Manu Chao, Brixton Academy, London<br/>Foals, Komedia, Brighton

French and Spanish gypsy folk, Afrobeat, reggae, funk, ska &ndash; name a genre and Manu Chao is certain to fuse it into his own Mediterranean style
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The Independent Culture

Man-who? Most people, when I tell them why I'm heading to Brixton, draw a complete blank, then raise an amazed eyebrow when I inform them that this artist of whom they've never heard has booked London's biggest theatre venue for three nights, and sold it out.

Manu Chao, the man with a name like a torn sports headline, was a slow burning word-of-mouth phenomenon for his first two decades in music (originally as part of quasi-anarchist gypsy-punks Mano Negra), and is now, with a little help from Radio 1, a faster-burning one in his third.

To be fair, even Chao's own fans would struggle to pick him out of a police line-up. When bare-chested guitarist Madjid Fahem bounds on stage, half the Academy screams, believing it to be the main man himself.

With his red bandanna and big bronze Gretsch, the charismatic French-Spanish singer is a skinnier Strummer, or an even Littler Steven. The man with the Pyrenees-straddling heritage would, in real life, struggle to straddle a couple of sandcastles, although he compensates for his stature by sporadically leaping to twice his height, like one of those rubber monster pop-up toys with a spring and sucker mechanism underneath.

Chao's music draws upon the sounds of the Mediterranean rim, black Africa and the Caribbean, taking in Algerian rai, French and Spanish gypsy folk, the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the conscious reggae of Bob Marley. It's as though Chao considered the notional genre in the title of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers' "Egyptian Reggae", and set about making it real.

The ease with which his tour-honed six-piece band can switch from frenetic ska to a languid, liquid skank is impressive. They rarely pause to gather the acclaim: one song grooves seamlessly into the next.

If you bought into the theory of late-period Clash, namely that hip-hop, reggae, funk and punk could somehow be fused into some sort of international chain of communication for radical ideas (and personally, I'm not sure that I did), then Chao's your man.

The significantly Francophone crowd is a fashion disaster (Arafat scarves everywhere), and the vibe is too Glastonbury for my tastes, but Manu Chao, it cannot be denied, brings a Good Time. It may not be my idea of a good time, but I know one when I see one.

"Let's get some Monday Night Fever going," says Yannis Philippakis, right, a note of irony detectable in his voice. And yet, almost despite themselves – and aided by the fact that this is Freshers' Fortnight in Brighton (and therefore every night is the weekend) – Foals get the party started.

A quintet from Oxford whose early gigs tended to be at friends' house parties, Foals are a heartening sign that there's something going on in British indie music beyond the 18th pale descendants of some old Libertines/Housemartins/ Lonnie Donegan record or other. And, indeed, that there's a little life-of-the-mind to be found if you dig behind the day-glo of Nu Rave.

Foals, you see, are an (other) indie dance act. Opening with a My Bloody Valentine via Arcade Fire guitar tumult, they quickly settle into a dark groove which shares genes with Liars and You Say Party We Say Die. Circled like wagons, facing each other and not the crowd, they move with the high-speed jerkiness of Camberwick Green characters on fast forward. There's much bashing of hi-hats and shaking of maracas, but not a cowbell in sight.

Some songs have long titles; others have no title at all. One seems to be about balloons, another about hot towels, another about the fall of Rome. Foals' songs are, at least, about something, although it's not always easy to discern. "This is a song about...", begins Philippakis, who talks even faster than he plays (whether it's nerves or narcosis), and I only catch one subsequent word: "failure".

Like PiL and the rest of the post-punkers before them – and unlike the superficially similar Rapture, who really do just want to move your body – Foals have dislocated dance music methodology from the imperative to actually dance. Not that they don't achieve that result regardless: the overhead handclaps down the front are as enthusiastic as they are unbidden. It's just that there's an impression that these serious young men don't live or die by it.

Then again, maybe I've misread their mood completely. "I had my earring pulled out by some chav in Reading last night," Philippakis tells us. "Sorry if we appear grumpy. We aren't. It's just that our ears are sore."

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