Go Big or Go Home
This Newfoundland Reggae Troupe Wants To Make You Move
In a decade where independent bands are finding ways to scale back the size of their live show, Idlers thrive on their traveling caravan work ethic. The Newfoundland reggae band hits the stage with an ensemble ranging from 8 to 11 members, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t know how the two or three-piece bands do it,” said tenor saxophonist Chris Harnett. “They must really have close quarters after a while. At least with eight of us there’s some breathin’ room.”
Harnett, along with his good-time-seeking partners in skank, travels in a 15-passenger van that he described jokingly as “a big green beast.” The band has been on the road since the start of February, crossing the country to share their must-dance brand of high-octane grooves with the help of their province and Exclaim! magazine.
“The tour’s been amazing, we did a whole bunch of sold out shows on the West Coast and we’re about to start on the next leg of the tour,” said Harnett. “We’ve been skiing, driving through the mountains, and meeting a whole bunch of amazing people.”
Distance is no obstacle for the Idlers. They love the road, and are known to travel for days to reach their next gig.
“We went 84 hours once from St. John’s to Saskatoon nonstop; we’ll do what we gotta do to get to the next show,” said Harnett. “Last year we did a cross-country tour, we played Thunder Bay and packed up after the show and headed to Sarnia, which is about an 18 hour drive.”
Idlers hold true to reggae’s tradition of being politically charged, using their songs to build a sense of community against the violent and selfish acts of those with power. Sounds first heard on an island nearly 4,000 km away from the Canadian extremity fit just as well in this northern home.
“We’re not afraid to make political statements in the music or art,” said Harnett. “A lot of anti-capitalist sentiment, unease with the way that the world is being controlled by the powers that be, if I was going to sum it up in a general way I suppose.”
And the political sentiment isn’t going anywhere; the band has a host of new material that they’ll lay down in a studio later this year. With enough members to form three conventional bands, recording away from home is the best way to yield work free from distraction.
“Recording [debut LP Keep Out in New York] taught us that we wanted to record off the island, or at least out of our hometown,” said Harnett. “It’s your whole world for the time that you’re there… when you’re home things come up. You have to go to mum’s house for supper on Sunday, life gets in the way.
“When you all are totally immersed in the album for two or three weeks it makes things a lot more creative,” he continued. “It’s your whole life for that time.”
This new material shows the band growing into more than just a reggae band. In Idler’s fifth year of existence they have expanded their sound to incorporate influences from across the board, with the intent to keep people dancing and happy.
“We’re kind of at a crossroads in trying to define ourselves because our influences have become broader,” said Harnett. “Reggae and ska are definitely main ones, but it’s broadening as we mature as a band. We’re still trying to come up with a name for it; there’s really aggressive rock stuff, klezmer, afrobeat, stuff to make you move.”
And that’s where the beauty lies in Idlers’ music. It compels you to dance, to sing, to become part of something bigger—at least for the length of their concert. Few genres have the kind of live energy that the reggae/ska sound brings, and Idlers will keep sharing theirs as long as they have the breath to blow their horns.
“We want good vibes, happiness—maybe they sweat off a few pounds at the show,” said Harnett. “We get sweaty, and we can’t do it alone. Community is huge to us—I mean, we are a moving community.”
Idlers / Il Motore / 179 Jean-Talon St. / Sunday, March 27 / 8:30 p.m. / with Beaver Sheppard / $10