AF Gang, the online community based around the music of IDLES, can be considered a genuine phenomenon. As the Bristol punk quintet found success in 2017 with their debut album ‘Brutalism’, a fiercely dedicated online following quickly blossomed around them. As the band gained further accolades with second album ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, the AF Gang quickly became almost as notorious as the band it was formed to discuss and idolise.
The group now sits at over 26,000 members, and as well as discussing all things IDLES, it’s flooded with hundreds of messages a day about struggling members looking for advice and comfort; as much as it’s a place to rave about IDLES, it’s also become a rapidly expanding mental health sounding board, and has become a vital part of many lives. New film Don’t Go Gentle, created by the AF Gang themselves, tracks the journey of the band, the community that runs alongside them, and how music can forge togetherness like little else.
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Tracking the band’s beginnings as a Maccabees-influenced indie-pop outfit, and then detailing how they became the chunky, furious beast we now know, the film features interviews with frontman Joe Talbot and co. containing the same openness that they’ve inspired in so many others. Frankly discussing the departure of original guitarist Andy Stewart due to anxiety-related issues, and how current guitarist Lee Kiernan joined a year after getting sober, it’s not hard to see why a band that conducts themselves with such vulnerability can evoke such devotion in others.
“We were constantly getting that, ‘You’re not right’,” Talbot remembers, from the time leading up to the release of ‘Brutalism’. “That’s the whole point of what we’re saying,” he added. “Everyone’s been told they’re not right, and we are fucking right because we’re being ourselves.”
Starting out at a point where indie bands “looked good but sounded boring,” as Talbot puts it, IDLES flipped that script entirely. Fast forward three years, and at their phenomenally well-attended Glastonbury set on the Park Stage in 2019, Joe told the crowd: “For a long time, we’ve been ignored and told that we were too fat, too old, too stupid, too ugly. Now we’re being told we’re too good, too nice. This song is a celebration of just how ugly, stupid and old we are.” It all centres around the band’s cast-iron motto, and a mantra they’ve converted many thousands to: “Love yourself.”
Joe describes the process of going through trauma and grief as “storing your nuts for winter – you’re getting rid of the shit people and collecting the good ones,” and this process of finding a community is told beautifully across Don’t Go Gentle – it’s a portrait of how honesty and openness can provide a new platform for your whole life to be built on.
“People just started opening up… they would tell me their life stories within two minutes of meeting them,” AF Gang co-founder Lindsay Melbourne says of creating the group. “It felt like I really needed to bring these people together,” she continues, and the message of the film is crystallised in its closing segment, which sees Talbot bawling his eyes out front and centre on stage at the aforementioned Glastonbury set, and being metaphorically held by thousands of warm, welcoming fans who have been brought together by the band.
Don’t Go Gentle hammers home some very worthwhile lessons: social media isn’t always toxic, there is room for community as well as division online, and bands can still change your life – this one in particular.
- Director: Mark Archer
- Starring: Joe Talbot, Mark Bowen, Adam Devonshire
- Release date: August 6 (VOD), July 2 (in UK cinemas)