Interview: Foals talk their incendiary live show: “I just want to get on stage and go fucking mental

Foals talk their incendiary live show: “I just want to get on stage and go fucking mental”

DIY catches up with Yannis from Foals at the end of a year that’s seen them cement their place at the top.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the world for Foals’ live show. On record, they’re impeccable, straddling their split personality with aplomb as they dabble in both introspective, beautiful and ambient soundscapes and huge, fire-starting crushers. Put them in front of an audience, though, and it smashes straight through the roof.

Their softer sounds more widescreen, their harder ones more menacing, Foals’ ambitions are never clearer than when they’re on-stage. Headline slots at every major festival are practically begging for them at this point - they’re tantilisingly close to taking the best live show in the world to crowds in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Make no mistake, 2016’s the year Foals firmly become the band of a generation.

With that in mind, and with Foals sitting pretty at #2 in The DIY List of the most exciting acts of 2015, we grabbed Yannis for a quick chat about everything that goes into that incomparable live show.

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How’s it been getting back to the nitty gritty with these intimate dates?

Yeah, it’s been awesome. It’s been great, it’s just felt really good to get out and start playing more of the new songs. Playing in the UK again has been awesome ‘cause this is the first set of shows we’ve done here in a while, since the record. Crowds have been beserk – it’s just what’s to be expected at the moment. It just feels really good.

How do they stack up to the bigger stages you’ve been playing in recent years?

Yeah, I mean they’re not that small – it’s not like we’re playing, like, The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. They’re just all… it’s very tangible, which is what’s nice, you feel like you can just connect to the crowd. It’s easy to get that connection – the atmosphere’s more contained and more ferocious in some ways, it’s been great.

Foals at The Wheatsheaf, Oxford (2007)

“The space is definitely secondary to the music and the atmosphere.”

Yannis Philippakis

You tend to mix up smaller and bigger shows quite a bit – is that important?

Generally – I guess so. I think it’s definitely nice to feel that there’s scope to play in different places. I don’t think that I would feel good about just playing bigger shows, or simultaneously I wouldn’t just want to be playing in toilet venues forever. It’s nice to be able to do a variety of different types of shows. To be honest, a lot of it’s just… we’ve got amazing crowds and amazing fans so sometimes the room becomes irrelevant as long as the vibe is good on the night. Just getting to play music wherever feels good – the space is definitely secondary to the music and to the atmosphere. As long as that’s there, I don’t really mind where we play.

You’ve done quite a lot of fairly high up slots at festivals now – obviously that’s a completely different atmosphere. Does it feel different, stepping onto a festival stage?

It’s usually sunnier! It depends where the festival is, I guess – depends where in the world it is. It’s kind of more of an unknown thing, it’s not something that is as surefire – there’s more of a challenge sometimes.

“I can see myself headlining Reading, or headlining any festival.”

Yannis Philippakis

You did your kinda ‘surprise’ set at Reading this year, how did that come about?

We were just asked if we wanted to do it and it seemed like it was a good time – the record was about to come out two days later and we love playing Reading and Leeds. We like to play as much as possible – I just want to get on stage and go fucking mental, so any excuse to do that… Particularly, we’re from England so playing here feels good and the longer we’ve been going, the more we appreciate what we’ve got going on. It’s home. Particularly a festival like Reading – it’s the one that was nearest to us growing up and it’s a great festival for us to play.

Can you see yourself in a headline slot there soon?

I can see myself in anything – I can see myself wearing a kimono, I can see myself flipping burgers, I can see myself headlining Reading, or headlining any festival. I’d be well up for it. I wouldn’t say no, y’know!

Are there any other bands as well that you think should maybe be given the chance to headline?

Yeah – I don’t know about Reading specifically, but I think there’s a crop of bands that have got to that level now, UK bands that are kinda on that level. Jamie T, The Maccabees, Alt-J… all of those bands are kind of at the level. I think it was good that Florence headlined Glastonbury, I thought that was mega – I think maybe in some way it’s only one step removed from her to The Maccabees or Jamie T. I think there’s a bunch of stuff that could do it.

How’s the new stuff fitting into the mix live?

Some of the new songs are more intense – a song like ‘What Went Down’, when we play that live at the moment that’s taking the roof off every night. It’s fun to have those extreme songs, but I like the fact that the set is a balance of all four records. It’s like a ‘best of’ set in some ways – it’s designed to have different bits in it. It’s not all one gear – it’s a three-dimensional set.

‘Hummer’ live at Alexandra Palace, February 2014

“We definitely like to keep ourselves on our toes”

Yannis Philippakis

‘Hummer’’s come back in a big way too.

We just thought it’d be a laugh to play it again, we haven’t played it again in a while. It’s a fun song to play and… we don’t want the setlist to get stale – you see some bands who do the exact same setlist for years on end. Ours definitely has a pattern that it follows and there’s similarities, but we definitely like to keep ourselves on our toes – you’ve gotta avoid the sets becoming too formulaic.

How do you find the balance?

I think that’s the strength of it – the fact that it can go from a heavy, y’know, a ripper, to something that’s more understated and more atmospheric. I think that’s part of what makes our show great.

Feels like a lot of it comes quite off-the-cuff, too.

Yeah – there’s bits of the set that we jam. We’re not overly rehearsed. You need to remember with rock ‘n’ roll not to overly rehearse it or overly choreograph it. Those are the shows that I used to like to see. Live music should be impulsive in many ways – if it wasn’t, it would just be stale. I would definitely say that our live shows are unpredictable and in the moment. It’s not like we go up with a scripted idea of what’s gonna happen.

You’ve tweeted in the past about ‘shady macho behaviour’ at gigs – was there any particular incident that brought that on?

I think there was a girl – I’d read something – that was complaining about how she’d been treated in one of the moshpits. I used to love moshing, and there’s an inherent aggression and violence to that type of thing that goes on at a show, particularly if it’s like a circle-pit type thing. I think there’s gotta be some common sense.

But I also have seen, not necessarily at our own shows but just over the years, people can get sucked into those things when they don’t really want to be, and I think that just having an element of compassion for people that are in the set and you can see if someone’s not enjoying it or feels threatened or feels like they’re getting hurt, then I think it’s a small thing to say, just to say ‘look out for whoever’s there’.

Particularly there’s an increasing awareness of maybe the fact that certain girls don’t get treated like they should. There’s some shady shit that goes on, and I don’t like to hear about it sometimes.

I’m by no means saying… I don’t want shows to be that thing where they don’t feel like they can go mental – I think that the beauty of a live rock show is the crowd feeling like it can be ecstatic, and at times that’s to do with a physical… that’s to do with moshing and that’s to do with circle pits and that’s to do with crowdsurfing. I’m all for that, but there just needs to be a balance between that and people just looking out for each other and not allowing jerk-off behaviour going on. There’s a difference between a mosh-pit and just groping somebody. I think that goes without saying.

But I also want to be measured about it, because I think there’s the political, kind of … I remember being younger and having tut-ers at the gigs who didn’t want people to go mad – they wanted everyone to behave like they were behaving because they wanted to just stand there and clap. I don’t think that’s fair either – there just needs to be an intuitive balance of how people behave at shows, which there is by and large; I think our crowds are great, I very rarely ever see anything go down where I’m like, ‘that’s not okay’, but I just thought on a general level it’s probably worth pointing out.

“You need to remember with rock ‘n’ roll not to overly rehearse it or overly choreograph it.”

Yannis Philippakis

What’s the plan for those big arena spaces, then?

The light show and stuff’s gonna be a lot bigger – we’re designing a bunch of stuff for that now so that’s gonna be exciting, to get to build on that and put some creativity into it and make it gobsmacking. Also just playing a longer set – we’re trying to find ways of extending the set out a bit more.

Any production surprises planned? Any pyro?

I don’t know if we’re gonna use pyro – I’m not gonna give it away, but we’re working on the light show cause it’s a bigger space. There’s more scope. We can’t bring certain types of lights into these venues that we’re playing at the moment so it’s a chance to do different ones and different shit later on.

Foals are number 2 in The DIY List - the definitive round-up of the most exciting artists of the year. Catch up with all that here.