Updated: May 26, 2020
Athletic determination, skilled craftsmanship, and lyrics worthy of a place in the most profound of novels are all ingredients that have played their part in Foals' rise to crowned heads of rock. From modest beginnings fifteen years ago in Oxford’s respected music scene, the band has steadily risen through the ranks; this isn’t want; it is an inherent need. Breathing life into this genre is quite the feat in the current musical climate, but you would be hard-pressed to find an act with more devoted followers.
Their audience widens after each release; people are welcomed into the fold, and, at six albums deep, they receive their chance to explore the hefty back catalogue. And indeed, these listeners span many generations, managing to take an element of ‘Foals’ to suit their mood; this could be the seasoned clubber who gets their dance floor fix or the purists who just want to let it go and thrash it out pit style. Latest work Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 and Part 2 encapsulates it all. From concept to execution, it is an ambitious and cinematic way to reflect on our planet.
ENSWBL brought with it some monumental landmarks for the band, sparking a new era: not only did they achieve their first number one record, but also won Best Album at the Q Awards and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. In honour of this, the accomplished stalwarts have launched the twelve-part short film series FBC Transmissions. This is directed by regular contributor Kit Monteith and curated by the co-founder of Transgressive Records Toby L; both highly respected in their field, both Foals’ brothers. It was an honour to talk to them, and it transpired that there was a great deal to discuss.
As always in the world of Art, often, the final product is nothing like the initial idea. With the dramatic change to our lives due to COVID 19, artists have looked for alternative routes to keep connected to their fans, and it has been essential to explore new avenues. If you are seeking positives in these desperate times, then this has to be one: Toby begins, “The band was thinking of ways to speak to people during the current lockdown we find ourselves in. By coincidence, both Kit and I were thinking separately of various possible ways that, a lot of archive footage we respectively banked featuring the band from the last 2 years, might be able to find a home.”
“After various discussions between us all, we decided to come together to create a new, temporary "hub" of sorts - 12 short film episodes that provide regular insights into the band and their creative process, presented as its own mini broadcast network almost. Most of the source material is unseen archive. However, we're peppering it with new formats and ideas to keep it fresh and relevant to the present day.”
Projects like this can raise the question of who benefits? For example, is it just fans, people in the industry perhaps or the subject themselves gaining a different perspective. Toby ponders, “We hope it's interesting and revelatory to anyone viewing. It's always challenging for bands watching themselves back, but the guys have really embraced lifting the proverbial curtain on their creative process for the episodes. Between Kit and Dave Ma, every era of the band has been beautifully captured, telling the story behind each record, and FBC Transmissions seems to continue in that vein, albeit in a more serial, weekly digest sense rather than serving alongside an album. Hopefully, anyone viewing will garner an honest insight into what it takes to be in a progressive and creative band that's still very much at the peak of its powers.”
“I obviously hope all Foals fans, or anyone else for that matter, will be able to take something from the series but I did have the idea that I'd love to connect with people who perhaps have only become fans of the band from the last couple of albums. Those newer fans might have only ever seen the band play in very large venues and will have perhaps have missed out on some of the more experimental sides of the band.” Kit adds.
There have been some phenomenal music documentaries over the years, and I don’t use phenomenal lightly. However, Toby divulges that FBC Transmissions is that little bit different in its approach. “I recently directed the band's Rip Up The Road documentary which went out on Amazon Prime, and it also features a lot of Kit's awesome footage in the studio with the band during the making of their recent albums (Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Parts 1 & 2). That was ostensibly a live and touring documentary, very much intended to be a concise snapshot of this specific era of the band, with very few, if any, allusions to their past.”
“FBC Transmissions is a way of being a bit less contained in one set, singular narrative - each week can be its own different energy, idea, subject or concept, and is also very short, just a few minutes long usually. Putting together a longer-form documentary with a set story is a very different, laborious process. With FBC, we can be a bit more experimental and risky with certain ideas, as well as more playful, hopefully surprising the viewer each time with what subject or moment is being honed in on.” Right now, Foals in particular, through listening and demo parties, have been more than generous with their efforts to maintain relationships, taking connectivity to an even deeper, personal level. We’ve never been so isolated, yet so together. “I think one of the moving things about what we're going through right now is how much of a leveller the lockdown has been. Suddenly, societal clutches such as status, career progress, success, they're less relevant, after years of being far too relevant. All the parameters have shifted - mostly, we're all just humans, sat at home wondering how best to connect.” Toby explains.
“For artists and musicians, a huge creative and emotional outlet was going on the road, playing shows and having music reach people physically. With that option out of the equation for some time now, it's down to us all to find new ways to communicate and create a discourse. As such, I think whether out of enthusiasm and/or absolute necessity, we now find ourselves in an extremely weird place where Zoom conference calls are the new venue for artists and audiences. I think the industry has had to adapt, because what's the alternative? Creativity and greatness can breed in even the strictest of limitations, so I'm excited to see what new formats can evolve that'll endure beyond solely this current period of containment.”
Toby believes it’s important to tell the truth always, and not gloss over details. He hopes the boys feel at ease when they make these moments, but also feel compelled to be upfront about their intentions and aspirations. “One thing I'm conscious of is, as much as we obviously want to allow them to be as comfortable on camera or in discussion as possible, is to never give them an absolutely easy ride. Often you get people around bands, especially when they become successful, and they're scared to ask difficult, challenging questions, or provide real opinions. However, the results then end up feeling fluffy and drenched in PR-friendly buzzwords. It just becomes another layer of bullshit to dissect.” Unguarded relationships and unique roles resulted in especially candid footage coming from a place of trust. Toby enthuses, “Kit was there during the studio process and also during the tour since he's the percussionist in the band! I love the way Kit's on stage playing a multitude of parts and backing vocals, then the next thing you know, he's side of the stage filming the show! It's awesome to witness, and he's the only member of the band that gets to be IN the band, but then also watch them by the side of the stage. It's quite a cool perspective. Me and my lovely team of friends, Josh and Sebastian, also followed the band a lot of last year to shoot Rip Up The Road, covering Glastonbury to Australia, Thailand to Oxfordshire, Japan to Ally Pally... It was a hell of a time.” In #01: The Making of Exits, we’re treated to layered, translucent images at the beginning, along with a quote: gorgeous touch. Kit recalls, “I had footage of each member of the band in their homes, and that felt like a perfect way, given these lockdown times, to reveal an intimacy that would be the backbone of the Transmission series. I felt that by adding ghostly versions of their onstage selves, it would create a poignant mood and show the kind of strange duality that a lot of musicians at their level face. The band has had studio documentaries made about them before, and obviously lots of celebration of their live shows, whereas this series is about trying to reveal the space between the two. Its a fuzzier, less defined but fascinating place and takes a slightly unconventional approach in the film making in order to capture it.” Producing quality with integrity, Toby agrees that you get a real sense that Foals are serious about all aspects of their practice. “They're serious and passionate about their craft, absolutely, and are still as hungry to make their best music since I first met them 13 or 14 years ago. Surprises are being unearthed via this project, for sure, and it's going to be particularly exciting to share those moments.” It was always on the cards: “Transmissions was something we had hoped to do regardless, but the tour not happening expedited its arrival, and also the tone of the identity. The urgency has made it all the more exciting to produce. There's an air of healthy trepidation that's inevitable when you're delivering something weekly - a hard deadline you cannot swerve. It keeps us all on our toes.”
Two episodes in, the other ten will premiere every Friday on YouTube. They’re insightful and technical, but not baffling and just the right length: succinct and sweet. Foals would have been on a mammoth tour as we speak. The sheer physical and emotive aspect is gravely missed, but this period is all about taking that little detour and making the best of it. FBC Transmissions won’t replace seeing them live but makes things a whole lot brighter, and we’re here for it. To end, Toby mulls over the highlights. “WELL, that'd be telling. What we can say - it is all unseen, unheard, and thematically different each week. Hopefully, it's something to look forward to every Friday, a mini inspiration portal into the unknown, or at the very least your weekend.”
Article by Beverley Knight