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Yannis Philippakis

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April 29, 2009

A Band That Cradles Its Rock, Even Under All Those Layers of Expectations

Yannis Philippakis and The Foals

 

Yannis Philippakis, lead singer of the emerging British band Foals, spent most of Tuesday night with both his hands on his chest. He wasn’t being shy; he was playing the guitar. Like the bass player and the other guitarist, he wore a short strap, so the instrument was almost under his chin. And like them, he worked high on the fretboard, peeling off nimble riffs without ever uncrooking his arm.

The band had come to the Bowery Ballroom to play a short, tight set in support of an album that hasn’t been released yet. “Antidotes,” the debut Foals album, is scheduled to be out in Britain on March 24; Sub Pop plans to release the American version two weeks later. And on Tuesday night Mr. Philippakis seemed to enjoy the chance to play for a receptive audience full of curious listeners who had — as yet — no strong feelings about his band.

Suffice it to say that Foals inspires stronger feelings across the ocean, where it’s possible for a band specializing in taut, knotty, danceable post-punk to be considered the next big thing. Foals appeared on a recent cover of the excitable music magazine NME, given pride of place on a list of “new bands that will define the year”; inside the keyboardist Edwin Congreave was quoted saying: “Hype is like a fever. It makes you feel ill.” On the band’s MySpace page there is a sarcastic and defensive self-description: “SNOTTY ART SCHOOL DROPOUTS HUNGRY FOR THE DOLLAR.

In America no band with a yelping singer and a jittery sound is likely to be considered money-hungry or definitive of 2008. Still, it’s not hard to figure out why the Brits are so worked up. This music is rigorous enough and weird enough to separate Foals from the dance-punk explosion of a few years ago. Bands like Bloc Party and Battles are common reference points, but Foals also evokes — perhaps unintentionally — 1990s American post-hardcore bands like Clikatat Ikatowi and All Scars. Or maybe they just evoke that mythical, ever-recurring moment when young noisemakers hike up their guitar straps and start playing dance music.

During “Two Steps, Twice,” a glimmering two-guitar ostinato set the scene as the precise rhythm section arrived, slow and heavy at first, then twice as fast. After a set punctuated by an unexpected outburst (apparently one of the musicians wasn’t feeling well), the band members returned for an encore, with Mr. Philippakis gamely playing dumb.

“The people upstairs were like, ‘It’s tradition, you have to do it here,’ ” he said of the encore, as if he were describing an exotic ritual instead of a rock-club cliché. And with that, the band members jumped into “Mathletics,” twitching in time to a disco-derived groove.

The New York Times by Kelefa Sanneh


From Karpathos to the charts Giannis Phillipakis
 

“I have nothing to do with Alex Kapranos. First of all he’s blond,” says Yannis Philippakis jokingly of the lead vocalist of Franz Ferdinand to Kathimerini. The next Greek leader of the British rock scene, Philippakis is the 20-year-old frontman of the Foals, a band which has won kudos from the British press.

Philippakis was 5 years old when he left Greece, along with his mother – an anthropologist – to set up home in Oxford. He attended school there and would return to spend his summers in Olympos, on Karpathos. At the age of 12 he heard the band Nirvana for the first time and “that’s when I said that I wanted to form a band,” he states.

He continued with his studies, concentrating on English philosophy at Oxford University, but once he met the rest of the members of the group, fellow university students, he stopped studying and took up his guitar and the microphone. “My father was disappointed that I stopped studying but he supported me. He even bought me my first guitar. He is creative and understands what it is like to be driven by passion. He graduated in hagiography at the Athens School of Fine Arts, followed by architecture. He lives and works in Olympos and, in his free time, makes traditional folk instruments. I think that it is thanks to him that I have my love for music. He wished to turn me into a true born Olympitis and from a young age he taught me to dance the folk traditional songs and sing.

”In Britain, Philippakis did not become well known thanks to his folk-singing skills but due to the band’s powerful guitar pop sound and the surrealistic lyrics that he writes himself. Starting out in student rooms and at parties, the Foals went on to produce three successful singles, “Hummer,” “Mathletics” and “Balloons,” followed by a much-coveted signing with a record label for their recently released first album “Antidotes.

“It’s the music of the iPod generation,” he says when describing the band’s sound. “We are influenced by New York punk and the funk beats and our sound represents the problems and feelings of 20-somethings.” One of the songs on the album is “Olympic Airways.” It is not criticism of Greece’s awkward national airline but more a nostalgic song that Philippakis wrote because of his “beautiful memories from my flights with Olympic.

”In Britain, the press speak of their recent rise and strength on the indie scene and how they are touching the peak, dubbing the Foals the new Radiohead. Philippakis, however, remains grounded.

“If these things had not been written about the group, it is very likely that we would not be speaking now,” he states. “It is a well-known fact that the way the media presents new bands may end up being the catalyst for the group’s catastrophe.”

Kathimerini - By Yiouli Eptakili

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