Growing up on the Greek island of Karpathos, Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis watched his father and other local men perform mandinades, the traditional ritual in which they recount the history of their village by improvising songs in iambic pentameter. Philippakis couldn’t participate —— “My Greek’s not that good,” he admits — but he never forgot the custom when he emigrated to Oxford, England, in 1994 and formed the art-punk band Foals a decade later. “We’ve wanted to try to make music that was like that ritual: a celebration.”
You can hear that tribal vibe on Foals’ debut, Antidotes, out in April. Philippakis, drummer Jack Bevan, guitarist Jimmy Smith, bassist Walter Gervers and keyboardist Edwin Congreave spike their propulsive post-punk rhythms with lean, sparkling guitar lines and riotous chants that Philippakis says were inspired by Alan Lomax chain-gang recordings. Cuts like “Balloons” and “Cassius” feature funky guitar riffs, horns played by the Brooklyn Afro-beat group Antibalas, and the atmospheric production of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, whose studio techniques included running drums through distortion pedals.
“WE’VE WANTED TO TRY TO MAKE MUSIC THAT WAS LIKE A RITUAL: A CELEBRATION.” —YANNIS PHILIPPAKIS
Foals played their first gigs at house parties in Oxford. Since there was often no stage, the band would perform in the middle of the crowd; things would get so wild that Smith once fell down and knocked out a tooth. “We would load our gear in, and the owner of the house would say, ‘Watch the door frame!’ ” he remembers. “Then you see him later on when we’re playing, breaking his own lights and stuff.”
Foals may soon move on to bigger venues, but the group will still play gigs that eliminate the band/audience divide. “It’s more democratic that way,” says Philippakis. “It’s not like we’re telling everyone to shut the fuck up and watch. We’re just part of the party.”