Idles' Mark Bowen: We enjoy the challenge of being underdogs at festivals
Idles guitarist Mark Bowen says he enjoys the challenge of being the “underdogs” at music events and sees the shows as opportunities to increase their fan-base.
The Bristol-based rockers are set to play their second weekend at the world-famous Coachella festival in southern California, a gig that was postponed due to the pandemic.
The band were just hitting their stride at the end of 2019, having played Glastonbury in June for the first time and being nominated for the Brit award for best breakthrough act.
A number of UK shows followed before the tour was halted by the pandemic which wreaked havoc on the live music industry.
But with restrictions all but lifted the band, consisting of Joe Talbot, Joe Talbot, Lee Kiernan, Adam Devonshire, Jon Beavis and Bowen, have returned to the road with a slew of shows across the states including their Coachella dates.
Bowen said the band were “very grateful” to be in the position to play the festival again, and had used the interim time to “knuckle down” and produce more material.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” he told the PA news agency, speaking from his tour bus ahead of the band’s show in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“We’re very grateful that we were in a position at the start of lockdown that we knew we would be able to come back and be in this position.
“We knew that we had been booked to play Coachella and likely that we would be booked to play again.
“So we knuckled down and worked hard and released two albums in the interim and to be able to play those albums live anywhere after the last two years is pretty great.”
Idles released their third studio album Ultra Mono in September 2020 and Crawler in November 2021, both to widespread critical acclaim.
Located in the Colorado desert, the Coachella festival has taken place this year over two weekends in April.
Bowen, who also works as a dentist, said his experience of the festival so far had been “cool and chaotic” and that playing there had been a “harder task than playing your standard rock festival”.
“I think we’re certainly the underdogs when it comes to culture,” he said.
“Coachella is such a wide palette of the music industry, it certainly has a lot of hip hop, a lot of dance, a lot of pop and we kind of skirt along the sides of those things and within the rock kind of realm.
“So it’s a harder task than playing like your standard rock festival or your indie festival… but we enjoy it, we enjoy that challenge.
“One of my favourite things at the festival is to pick up members of the crowd that are maybe experiencing your band for the first time and trying to win them over and horrify them in equal measure.
“It’s kind of the Idles way.”
The band appreciates that every venue and live show can be different, Bowen says, and is focused on giving its all to deliver a world-class performance every time.
“For us it’s more just about being the best live band we possibly can be and trying to be one of the best live bands in the world every time we go onstage,” he says.
“If we’re playing a festival, where we are not the kind of popular music at that festival, then that’s an opportunity to win people over and gain more fans.
“And if we’re playing a festival where it’s lots of our fans in attendance, then we’ve got an opportunity to blow their minds and celebrate together us getting there.
“Every night is its own thing. We (have) got to be as present as possible.”
He adds: “You just kind of pick up on the vibe of the room. There’s a transference of energy and a feedback loop created between us and the audience every night.
“It’s our job to start that off on as high and as honest an energy as possible.
“Then it’s a feedback loop from the audience from that point. We have no control over that other than being able to pick up on certain vibes in the crowd… and how to push it further.”
Despite the high tempo and energetic performances of their raw, Tory-bashing songs, Bowen says that offstage the band tries to look after themselves to make sure they are “firing on all cylinders” the moment they step on again.
“Our tours aren’t particularly crazy anymore. We’re kind of keep our head low,” he says.
“We have crazy times like yeah but, like, our shows are sick.
“We’re a sensible band, we try look after ourselves these days. Some of us are sober. Some of us aren’t.
“For us the most important thing is that we’re ready to fire on all cylinders, whenever we perform every night.”
The more toned-down approach applies to the guitarist himself too, who has been known to play shows in only his underwear, a practice which he admits he “doesn’t really do anymore.”
His motive, he says is that he “likes to rile people up,” including audience members and “cool bands.”
“It’s a blessing to be able to come over here and play shows we play,” he says.
“The audiences have been waiting to see you for two years, so we got to stay on top of that.”
Following their romp in the desert and the end of the US tour, Idles are due to return to the UK for another slot at Worthy Farm and a special charity hometown gig for War Child in Bristol.
The band also have their eyes set on producing a new record, though Bowen declines to comment on the details or timeline, saying that there is more “knuckling down” to be done.
“There’s always an idea of things but that changes constantly,” he says.
“What we’ve got to do is find the album, finish writing it and record it and then we’ll know when the timeline is a lot more clearly.
“But at the minute it’s knuckle down and write and work out what it is.”