be?
Good one! I’m really bad at remembering things, so I’m gonna look at my phone if you don’t mind. There are always fuckin’ good bands to talk about. I’ve made a list for radio. There’s a band based in Berlin, called PLATTENBAU. Fuckin’ amazing, amazing album! VULK from Bilbao. Amazing band. LESS WIN from Denmark, I believe. They’re good. And british bands – you’ve got our friends – Shame, LIFE, LICE, Bad Vibes, St. Pierre Snake Invasion – really great band, Spectres… I probably forgot loads of bands, but that would be enough, right?
Yeah! Are you a little bit nervous? Have you heard something about polish audience?
Really? Bands always say – maybe just because they want to be nice – that they’ve heard that polish audience is crazy.
No. I mean, most of my colleagues in Britain are polish. In Bristol we have, like, the oldest polish community in UK, so there are many people from Poland there. They didn’t mention anything. I haven’t heard anything good or bad. I think, no matter where you are in the world, your music shapes your audience. I think when you play this sort of music [Joe points at the main stage where Ulrika Spacek is playing – red.], people gonna nob their head.
If you’re fuckin’ thrust out your music, you ignite anger and you ignite joy in a vigorous way, your audience gonna be vigorous, like ours. I think your audience is what you make it – doesn’t matter where they’re from. I think that polish and chinese audience reacts the same way to Feist and the same way to Idles. But all the Poles i know are great, so I guess it will be cool [laughs].
What is the last thought you have before going on stage?
Nothing. The idea of my performance is to not think. I normally walk back and forth on the stage to try and understand in my head the perimeters of the stage, so I don’t have to think where I am. So I walk back and forth to get my boundaries and then I switch off. Because when I think, I forget my lyrics and get nervous. Don’t build the mountain before you climb the mountain.
You mentioned that Shame are your friends.
Yeah. We’re kinda on the same tour circuit in Europe. We’ve just bumped on them on the airport and I was like „fuckin’ hell” [Laughs]
Idles are a popular band now. Shame are getting popular as well. The same with i.e. Cabbage and other bands that has the same lyrical and musical vibe as yours. And it’s not only in UK, but also in continental Europe. What do you think is the reason behind it? Why now?
I don’t know in Europe. I can’t tell you. Maybe it’s because the politics in the UK? And in UK the bands like Cabbage, LICE, LIFE, Shame, Idles…
Less Slaves, they’re massive already.
Fat White Family?
Exactly. They kinda started it off. And Sleaford Mods obviously. All those bands are lyrically conscious and are a lot more agressive in their approach musically. And I think our government is polarized and there are a lot of tensions, political tensions about what the left and the right are. When there’s more money, people aren’t so worried about whether they’re right or left-wing. They are just comfortable and happy – going to their job, get pissed on the weekend.
But when there’s less money, there’s more to fight for. The politicians have to fight for what they are – right and left-wing – and obviously the people who vote, have to fight for what they believe in. In this moment the bands like ours, are singing about what the people are interested in, so we’ve kinda got a new platform of consciousness to work with. There are a lot of tensions. Obviously Brexit – it’s the worst thing that happened to us in my lifetime – since Margaret Thatcher. This is really bad. And we know it. But the press and the government are like „naaaah” and we’re like „what the fuck are you doing?”. It’s insane. It’s not stupid. It’s madness. It’s really scary. So people are a lot more conscious of what’s going on and our music is a lot more interesting because of it. The same in continental Europe – there’s Spain, there’s France – if Le Pen would win, that would be the country going back 20 years. That’s fucked. People don’t want to sing and dance and listen to music about „Oh, let’s go out and have a good time” when their country is falling apart.
So, it’s like in the 80s?
Yeah, and 70s. 90s were economically bloated, so everyone relaxed a bit. Now there’s more to talk about. It’s scary.
Could you tell us more about the Bristol scene? Bristol seems like an artistic town – not only musically. Do you feel obligated to be a good band, because the place you’re from?
No. I’ll tell you why. I think in 2010 they did a study and they found out that there are more musicians per square meter in Bristol than the rest of Europe. I mean, you go to London and there are bands everywhere. And they’re all shit. Maybe not all, but… When we started out, we weren’t very good. We played in London and around the UK and a lot of bands were shit. We knew we had to get better to be successful – to play in Poland, France etc. There’s an oversaturation of musicians in Bristol, but what Bristol has, in contrast to London or Manchester, is that there’s a real community spirit in Bristol.
You don’t have to be all the same genre to have a scene. We play gigs and we watch other bands. Our scene is built on lot of different genres and there are people who want to have a good time. It’s a liberal and left-wing town, so there’s more acceptance and understanding to just coexist and have fun. Everyone goes there because you don’t have to be the best and you don’t have to be, like, a noise rock band. You can be whoever you want to be. And it’s fun. It’s a very beautiful place. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there and there’s a lot of bad stuff going on there. Lots of shit music as well, but that’s the same everywhere. It’s the people who make it good. It’s a very accepting, open-minded, liberal place to be. That’s cool.
Do you know each other? And do you feel influenced by bands like Portishead or Massive Attack?
Yeah, because it’s not about the music – it’s about the ethic. Geoff Burrows [of Portishead and Beak> – red.] is playing here. I see him more in Europe now than in Bristol. Which is pretty fuckin’ cool, by the way [Laughs]. He was the biggest thing from Bristol for me, before I started. And his involvement in Portishead was massive. We chat from time to time and there’s the same political understanding and the same approach to music and art. Just working very hard, doing what you love, and not giving into financial wants and needs. That’s what the most people in Bristol are about. It’s not about your genre or who you were. It’s about what you love.
The DIY approach? You’re known for being a DIY band.
Yeah. That’s because no labels from London come to see us in Bristol. If you’re an artist from Bristol, you have to go to London, if you want to get signed. Which is fucked. I mean, London is a great place, but not to live unless you’re rich.
Yet there are more and more well known bands from the smaller towns these days.
The record labels don’t have as much money to hand out to bands as they had 10 – 15 years ago, when the bands were getting 50 – 400 thousand pounds advance to make an album and tour. Now it’s 10 thousand and you have to pay that back. People realised that with the internet and technology and with attitude towards money in music and art, there’s a lot of scope of opportunity to do it yourself. It’s easy. We’ve done it ourselves. We paid for it ourselves from playing, touring, playing, playing, playing. We’ve put it all back into the band and now we’re here. And that’s not from a record label or handouts. Not that there’s anything wrong with getting signed. If it works for you – that’s great, but it’s a lot harder to see the good in having a label take 50% from everything you work hard for. If you can get away doing it yourself, why would you borrow money from them? Especially in England – the pound is worth a lot less. It’s hard to explain, but you would know, because it’s similar in all countries with right-wing government. There’s just no money for art. There’s no money for music. You have to do it yourself. It’s cool. You just have to work hard. And I know that polish people work hard [Laughs].
You said, you were terrible at the begging. We’ve heard your first EP – it’s totally different than your latest work, but still very good. You don’t like it?
It’s a good EP and I like it, but that’s not our music anymore. We were writing a lot of music at the time and these were the best four songs from, like, a lot. And also we were really shit live and our live performances are the most important thing to us. So, what’s on the record is good and we love it, but we weren’t good live. It’s about practice, practice, practice. And we’ve done that now. That’s what I meant when I said we were shit.
Do you prefer playing festivals or small, intimate gigs in clubs? What’s better?
What’s better? Festivals, because of the food! [Laughs] It’s different. I mean, we’re used to playing small venues – rooms filled with people, hot, sweaty, no natural light. And we love that. And our music kinda suits that – you know, insular, wounded, kinda intense situation. So we love that. And we’re good at that now. And playing a festival stage is like a new animal. And we’re learning. I think I prefer it as a challenge. I don’t want to get bored or lazy. For me it’s better. It’s harder, a lot harder, because you don’t have anything to go by apart your music. You lie naked in a way. Festivals are better and the food is better.
And because we’re on a festival, we have to ask you about some festival do’s and don’ts. Do you have any tips for festival goers?
Do ecstasy, don’t do coke! [Laughs]
What was the last concert you saw?
I don’t remember! [Wonders for long] Ok! Protomartyr!
And the last album you’ve heard?
Oh, I have to check my phone. Sorry, it’s all the drugs I’ve taken over the years. Not anymore, but I still have trouble remembering things [Laughs] Oh, yeah! „Peasant” by Richard Dawson.
Oh! He’s playing here tomorrow.
Really? He’s amazing! And for me, he’s better live. Very intense!
The next band we’re going to interview is Shame. Do you have any question, you would like to ask them?
Yeah! I’m thinking of something good… Nah. Just ask them, when their album is coming out. And if they would do a split vinyl with us.
Agata Hudomięt & Krzysztof Sarosiek