Cover feature Foals: Four horsemen of the apocalypse
Two albums. One year. Nothing left to prove. And yet here stand Foals, taking risks and blowing apart expectations with the most potent and pertinent material of their career.
It’s 2006 and Foals - five barely-twenty-something Oxford boys with a keen line in itchy math rock and heavy fringes - are playing their first shows, turning a series of now-legendary house parties into feral, incendiary pits of sweat and excitement.
Fast forward a decade to Summer 2016, and the same five men – now with four Top 10 albums, two Mercury Prize nods and countless headlines declaring them the most urgent, visceral guitar band of their generation under their belts – are stepping out onto the stage at Reading and Leeds Festival as headliners, ready to smash through the final barrier into the most exclusive of musical clubs, the one reserved for the upper percentile of Very Big Bands.
It’s a trajectory that few, least of all Foals themselves, could have predicted. “No way did we think we’d make it to this point,” laughs guitarist Jimmy Smith at the idea. “[Back then] it was more like, are we going to make it through the next two weeks? Just convinced that something would shatter the dream.” But they did make it through the next two weeks, and then a couple more, and now Foals – completed by frontman Yannis Philippakis, drummer Jack Bevan and keyboardist Edwin Congreave - are standing on the precipice of the next stage. They’re a player down following the departure of bassist Walter Gervers, who left amicably to concentrate on more wholesome family pursuits, but somehow they’re still bucking expectation like the gloriously contrary fuckers they’ve always been.
“Does it sound like we’ve mellowed?” snorts Yannis, at the idea that time or success might have cooled the fire that’s always sat at the heart of the Oxford band and kept them constantly changing, constantly flicking two fingers at the traditional paths of the mainstream but inadvertently ruling it anyway. And no, of course it doesn’t. Because at a junction where most bands of their size fall either by the wayside or perilously into their comfort zones, Foals have returned with not one, but two new albums – ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ and its forthcoming, imminent follow-up - filled with some of the most adventurous music that they’ve ever created.
It could very feasibly be the phase of their careers that pushes them into the very top bracket, the one where you headline Glastonbury and etch your name even deeper into the history books. But Yannis couldn’t really give a shit about that. “I think the record is a testament to that [lack of careerist thought],” he nods. “We haven’t made a straight forward record. That wasn’t the concern. We wanted to have a more wildly creative experience and experiment more, take more time over the music, really try and push ourselves to make a record that we would feel was the defining expression of the band, where in 20 years time we’d look back and hopefully it would be our favourite. And then we ended up with two.”
As featured in the March 2019 issue of DIY, out now.