Sitting cross-legged in a freshly used shower-room whilst necking a glass of Campari hardly equates to the nihilistic excess expected of today’s gak-snorting rock reprobates. Yet this is exactly how The Skinny finds Yannis Philippakis as we catch up with the diminutive lynchpin of hype-hoarding Oxford quintet Foals before a gig at Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire. But as the dapperly-attired 22 year old guzzles down his intestine illuminating beverage without a flinch of discomfort, we quickly discover the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll is firmly in the eye of the beholder.
“I’d consumed half a bottle of vodka in about two hours and I was just pissed off about the number of journalists I’d spoken to that day,” explains Philippakis, referring to a now renowned interview where he described droning Clash-wannabes Hard-Fi in overtly disparaging fashion. “Don’t get me wrong, I stand by what I said: I don’t give a shit about Hard Fi – I find them the most disgraceful, disgusting people who’ve disappeared into this kind of bloated rock world. But that wont change with us, well, only if I wanted to be a fucking hypocrite in a year’s time. That’s what I despise in the entertainment industry and I would never want to be like that. I like bands who are always the underdogs or frontmen who blow their heads off. I’m not into bands who lavish themselves like some pig in a trough.”
Having spent just a few minutes in his company, its instantly clear Philippakis is a loquacious live-wire - energetic, articulate, electrifying - and such hyperactive hustling is transferred into the gauzy spectrum of rhythmic techno-punk thrusting that saw Foals billed as one of the hottest acts of last year. Now in 2008, the band are preparing to release their long awaited debut record ‘Antidotes’ amidst a slavering hoard of hacks and fanboys but such blanket coverage is far removed from the day in May 2006 when five university friends conglomerated under that common banner of just making music:
“When we started the band it was fun and we played house parties around Oxford but now we’re signed to a label [Transgressive Records] we’ve got a purpose,” says Philippakis. “We’re trying to make pop music that subverts and moves forward like some quiet little victory that shows its okay not to simply ape your peers and be successful. We want to make music that communicates to a large number of people without remaining in the insular, backslapping, elitist Shellac fan scene we were very much a part of when we were younger. We’re pretty much like a fucking gang now - all this external stuff, like pressure or exposure, is kind of secondary to how we feel about each other.
Yet all the “external stuff” is exactly what’s seen Foals projected from the bottom of the new band barrel to one of the UK’s most promising acts, with online blogs and zines’ chomping at the proverbial bit to write effusive adjectives about the virtues of this fledgling band. However, in the face of such widespread acclaim, Philippakis still believes it’s the band’s infectious musical strides and not the intense media coverage that’s caused such a commotion in the cauldron of indie-dom:
“On the occasions I do read things that have been written about us, I’d like to think that people are into us because we’re constantly trying to progress. Our band wants to be out on tour and selling out shows and still be getting along without anyone having a major drug addiction or having lost a limb along the way,” he says assuredly. “If people like us because I’m small and I look funny or because Walter [Gerver] is tall and has big arms I really don’t care. I don’t think we’re going to change the mainstream appreciation of music but at the very least [people] will get into us and hear me banging on about a band I like and listen to them and then form a band - or at the very least quit school, or rape their dad or kill their mum.”
Such staunch proclamations of musical insubordination tend to play out as ultra-confident, yet salt-pinched, soundbites used by every up-and-coming gaggle of scene-lurking delinquents desperate for their big break. But Philippakis is at pains to stress Foals aren’t here to fill the gaps of any industry contrived categorisations:
“Those things are only important if you actually are that kind of shitty band,” he explains. “It doesn’t really bother me if someone says we’re New Rave or Math Rock or Puzzle Pop. It’s like: “you’ve got us nailed – good one”. It doesn’t mean anything does it. I mean, what the fuck is Math Rock? It’s such a load of shit. We’re not like To My Boy or any of the other New Cross bands - and if we were it wouldn’t work with us. We are really grouchy snotty nosed fuckers when it comes to our music and if I thought being part of a ‘scene’ was what we were doing it for then I wouldn’t be doing it at all – that’s just not what I’m in this for.
Despite the media’s eagerness to pigeonhole their progressive sonic-charge, Foals have burrowed their own trail to success and, in doing so, have created an extraordinary debut long-player that straddles a multitude of genres without slooping into the banal formalities exhaled by today’s new breed of generic tune-merchants. Originally produced by TV On The Radio’s David Sitek, the band were unsatisfied with the results and bravely ditched those first mixes to follow their self-planned blueprint for the future:
“It was a very conscious decision to break out and make this autistic, kind of retarded but thoughtfully stupid pop music that’s very simple and at the same time uses different influences like afro-beat,” says Philippakis. “Working with Siteck certainly helped a lot and we’re definitely not where we want to be yet - but then, if we were we might as well fuck of back home and put down the guitar. Our next record will sound totally different from this one and the stuff we play in six months time won’t sound like anything on this record.”
Yet for a group so devoted to creating intricate wafts of progressive, sneering pop it seemed somewhat contradictory to plug into the conscience of the mainstream with an appearance on Channel 4 ‘yoof’ drama Skins. Philippakis, unsurprisingly, disagrees: “I want everyone to hear our band and Skins was just another avenue for that to happen,” he reasons. “The moment you enter into the music industry there’s no advantage in being part of this ethical insular island. If someone gets into our band who only listens to the fucking Dykeenies or The Enemy then that’s the point - it’s about getting the music out there and not satisfying your musical ego.”
And that’s it - Campari drunk, cigarettes smoked, pleasantries over. Yannis stands up and begins to make his way to tonight’s stage where he and his four band mates are met with an air-strike of applause. They may not conform to the dictum of rock ‘n’ roll, but you get the impression Foals are more than happy writing a rulebook of their own.