Every generation has their hipsters. Today it’s beards and coffee, three years ago it was beards and bicycles. But rewind further and, not so long ago, hipster translated to a penchant for neon fabrics, ray bans and brave sneaker choices.
And so in 2010, a sunny sided ear worm out of LA managed to sweep an entire hipster generation into its wave. Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People melded together electro and indie, and is surely the synaesthetic expression of that neon palette.
The result of “perspiration over inspiration”, Mark Foster wrote Pumped Up Kicks during a long and frustrating period of writer’s block. One day in 2010 Foster forced himself to sit down and write a song, rather than head off to the beach, and so began the solution to his thus-far troubled career with music. Having arrived in LA to pursue a musical career, it took several years of the exhausting Hollywood social scene, dark drug addled days and a stint as a commercial jingle writer to arrive at this point.
The story of Foster The People and their debut album Torches is one of rags of to riches in the music world, with naught but a burnt out foundation to build upon.
Foster’s difficulties stemmed from what sounds like an overburden of creativity; “I’d write one song and it’d be a hip-hop song. I’d write another and it’d be heavily electronic. Another would be like a spiritual, and another would be classic piano song. I was constantly trying to pull those elements together. It took me six years to do it.”
An intense dislike of solo performance also lead Foster to bring in drummer Mark Pontius and long-time friend Cubbie Fink as bassist. Originally named Foster & The People, the “and” was lost to miscommunication and the band became quite attached to the caring implication.
Pumped Up Kicks was originally posted as a free download on Foster’s website in 2010, inadvertently starting a viral hit. The song was synced to an advertising campaign by Nylon Magazine, and started doing the rounds on music blogs. Bands like MGMT had already paved the way for the brightly hued, danceable rock, and the trend for electro was well under way.
Foster The People seemed to represent the next wave; upbeat vibes, infectious melodies and borrowing the tropical feels of bands like Vampire Weekend.
After his years of knocking on doors, Foster suddenly had a riot outside his own. Every management company and record label he had dreamed of getting through to were suddenly emailing and calling him. The band’s debut album Torches was released in 2011, more than delivering on the promise of Pumped Up Kicks as Foster The People were finally realised in ten tracks and glorious technicolour.
Musos might not hold jingle writers in high repute; after all, they’re responsible for a half day sentenced to singing Aeroplane Jelly in your head. However, commercial writing will teach you two things; what makes a song catchy as hell, and how to convey feeling. And Torches has both in spades.
From Foster’s falsetto vocals, tricked out beats and toe tap riffs, tiny touches of disco add just a whole other level to every song’s danceability. Each track moves so fast, with barely time between verses, choruses and bridges to even think about losing your attention.
It’s a Cinderella story of the highest order. They were a viral sensation for that time, a statement born out by the fact that nearly every single track on Torches was licensed to a TV show or commercial. And some even before the release of the record. After the sync-induced explosion of bands like The Dandy Warhols and Phantom Planet, it’s easy to see how Foster The People became a global hit. They even featured in the triple j Hottest 100, despite having never visited Australia.
Insanely catchy and just the right side of cheesy, tracks like Don’t Stop (Colour on the Walls) are pretty much a gift to TV. A chorus of “Don’t stop giving me things” just says it all for consumerism. There’s sort of frivolity and mindlessness attached to feel good music, and especially that neon brand of hipster that ruled in the late 2000s. Heartfelt angst was out, hedonism was in, and Foster The People even came under fire for Pumped Up Kicks once its popularity brought people to the realisation of the subject matter.
Written from inside the head of a homicidal, psychotic school kid, an unavoidable association with the Columbine massacre lead to accusations that the song condoned violence. Foster defended the track as “an observation about something that’s happening in youth culture these days”. Bassist Cubbie Fink had a cousin who had survived the Columbine massacre in 1999, and he had experienced first hand the aftermath of that tragedy after flying out to be with her the day after. For him “to be able to have a platform to talk about this stuff has been good for us”.
For Foster The People to have been just a flash in the pan, a one hit wonder, would have been depressingly predictable. History teaches us that such a meteoric rise can too often lead to a quick journey back to Earth. But that would discount the impressive writing behind the infectious beats, and also Foster’s apparent adaptability.
Cleverly evading such definite pigeon holing as to kill any future career, the band have continued to produce ear worm tunes and instrumentals so shiny they’re irresistible to musical magpies.
Fast forward seven years, the scenery may have changed but Foster The People are still a part of the landscape. Hipsters have swapped clubs for cafes, beanies for beards, and the band have also evolved. Having release Sacred Hearts Club this year, Foster The People’s infectious energy has chilled out a bit. They’ve assumed more of an R&B vibe in tracks like Sit Next To Me, and embraced guitar music on the almost hard edged Lotus Easter.
Throw in a world tour, which will see them in Australia this December, and it’s pretty clear that Foster The People’s torch is still lit.
Foster The People are performing at this year’s Falls Festival as well as two sideshows. Grab the details below: