Belsonic: Foals & Frightened Rabbit
Thursday 23rd June 2016 – Titanic, Belfast
During a visit to the Titanic Quarter earlier in the year, a blossoming part of the city I hadn’t truly appreciated before, I was told the Titanic Slipway represents a life-sized plan of the ill-fated ship’s promenade deck, laid out alongside the water in white stone. No doubt you could imagine my excitement when Belsonic revealed their relocation to the Titanic Quarter Slipways in February. Now in its eighth year the festival is still going strong, seeing indie-rock pioneers Foals and Frightened Rabbit take to the Titanic-sized venue to flex their performance muscles and showcase new album material before embarking on the Summer festival circuit.
Support comes from Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish indie-rock quintet who introduce themselves with ‘Get Out’, a track from their most recent album Painting of a Panic Attack. The track showcases the band’s redirection towards electronic textures while retaining the authenticity of earlier work in the driving emotion of its lyrics and choral melody. Sequenced drums collide with Grant Hutchison’s thundering percussion as reverb-soaked guitars howl alongside Scott Hutchison’s vocal line “Get out of my heart, she won’t, she won’t”.
The “Scottish rain” of Scott’s lyrics finds its parallel in a steady downpour over the Slipways, a perfect atmosphere for Glaswegian, stadium-worthy folk rock to meet simmering angst in follow up track ‘The Modern Leper’. The track’s opening Elliott Smith-like dissonance gives way for galloping rhythms and an anthemic melody. The song is striking in its lyricism “You must be a masochist/ To love a modern leper on his last leg” and shows that the band haven’t lost touch with their emotionally-charged center.
A break in the set comes as Scott Hutchison peers over the crowd to a neon sign in the corner of the festival, “What the hell is ‘Cullen’s Illuminator?’” before letting the audience know they can find him there after the set. Frightened Rabbit keep steady in their performance of new material, showing musical competence in their confident performance of new electronic textures. Sequenced rhythms provide the backbone for ‘Woke Up Hurting’ and synths drive the choppy folk-rock of ‘Break’.
Sadly, the understandable difficulties in organizing and relocating a festival to a new venue become apparent when the track ‘Lump Street’ sees a full PA cutoff, sound is cut and drums become just barely audible over the crowd. However, Frightened Rabbit’s professionalism as performers and strong rapport with the crowd is clear with the audience clapping along until sound is returned.
Despite the technical issues, the crowd and performers remain enthusiastic as the rain cools off for ‘Woodpile’, another showcase of raw performance talent that dispels all rainy gloom from the set with choral bursts of harmonies and soaring guitar lines. The dark humor of ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ sees laughter and a singalong from the audience before the band end on ‘The Loneliness & The Scream’, a barn burner of infectious folk that sees its clap-along rhythms dissolve seamlessly into eager applause from an impressed crowd.
Before long Foals take to the stage. Without pause, ‘Snake Oil’ from the newest album What Went Down introduces the band with driving percussion and wailing vocals set against an octave-wrestling guitar line in the style of Jack White.
Recently self-styled in an interview as ‘feral’ by front man Yannis Philipakkis, it is a comparison that is clear to see in the band’s stage presence. Praised by NME and Q awards for their live performances, Philipakki’s dancing channels Chuck Berry in sharp twists and jumps while the animalistic enthusiasm of his musicianship comes through in biting vocals and guitar. The full-bodied pop of the guitar lines and dance rhythms in ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘My Number’ recalls the crowd-pleasing sensibilities that first saw the band’s rise to success, with dancing and singalongs throughout showing it hasn’t lost its touch.
The metered arena-funk of ‘Providence’ gives Philipakki’s a chance to showcase his dance moves, while bassist Walter Gervers and drummer Jack Bevan maintain electrically-charged rhythms before the song’s final breakdown. As the sun sets over the Slipways, the band show skillful play with dynamics in hit ‘Spanish Sahara’ as sequenced swells of white noise build with layered guitar between Yannis and fellow guitarist Jimmy Smith into an eruption of soaring tremolo guitar. Material from the newest album comes through strong in the set; delicate guitar work shines through in ‘Mountain At My Gates’ and the anthemic ‘A Knife In The Ocean’ flirts between indie pop and noise rock in its rhythms and overhanging swells of guitar.
Holy Fire’s ‘Inhaler’ recharges the set in its unstoppable upwards trajectory. The familiar garden-song plucking of the opening riff is met with cheers from the crowd before the breakdown riff stuns with its staggering energy. This explosive sound blurs into the cavernous guitar of the newest album’s title track ‘What Went Down’, a similar showcase of confident performance and musicianship. Foals bring their set to a close with ‘Two Steps, Twice’, a final demonstration of their signature energy with gossamer guitar riding out on the back of an accelerating drum line.
Meeting up with Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison after the show, we found out Cullen’s Illuminator was in fact a fairground waltzer. With spinning cars with flashing lights, a truly life changing idea post-drinks that I would recommend to everyone who visits the new Belsonic this year.