"I would almost rather train for a marathon than tech for them one night": Idles and their producer on unleashing the unpredictable rig of effects and processors they built known as the Crawler Machine

Mark Bowen of Idles performs at Alcatraz on March 05, 2024 in Milan, Italy.
(Image credit: ergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images)

"It's a load of different effects, and there are noise generators, there's a lot of Mooger Fooger stuff on it and importantly there's an Electro-Harmonix loop station thing," explains guitarist Mark Bowen of Idles' new weapon of sonic chaos; the Crawler Machine.

It was birthed during the sessions of new album Tangk, and in an interview for the insightful Tape Notes series, Bowen, producer Kenny Beats and engineer Mikko Gordon from the Idles team explain how the beast was born. 

At the end of [2021 album] Crawler I had been just been using all this stuff to make weird production choices; put it on vocals, put it on bass, put it on drums, and my guitar tech Gavin was like, 'Right, you write down everything that happens and then I'm going to design something that makes it happen," explains Bowen. "So there's loads of expression pedals on the floor, there's loads of MIDI flying around that you can control certain things from, you can move quickly between effects."

Kenny Beats Top Gear Recommendations with Mark Bowen of IDLES and Sound Engineer Mikko Gordon - YouTube Kenny Beats Top Gear Recommendations with Mark Bowen of IDLES and Sound Engineer Mikko Gordon - YouTube
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What I needed was something that wasn't programmed, I needed something that was performative

Mark Bowen

The Crawler Machine wasn't designed as just a studio tool – it was made for the stage. "What I needed was something that wasn't programmed, I needed something that was performative, because if I'm gonna be stood still onstage at an Idles stage, it needs to have some kind of performance to it. It can't just be me just pressing a few buttons. So it becomes this very expressive thing – it's got these big knobs, I can move things around… you play it."

 And it isn't fully house-trained. 

"It's also very unpredictable – in a great way," adds Gordon. Bowen admits it's also a "nightmare" for gain staging. 

"It jumps, left right… our monitor engineers cries every night," adds the guitarist.

"I would almost rather train for a marathon than tech for them one night," adds producer Kenny Beats.  "I think Dev [Idles bassist Adam Devonshire] is doing seven basses a set now, it's unreal.

It's about the idea – it's about the feeling

Kenny Beats

"But this is why these guys are my favourite people to work with ever and why this record was such a pleasure. There's never a no, there's never a 'we can't', there's never an excuse of, 'I haven't done this' or 'I don't know how'. They just go… some of the chords and layering on Tangk are the most lush they've ever been but it's not about that, it's about the idea – it's about the feeling. It's about so much more than that."

"Sometimes it's not about more notes, or more musicianship, more effects or more anything, it's about how you get that feeling across," adds Kenny. "And they come up with the most insane ways to first describe that feeling to you, then once you get it, you believe it forever."

Check out more video clips released from the interview below and listen to the full podcast above. 

Why Joe Talbot Only Writes At The Mic | IDLES Creative Process ft. Kenny Beats & Mikko Gordon - YouTube Why Joe Talbot Only Writes At The Mic | IDLES Creative Process ft. Kenny Beats & Mikko Gordon - YouTube
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Why You Should Always Trust The Demo | IDLES & Kenny Beats - YouTube Why You Should Always Trust The Demo | IDLES & Kenny Beats - YouTube
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How a Moment of Nigel Godrich Magic Gave Birth to IDLES' New Album TANGK ft. Kenny Beats - YouTube How a Moment of Nigel Godrich Magic Gave Birth to IDLES' New Album TANGK ft. Kenny Beats - YouTube
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Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.