Foals at the 9:30 Club

English indie rockers Foals perform at DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Foals

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2013 — Foals is generally recognized as a dance rock band. In reality, once you have heard them perform, you will conclude this Oxford quintet is far better suited to a live setting than it is in a cozy living room where someone is listening to one of their albums.

By now it is a common cliché that many bands lose something in the translation when the intimacy of seeing and hearing such a band in person is taken away. And that is essentially why so many people enjoying going to concerts, especially for relevant pop acts. It is the kind of ideal a band like Foals promotes with their dance rock aesthetics—something you are simply not going to get on your home playback system, no matter how good it is.

That is the strange dynamic that you sometimes need to explain when discussing a dance rock band or any sort of music for that matter that is performed live and inspires people to dance in a seemingly less friendly concert venue. The reason for this is because it is very different from the normal setting in which people think dancing should occur. That, in turn, is mainly because in a concert venue, you are no longer really dancing with another person. Instead, you are more or less dancing with or at the band/DJ/performer up on stage. It is between you and them. It is personal.

The trick to creating a good dance environment in a club-style venue like the 9:30 Club is wrapped up in the atmosphere a given band creates. Creating the right atmosphere is something Foals does very well. A band can throw out any number of differing beats, but they need to be consistent and to an extent looping on something that feels like a low, sensory hum.  Foals does a great job generating a hypnotic feel to their songs by doing just that. At the same time, their songs are also quick and punchy, or at least as much so as their style of progressive post-punk can be.

Foals has a difficult gap to bridge. On one level, they are a complicated and intricate guitar rock band with prog tendencies. Yet they also have to keep their sound simple enough that they do not completely lose their music’s dance appeal. And that was the most interesting thing to keep tabs on during their recent set at the 9:30 Club.

This is a band that wants to be both memorable and introspective. It is important for them that they be taken seriously enough that they’re live sound is distinct, unique, and memorable, allowing the audience to absorb and actually appreciate the sonic textures the band is employing as they move from song to song.  En route, their swirling guitars morph into a sound much like some of the better shoegazer bands with just the right amount trippy vibes. The undercurrent from the keyboards add to this mood, helping create the kind of unique atmosphere that’s crucial for this style of band.

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A danger of this approach is that a band can very easily seem to devour itself if their sound just keeps folding in on itself until it causes a backlash from the audience. It is so easy for a band with a grand sonic scheme to get mesmerized and lost in its own sound, boring the audience in the process. But this is the antithesis of what Foals is searching for in terms of crafting something the audience can dance to.

So Foals explores different ways to engage the audience by undercutting their sound with quick and short sonic bursts rather than tumbling into the potential black hole of their progressive instincts. Ultimately what they want to achieve is an intimacy where everyone in the audience can lose themselves in the sound from the beginning to the conclusion of the show.

They want the spotlight focused on them, so that the audience is dancing with the band and their sound rather than simply using the band as background noise for personal epiphanies. Keeping that in mind, Foals sets themselves up as the the focal point in which people can lose themselves in an increasingly hypnotic atmosphere. A uality they accomplish during their set that makes this band as memorable as the evening you have spent with them.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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