From the math-rock of 2007 debut album Antidotes to the bone-crushing riffs of recent fourth outing What Went Down (in NME’s Top 10 albums of 2015), Oxford band Foals have been incredibly sure-footed throughout their career. And social media went into overdrive yesterday when, along with British dance act Disclosure, they were announced as headliners at this year’s Reading & Leeds festivals. It would be a massive coup for any band at any time – they join the auspicious ranks of Nirvana and Oasis – but is especially impressive in an era of ancient heritage acts headlining festivals time and again.
We got Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis on the phone to talk about achieving his “childhood dream”, how the band is “gonna deliver” and, er, why it’s really important to stay safe while clearing your gutter.
Hi Yannis! Where are you right now?
“I’m in Milan. We’re doing a show tonight – a rock show.”
That makes sense. Could you describe the moment you found out you’re headlining Reading & Leeds?
“I was on my flat roof, clearing the gutter. I got a call from my manager saying we’d been offered to headline it and I exclaimed: ‘Fucking hell! Is that for real?'”
You were on a roof? That could have been dangerous
“It was alright because it’s got railings around it, but thank you for your concern.”
That’s a relief, and you’re welcome. It feels like you’ve been gunning for this headline slot for a while. How does it feel to finally get it?
“It feels great, y’know. I don’t know if I’ve been gunning for it specifically but Reading is the one that was down the road from us when we were growing up. I had Live! Tonight! Sold Out! By Nirvana on VHS and there was all this footage from when they played Reading and it was always the one I was aware of. It’s iconic. So to get there and to be closing it this year, it’s gonna be magic. We’re gonna deliver.”
You’ve said it was “a childhood dream” to headline Reading. Besides its proximity to your hometown, is there anything else about that particular festival that made it such a deal for you?
“Yeah, it’s the energy of it. It’s the quality of the lineups. It was the place that gave us out first break at the beginning; that was the first big festival we played in 2007. From then, every year we’ve played it, it’s got better for us. The energy that the crowd brings there is unique. It’s much more feral and wilder than other festivals that are out there. It’s a perfect setting for us to play a big show.”
Your music has been getting bigger and more anthemic over the years. Do you think that has – consciously or sub-consciously – been a bid to play these kinds of massive headline shows?
“I wouldn’t say consciously. Maybe subconsciously. I think as the venues we played started to get bigger, the room you write for in your head gets bigger, if that makes sense? The landscape is bigger and it probably affects the way that we write a bit. We understand what works with larger crowds and stuff. But I don’t think it’s something that’s calculated. It’s been a gradual, organic growth into the bigger songs. It’s not like we’re writing records that are full of like stadium ballads or anything, it’s just that there’s a few songs there that are more raucous and have a bigger punch to them. A lot of that’s born from us not wanting to do one thing. We didn’t want to stay doing what we were doing on Antidotes, or repeat what we were doing on Total Life Forever, so one of the directions to go in was to write songs that you would say are more anthemic. For all I know, we’re gonna write some bhangra-disco record for the next one. We always wanna surprise ourselves.”
Which songs do you reckon will go down particularly well at Reading & Leeds?
“A bunch of them! I’m just looking forward to doing the whole set but I guess playing ‘What Went Down’, that’s gonna be pretty beserk. I feel like that’s gonna be the most raucous moment. And then ‘Spanish’ Sahara’ might be the most magical moment.”
Disclosure are headlining too. How do you feel about a dance act headlining what has, traditionally, been a rock festival?
“I think it’s fair enough – they’re a great band. Obviously it’s still more of a rock festival and traditionally it definitely was, but it’s obviously not solely that. They’ve had dance acts and hip-hop acts headlining before, so it’s not like it’s solely for the guitar bands. What’s good about it is the bookers have taken a chance on relatively new acts and it’s not the same old heritage acts in the top spots. They’ve given a chance to new bands coming through – and UK bands at that. It don’t think it matters in this day and age whether it’s dance or rock as much as it would have done 10 years ago.”
The reliance on heritage acts headlining festivals has been a big talking point in recent years. Do you think we’ll see more younger bands headlining now? Have Foals and Disclosure broken the cycle?
“I hope so. There’s a lot of bands out there [who can do the same]. The Maccabees aren’t far off being able to headline major festivals. There’s bands like Alt-J. Florence smashed it at Glasto last year. It’s happening. If anything, I hope young bands look at us and go: “Look, they did it their own way, took their time, grew organically and focused on the music and playing shows and not cashing in or compromising – and they got there.” I hope that our trajectory has been encouraging to other bands. You can do it on your own terms and you can break through.”
Are you gonna have to change your show much to make a big impact in the headline slot at Reading & Leeds?
“No, not really. We just gotta get up there and smash it – and that’s what we’re gonna do. We’ve just gotta prove ourselves. We’ll probably get a bit of extra firepower with the lights and lazers and stuff but in terms of changing what we do – I wouldn’t. No way.”
Finally, the big question – are you looking forward to Reading more than Leeds?
“Ha! No comment!”