Looking Back

Foals: Antidotes turns 15

Math rock or a damn fine noughties dance album? Antidotes was the 2008 debut that launched Foals into the public consciousness

Foals have come a long way.

Known for their dynamic stage performances (which usually includes lead singer Yannis Philippakis scaling some kind of structure and launching himself into the crowd), devoted fan base and chaotic mosh pits, Foals have been kicking the sh*t out of venues across the globe for well over a decade. 

Seven studio albums in, and with a forthcoming headline slot at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival, the Oxford natives are still holding court as the revered tour workhorses they are. Headed by Greek-born Philippakis (mercurial, ferocious, yet with the ability to capture a heart’s yearning in one breathy ‘wooo-ooooo’) the band who started out as a plaid-wearing five-piece are now an evolved trio of thirty-somethings that have let experience and reinvention steer their musical course.

And it all started with Antidotes, their 2008 debut. Produced by Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio (although the band later rejected his original mix), the album cut through the multitude of ‘meh’ indie releases that year, with its yah-totally ‘math rock’ tag and consecutive slew of catchy bangers that have since become the backbone of their set-list.

Foals - The French Open (Live on KEXP)

From the cheerleader-esque chant (en français) of the album’s first track, ‘The French Open’, to the thumping middle section that ricochets from ‘Red Socks Pugie’ right through to circle-of-death crowd fave ‘Two Steps, Twice’, it’s clear that Antidotes was written to get people moving. Wherever or however that transpires. Muddy field. Sticky dance floor. It’s all the same when you’re five pints in with your arms around your mates yelling ‘ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba ba-ba-daa’ at the top of your lungs. IYKYK.

Was it the combination of Philippakis’ searing vocals fused with Jack Bevan’s percussionist tub-thumping that had the noughties youth throwing shapes at indie clubs up and down the country? Or was it because Antidotes arrived at a time when audiences wanted an excuse to cut loose and get down at rock shows? People were bored with the onslaught of identikit indie bands, one-hit wonders and ‘the next big thing’ clogging up their iPods. Don’t forget, acts like The Klaxons and Bloc Party were already in the shuffle around that time, successfully smudging the line between dance and rock music – yet there was something about Foals’ debut that felt decidedly different to anything else the Camden crowd was spinning. 

Foals - Cassius [Official Video]

Pretty much any indie-sleaze kid worth their salt will remember exactly where they were when ‘Cassius’ came out. The second single to be released from Antidotes and the second on the album, it’s an infectious liquor chaser of a track with plenty of plinky ‘math’ riffage – it’s hard to not think of Seattle alt-band Minus The Bear here – with a hefty chunk of ska horns thrown in for good measure (provided by NYC collective Antibalas). 

Other stand-out singles ‘Balloons’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ always get an outing when Foals play live, and it’s clear why. One is uplifting and anthemic, the other uses the repetition of pretty-sounding words to capture a sense of mournful isolation. Both tracks give a Magic 8 ball premonition of the band’s trajectory, and the fact fans can still sing the lyrics verbatim at every Foals show fifteen years later is testament to how evergreen they’ve become.

Foals - Balloons [Official Video]

Despite the hits, Antidotes is far from perfect. Once you’ve seen Foals play live, it’s impossible to revisit this first album without feeling a little bit short-changed. Antidotes is intricate and intense yet doesn’t distil any of the band’s phenomenal stage energy, unlike later releases Holy Fire (2013) and What Went Down (2015). 

There is also the ambiguity surrounding Philippakis’ lyrics. With references including everything from Andy Roddick to Heathrow Airport, the songs are catchy yet somewhat aloof and unrelatable – vastly different from the breathless heartbreak of ‘Spanish Sahara’, the Total Life Forever (2010) hit that came just a few years later. Having said that, the playfulness in which Philippakis uses words in Antidotes, be that repetition, alliteration or just coupling sounds together to accentuate their movement (‘hearts swell’, ‘butcher birds’) shows a command of language that’s beyond your average beige indie lyrics. 

Arguably, Antidotes cemented a sound that Foals never really revisited in their later body of work. Yet it still plays as fresh and exciting as it did fifteen years ago – when a Skins-obsessed UK was partying pre-Brexit in nu-rave spandex and v-neck All Saints tees. AKA, simpler times. Long may they reign.

Foals play Liverpool and Leeds in May 2023, before headlining Reading & Leeds festival in August. Find tickets here.