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- Foals »
Upon entering Bar Music Hall there is some doubt as to whether we have come to the right venue: it seems like the sort of place where second division footballers come to ‘get their end away’. After some enquiry we ascertain that Foals are due to be onstage at 12:00. Their webpage said 11, and the realisation is dawning that we are going to be forced to spend an hour and a half in this odious establishment. Horrifically bouncy house music bludgeons us with waves of enforced jollity and prevents us from talking as we sit festering in a corner, overpriced beers in hand, watching the revellers make embarrassing passes at each other.
By the time Foals take to the stage we’re just about ready to have our souls saved from this onslaught and our senses wiped clean. “We’re going back to Oxford tomorrow,” announces guitarist and vocalist Yannis; “Does anyone need a lift?” The crowd at the front are clearly followers, and they start to writhe and jump as an infectious groove takes hold. Raw guitars drag razor-sharp, hocketing figures over offbeat drums as the basslines drive forward and Yannis delivers a vocal somewhere between singing, shouting and chanting.
As the set progresses, it becomes apparent that the cohesive nature of the sound from track to track possibly comes at the expense of some variety. However, it does serve to heighten the overall impact: their early recordings seemed to recall the meandering, interwoven guitar textures of Yannis’ previous band The Edmund Fitzgerald, but the new material puts everything at the behest of the heavily-syncopated, driving rhythm. This music is made to inspire movement, and soon I find myself swaying in time as the semicircle of dancers widens and absorbs me. The band members jitter as they play, as if operated by a puppeteer with Parkinson’s, and their obvious enthusiasm helps to win over an increasing proportion of the crowd.
Every review I’ve read of Foals seems to equate them to a more danceable version of Battles. I can hear the parallels, although the drawn-out Steve Reich-esque cycling passages so characteristic of Battles’ work are absent from the Foals sound. Much is also made of the band’s supposed German techno influences, but in practice this reference seems to be rather arbitrary: there’s none of the glacial precision which makes the music of labels such as Kompakt, Sleeparchive and Trapez so distinctive. I prefer the snake-hipped, syncopated whirl of Fela Kuti’s African funk style as a rhythmic reference point, while the interlocking guitar and synth parts are reminiscent for me of the chiming guitars featured in the Kwassa Kwassa style of energetic Congolese dance music.
Possibly because it is bookended by the insistent, endlessly-plodding house ‘choons’, tonight’s set seems brief: it ends suddenly and I’m left wanting more. Although I feel Foals haven’t quite justified the evangelical hype ladled on them by some, this performance has shown that they clearly know how to simultaneously scramble brains and get feet shuffling. I’m not feeling the need to proclaim them ‘The Saviours of British Indie Incarnate’ or some such, but they certainly are a damn proficient and challenging band who manage to balance experimentation and diverse influences, with bucketloads of energy and a sense of fun.
We leave immediately, making a collective mental note to avoid this venue as though it were populated by flesh-eating zombies.
Image from Foals' MySpace page, here
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