Hall of Fame: From house parties to huge arenas: Foals’ live beginnings

From house parties to huge arenas: Foals’ live beginnings

Henry Boon takes a look back at the house parties that fuelled Foals’ debut album ‘Antidotes’ and shaped their later live shows.

The ‘Antidotes’ era of Foals lives in legend, a legend backed up only by grainy camera phone footage and that rumor going round via somebody’s sister’s friend’s brother that Yannis once jumped off the roof of some Oxford suburb while simultaneously improvising the opening riff of ‘Cassius’ for the first time. Foals didn’t make their name grafting through empty pub shows and support slots. With ‘Antidotes’ as their mantra Foals took the wild, unencumbered ethos of their debut and applied it to their live setting. Turning up at the trendiest, most out of control house parties Oxford – and before long the rest of the UK - had to offer, Foals stormed through a few genre-defining early cuts, trashed the place and left. Maybe it’s the lack of documented evidence that these shows even actually happened, or maybe it’s just because Foals know how to have a better time than the cast of Skins at Disneyland but ‘Antidotes’ has become synonymous with these early shows. It’s popular consensus that no one ever has nor ever will incite beer swilling, chandelier swinging house party mayhem quite like Foals.

Starting out amongst friends who gave Foals their first ever show in a suburban basement - reportedly roughly half the room were paying attention to the live premiere of tracks like the Andy Roddick bashing ‘The French Open’ and now-stadium-closer ‘Two Steps Twice’ - Foals’ early days were not a great deal more than the background noise to Oxford teenagers getting pissed on their parents poorly guarded spirits cupboard. This didn’t last though. Word began to spread as Foals gained in confidence and popularity. Their house parties began to get more and more manic. Before long youngsters with a free house for the weekend were sending in Myspace (yep, Myspace) requests from all over the country. Some induced the kind of fridge-diving mayhem that left guitarist Jimmy Smith missing a front tooth from having his own guitar rammed into his face. More subdued early shows saw the band play a full set to three kids, their Mum and a fuck-off bowl of tuna pasta (perhaps Foals’ first ever rider).

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Yannis and co. treat even their biggest shows with the same mentality they did all those years ago.

Considering the irresponsible levels of chaos Foals were prompting, it was unsurprising when everybody’s favourite ‘shut-up mum you just don’t get it’ drugs, sex and booze-fest Skins got involved and enlisted Foals for one of their unattainably wild ‘secret house party’ mini episodes. With Foals at the helm, Skins (which, don’t forget, was actually considered kind of cool back in the day) gave the house party scene of early 2000’s youth the push it needed to spread away from major cities and into every middle-class suburb with a TV set, nice houses, and parents who holiday a lot.

Chances are most people never went to a party with a band of Foals’ caliber destroying the kitchen. Every teenager has surely crammed themselves into the hallway of someone they vaguely knew from school’s house, though, ready to make merriment with a plastic bottle full of some horrible, self-invented cocktail. However out-of-control these parties actually were, almost everyone who was in their teens during this period has fond memories of something of this ilk. It was certainly a damn sight better than necking two litres of White Lightning up the park, throwing up, then getting too cold and going home. This, we have Foals to thank for.

Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to attribute every house party of the last decade to Foals, because there were certainly others that set about continuing what the Oxford band started. From the semi-legendary Jen Long kitchen parties of Cardiff circa 2010, to the likes of Gnarwolves and God Damn still inducing difficult-to-clean-out stains in houses up and down the UK today, house party shows always have, and still do, happen. There’s no doubt that there’s something special about seeing Palma Violets and Childhood crammed into a kitchen in Lenton or Tubelord crowdsurfing down a Cardiff hallway in pig masks. Meanwhile half-house-half-venue ventures like Peckham’s Astbury Castle are able to create a house party aesthetic in a world where social media allows word to travel, and parties to become over crowded a little faster than in the days where the MSN nudge feature was the only way to get people’s attention. The difference however is that these are house party shows, not house parties.

The house parties couldn’t continue as Foals began to reach fame outside of the party circuit. Foals never wanted people there to come to see them, they just wanted people to be able to party like they were Nicholas Hoult for the night and as word began to spread this started to become more difficult. So as the wild, limitless madness of ‘Antidotes’ became the clean, assured sonics of ‘Total Life Forever,’ so did the live structure. The natural progression of Foals from rough round the edges, genre-bending rag-tag youths to the highly polished, artistically immaculate band we know today ran in parallel with their live shows. Foals moved out of the basements and onto some of the biggest stages the world over.

So Foals no longer play house parties, this is something we all have to accept. Chances are if you try to hit them up on Myspace you’ll just end up chatting to Justin Timberlake about the future of social media. No matter how much tuna pasta you bake for Yannis, it’s likely you’ll be eating alone. That’s not to say Foals have forgotten their roots. Though it’s near impossible for them to play another house party unless they can find a house where nobody minds if the walls burst, the spirit of those first shows, and of ‘Antidotes’, lives on in Foals live today. Sure, Alexandra Palace and the Reading main stage hold a few more people than basements, but the most important thing is still there, the fun. In much the same way that the brilliantly naive insanity of ‘Antidotes’ can still be heard flexing its mighty muscles underneath ‘Total Life Forever’ and ‘Holy Fire’s relative maturity, Yannis and co. treat even their biggest shows with the same mentality they did all those years ago. Jimmy will still happily abandon his guitar to run off into the crowd because he saw his mate, Yannis is still climbing anything and everything he can find that will raise him just a little higher off the ground, and Foals still do their ‘dance ritual’ (just them dancing around like dicks to weird music) before shows, too.

It’s the lifeblood of ‘Antidotes’ still coursing through Foals’ veins that makes any live date, on any stage a wild house party.

There are endless stories about later Foals shows that could draw parallels to those early days. Early post-house party shows were quick to show their intent. Back in 2008, Foals gatecrashed an Iglu & Hartley show, carting a few lucky fans around the corner to another venue at which DIY reported “‘Electric Bloom’ seemed to spark something inside Yannis that had been waiting all night to explode as he tried his luck at launching a drum and his mic stand in the crowd, went climbing, kicked his guitar stack over and then went for the drum kit and the bassist’s stack without any luck before deciding to leave at pace through the crowd.” Later in their career, rather than putting residents in the Oxford’s Cowley Road area on alert, Foals went on to put the entire West Coast of America on alert instead after a particularly raucous Vancouver show at which Yannis kicked a security guard in the head. Oh, and Jimmy threw up on stage, before the whole gang engaged in a spitting contest, on each other. It’s something of an urban legend that - like the indie Gremlins they are - you should never let Foals play too near to water unless you want said body of water full of naked, wasted youth, and a hangover filled with pool-draining duties. It’s probably best to never feed Foals after midnight either, just to be on the safe side.

Foals have often likened the feeling of performing live to a feeling of possession, like something is controlling them, something bigger than them. Yannis describes Reading 2011 in frank terms; “it basically felt like we were being possessed by the devil”. A lot of the time Foals have very little memory of the gigs themselves; “apparently we kicked a guy in the head” is all Yannis can muster when talking about the legendary Vancouver show. Admittedly they say these things with a cheeky grin and it’s quite possible this feeling is more akin to their pre- show diet of several vodka-Red Bulls than any higher power, but either way the mental state Foals get themselves into for each and every show harks back to their house party days. The reason Foals live is such a special experience is because for them it’s no different to playing a house party. Along with vodka-red bull and lord knows what else it’s the lifeblood of ‘Antidotes’ still coursing through Foals’ veins that makes any live date, on any stage a wild house party at its core. Even with every eye on them, on some of the biggest stages the world has to offer, as far as they’re concerned they’re still just in a corner of some jam-packed house, a little bit tipsy and looking to make sure everybody has the night of their lives.

For DIY’s full Hall of Fame coverage on Foals’ ‘Antidotes’, head here.