“Mushed like plankton against a concrete wall, glass rains down as the one swinging light bulb in squat dungeon shatters. Sixty people packed like cigarettes in blackness stumble over the band. Behind there’s a thundering BOOM as a fire-extinguisher crashes through a wall and the brickwork collapses into the kitchen. We tumble from the basement and out onto a deserted street begging for fresh air and beer. Its 4.30am, Tuesday morning, February 27 2007. Scary freakin’ carnage – and the most exciting moment of our year.
The instigators that night are Oxford’s Foals. Since that moment they’ve galloped all over 2007 with their iBot-pop. Accruing a rabid following, a reputation for arrive-setup-destroy house parties and an appealing willingness to speak their mind in the process.
“”Bands allowed me the confidence to do what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t listen to certain bands,”” puffs spokesman Yannis Philippakis an hour before his band play a typically raucous home-town gig. “”Even in 20 years when the world’s even more commercialised people will want to make pure music. That’s what we’re doing. The moment you lose that essence all you’re left with is a world with The Fratellis and a universe with The Teenagers.””
Straight out of the traps. Anyone who’s met or heard Yannis will know his words flash like strobe-lights from his mouth. His sentences – like his band Foals’ music – are impressively precise, slick and addictive.
“”It’s good that there’s honest and true bands like Battles out there. They’ve got morals and the confidence to say whatever they want,”” he grins like a lieutenant ready to wage war on shit music. Indeed, it is from the same school of pure that Foals evolve. Fans of the ethics of East-coast labels like Dischord but also unashamed lovers of German
techno, classical music, Senegalese guitar and modern pop. It is undoubtedly where their allure lies: the sex of Stefani and the integrity of Fugazi.
It began in spring 2006. “”We were childhood friends. Me and Jack (Bevan/drums) had been in The Edmund Fitzgerald (Oxford experimental sound terriers). Walter (Gervers/bass) and Jimmy (Smith/guitar) were best friends from school. I was working with Edwin (Congreave/samples) making unappreciative rich people cocktails,”” he breaths, pushing cigarette smoke into the chilly evening air. “”Every night when we
cleared up we’d listen to techno. Then one night we got drunk and asked Edwin to join the band, because we thought he was funny. He had a moustache at the time.””
It didn’t take long for Foals to inadvertently start riding a log-flume of hype. With a sound so unique it was inevitable. By November came a deal with reputable Brit-label Transgressive. Since then a series of packed tents, sold-out shows, stunning singles (‘Hummer’ and ‘Mathletics’) and a six-track live EP.
Even with Yannis’ ever-humble shield he can’t hide his exclamation. “”I think for five geeky kids who don’t have the right friends, who grew up listening to Q And Not U and Godspeed!… and not talking to girls and getting stoned, and not having any money – to get to the stage where we’re communicating to an audience this large and this varied, is
amazing.”” And it’s an appreciation that’s only growing outwards, namely due to their incredible live shows. The indelible image of Yannis’ unhinged footwork, Walter’s spine-doubling bass crunches, Jimmy’s crowd-foraging, Edwin’s refined stamping and Jack’s brain-curdling drumming.
Rewind a moment to the first time L&Q witnessed Foals, in the leafy sleep-urb of Hertford in September 2006. An almost out of body experience – an intense, danceable cross-breed of all of our favourite bands ever – Q And Not U, Bloc Party, Michael Jackson, Tony Allen – moulded into hybrid-funk. Calculator-rock with all the flabby indulgence cut away. We were just one of a handful of gobsmacked kids, so overwhelmed and clouded by excitement that we forgot our way home and ended up parking in Asda reaching for the inhaler. We couldn’t think straight. Foals have that effect.
Fourteen months on, and the intervening time has been a bluster of anarchic-gigs and hyperventilating interest from the music media. But they’re a group crystal clear in their vision.
“”The whole aim is to make a pop band reaction against what we perceive to be elitism”” explains Yannis, returning to the band’s influence and manifesto. “”As much as I love bands like Shellac, I find it claustrophobic and snooty, like the ethics override the sound sometimes. It’s like ‘this band are cool because they have the right ethical framework’ but what was coming out of the speakers was just bollocks. I like pop music, and I don’t see why anyone should ever be ashamed of liking anything.”” It’s an authentic balance the band has honed.
In the past six months they’ve stormed SXSW, CMJ and Reading and Leeds festivals like consecutive dominos, demolishing bedrooms, appearing on TV show Skins and splitting the beams of Truck Festival’s Barn Stage 10 different ways in the process. There’s a special band buried beneath the avalanche of justifiable hype.
“”The real highlight for us this year?”” muses Yannis, “”is us dealing with all this stuff and dealing with it with each other. We’ve become so much like a gang that it’s unreal. The fact that we haven’t got eaten up by the machine or let all this go over our heads or let all the criticism take us down, we still feel the same about ourselves.”” It’s true, they’ve rolled on like a five tracked armoured pop tank, defending themselves, their morals and their dreams against the corruptive forces of industry temptation and pressure. So far, they’re walking it.
“”I feel insecure about the way in which many bands get treated. But we’re like a big zebra carcass dying in the Serengeti with vultures circling, but can still operate a gun and pick them off.””
This is a confidence nurtured by a summer spent recording their as-yet-untitled debut album (due March ’08) in the urban swelter of New York with TV On The Radio’s founding guitarist and out-there super-producer Dave Sitek (YYYs/Liars/Scarlett Johansson). A man known to wander NY’s streets listening to the recordings of insects, and the man Foals desperately wanted.
It wasn’t just analogue keyboards, perverse sampling and brass Sitek provided but the coaching of a musical guru. “”He reinforced our beliefs and reassured us. Gave us the courage to see things in ourselves,”” says Yannis defiantly. “”The album’s less visceral than a live show, it’s less relentless. It’s a more subtle kind of a record that you can play at home. It’s like a dance record that’s not really a dance record.”” It’s an unshakable belief, which has seen them omit singles-so-far, ‘Mathletics’ and ‘Hummer’, from the album: a move indicative of their bravery.
True to form, it’s an album riddled with puzzles, not least Yannis’ struggle with being a young Greek man breathing in Britain’s commercial climate. “”I just find myself increasingly alienated from our culture. I find Western Europe, 21st century global communication, mass marketing, the commercialisation of everything utterly mind-fucking. I come from a place where they still have arranged marriages, they speak a Byzantine language and they still have the same traditions.””
This is perhaps the reason behind Yannis’ disdain for music made for the wrong reasons and his slanders on a certain Staines foursome. “”It’s probably better if I keep my mouth shut but I have to let it get out. What are these people going to do to me anyway?”” he grimaces. “”I’m just being honest – this is my opinion about bands like Hard-Fi and I don’t see why I need to put on this media-trained hat when I’m doing interviews.””
It’s honesty, there’s a lot of us not exactly counting the days to Kasabian’s third album. That’s not to say there isn’t exciting new music out there. I’m very excited about Great Eskimo Hoax. I’m going into the studio to produce them. We’ve got a string section. I haven’t been so excited about anyone for ages. As always, Cut Off Your Hands, Fuck Buttons, Charlottefield and Antibalas…””
It’s no coincidence these are all bands doing their own thing, because that’s exactly the type of band Foals are. They aren’t ball-players in anyone elses’ scene, they’re not punk, they’re not an insider’s joke. They are a challenging, fun, modest militia, armed with a bullet-proof conviction and a shovel to dig their own confounding pathway, where truth and honesty matters. “”I genuinely do not give a fuck about the money,”” smiles Yannis signing off. “”We’re not Peaches Geldof””.
A band to believe in, a band doing things for the right reasons, and, right at this second, front-runners in a field of one.