Dismembering Steve Reich’s techniques from the ’70s and ageing theories on the rise of robots, Foals have assured their future as musical adventurers.
The once aloof Oxford quintet have changed dramatically. They’ve shed their skin. Or, as twenty-three-year-old singer Yannis Philippakis describes, they strode defiantly from their “whale carcass” that was the first incarnation they inhabited; an angular, shouty and defensive collection of young men.
Their second album, ‘Total Life Forever’, is inspired by future predictions where man-made robots unleash a chain reaction of ever-evolving artificial intelligence that supersedes a human’s static brain capabilities, leading them to space to inhabit the stars, while they condemn us to dust. Arnie, it seems, was right all along.
Above this subtext of future fear, Foals set about developing SPACE. Primarily the area beneath their commune in Oxford, SPACE is a primal cellar daubed in psychedelic graffiti; an intense lab where they could grow away from pressure and their own hype; a place they labelled ‘The Supreme House of Mathematics’.
This cramped den gave them space in which to roam in a different way. Gaps opened up everywhere, in them as people and musicians, and crucially in their sonic landscapes. Using practices of Steve Reich, a brewing addiction to chaos and a good old fashioned band bust-up, they’ve hurled themselves far into their own future bringing a deeper, fleshy but thoroughly more engaging sound with them.
We discover a transformed Yannis. One confessing all manner of insights and treats, a man poised to take his band’s impressive recording on a journey way past their early horizons but now with melancholic melodies and his ribs and soul wide open to the world.
Clash Magazine Issue 51
This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the 51st issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from June 4th.
Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.
Was the darker and deeper tone of ‘Total Life Forever’ discovered in your cellar in Oxford or in the studio in Gothenburg?
It was discovered in us. It was allowed to grow in the cellar. Gothenburg had very little to do with it. We aren’t that porous when we record. New York didn’t affect the first album, ‘Antidotes’; Dave [Sitek, producer] affected it. Gothenburg didn’t affect this record, it was the producer Luke Smith [Clor]. Oxford affected it only in that the house allowed us to be creative when we wanted; to be emotionally right.
Yeah. There’s this tension between wanting to break new ground and be surprising opposed by needing to have a pop aesthetic to grab people’s attention. It must be a hard line to negotiate.
Yeah, in a way. That’s reflective of our personalities, we all really like pop music. We are a bi-polar band in a way. The fulfilment comes out when we manage to balance out those two facets within a track. That’s the challenge of being in this band opposed to us all doing our own music.
I heard that Gothenburg was so intense you nearly split. Were these just rumours?
It was intense but there’s times in this band that naturally are intense. We were living together in a city which is expensive and pretty depressing. It’d probably make most people go a bit tweeky.
What’s the biggest argument you’ve ever had?
It never gets so bad that it doesn’t get better. But I’d be disappointed if we went and made an album and it wasn’t stressful. It’s part of it all surely?
In the run-up to this album there was quite a lot of blogging on futurology.
I’ve always been quite sentimental about previous ages, civilisations and even formats, like books and tangible things. I’m also relatively fearful for change, or rather the unstoppable nature of change. I quite like being in control of my surroundings. Our generation has seen a massive amount of change, in a very insidious way as well, it’s not like there’s been a clear and demarcated event that’s happened that you can deal with and place your feelings and analyse it. The creep of technology and the way it affects everything like relationships and the way you feel, it affects everything. It’s something that’s always been a concern.
Your album title is named after an element of Ray Kurzweil’s Theory of Singularity where humans invent an artificial intelligence that in turn invents a more intelligent force that triggers a chain reaction of development that would see robots obliterating humanity. How much of this do you believe?
Some of it. It’s far fetched. But the way he presents his arguments is persuasive. Even looking at mobile phones: we struggle to function without them very easily. Saying, ‘Oh, I might get rid of my mobile phone tomorrow and I don’t need the Internet’ is all well and good but actually NONE of us do. We are all so invested in that structure. Some of the outer limits of his theory I find terrifying. It’s not as benign as everyone thinks it is.
How much do you feel in control of Foals? Do you perceive this as a game now?
Some things feel like a game. The industry side does but the writing side is completely separate. Wu Tang played the game better than anyone, in terms of the industry side, but ‘36 Chambers’ is a real hip-hop album, even if you don’t like hip-hop. I feel more in control than we were before, it felt like we could be washed away around the first album but we survived that and survived the hype and we made another record and made me feel more in control.
We are putting you on our cover as the best band in Britain right now. Do you believe that too?
(Laughs) No. We feel good. When we finished the record and went into mix it we were really really worried. Edwin has talked about this before. We lost ANY perspective on whether the record was good, awful or misconceived. So it definitely feels good at the moment.
Words by Matthew Bennett
‘Total Life Forever’ is out now on Transgressive Records. Foals play the Benicassim Festival on Sunday 18th July.
Read Clash's review of Foals new album, 'Total Life Forever', HERE.