Ed Macfarlane was with friends from the band Foals at a London restaurant the other day when he was recognised by a fellow diner. The Friendly Fires frontman was rather chuffed - not least because his perhaps-better-known mates went unnoticed. 'I had a very smug look on my face. I was like, 'Ha ha!'' he confesses with a laugh over the phone from a hotel room in Norway, where the band were about to play at a festival. 'It was a very sick, sort of sordid part of my personality that found that quite amusing.'
Macfarlane should be getting used to the attention. The Friendly Fires are on the hottest of hot streaks, having just released Pala, a dance-driven pop follow-up to their Mercury Prize-nominated 2008 debut Friendly Fires. Both albums have been gushed over by the music press, both are smash crossover hits in indie land, and together they have turned the three lads - Macfarlane, Jack Savidge, and Edd Gibson, all in their 20s - from St Albans, England, into stars of the festival circuit and subjects of many a female fantasy.
And in a coup for Hong Kong, the band will drop in on their way back from Japan's Summer Sonic music festival for a show at Kitec in Kowloon Bay on August 16.
The Fires' music is relentlessly dancey, underpinned by lush house beats and synth textures, while Macfarlane's hyperactive but spare vocals whip listeners into feel-good frenzies. Singles Jump In the Pool, Paris, Kiss of Life and Hawaiian Air sound like they should be club staples, even if Macfarlane doesn't think the band should necessarily be classified as a 'dance' act.
'I don't really consider us a dance band, because if we played in a club at about two in the morning we'd probably f*** up the whole flow of the night,' says Macfarlane. 'And I don't really consider us a rock band, because a lot of our songs are not really guitar-based. As lazy as it sounds, I just prefer to describe us as a pop band.'
At the same time, even though the Fires are beloved in indie circles, Macfarlane isn't totally comfortable with being classified as an indie band either. 'I don't really object to the indie label. We are quite an indie band in many ways - we record all our own music ourselves, we produce our music ourselves, we self-released our first few EPs ... I just don't think we have much in common with very guitar-driven bands, which is pretty apparent if you listen to our music.'
Of course, if you do listen to their music - and if you haven't, we recommend that you take action post-haste - you're confronted with an unceasing barrage of energy. Macfarlane and the guys have proven adept at transferring that fire to the stage. It looks utterly exhausting.
'We try to make our live shows as energetic and raucous and as raw as possible,' he says. 'It is hard work, but that's the kind of live show we would want to come and watch if we were punters.
'We grew up listening to bands like Fugazi and Q and not U, and lots of earlier hard-core music as well ... It's always very much about being an energetic kind of visual act, so I think that's something we've really taken on board.'
Sometimes that approach can take its toll. In May, the band had to cancel a performance in Toronto after Macfarlane was hospitalised with exhaustion. He had, he says, 'a mild panic attack'.
'Touring has become a lot more intense, we're playing much longer sets,' he says by way of explanation. 'And American roads are awful. Trying to sleep on a tour bus - it's the pressure of knowing you have to sleep a certain amount of time so your voice will be all right for the show. It just all built up.'
He also suspects he was the victim of a date-rape drug. 'I had been out in Montreal and I'm pretty sure I had been 'roofied', I believe is the term,' he says. Montreal was the night before the Toronto show. 'I had a bit of a freak-out on the bus, and I suppose it all just built up, and I ended up having to go to hospital straight away, as soon as I arrived. To be perfectly honest, I felt like a bit of a d*** just sitting on the hospital bed. I've got to make sure that kind of thing never happens again.'
It was totally unexpected. Macfarlane says he never parties after any of the shows; he just goes straight to bed. The songs are too testing on his voice. 'It sounds so boring,' he admits. 'It sounds so un-rock'n'roll.' But he mentions the final gig by Amy Winehouse, during which the late singer was so drunk she couldn't finish - or even really start - her set. 'I never want us to be one of those bands. We want every live show to be as memorable and important as possible, and you can't do that if you're just getting absolutely wasted every single night and not sleeping.'
One area in which Macfarlane never holds back, however, is his dancing, which itself has earned him a cult following, especially among female fans. Heavy on gyration, low on technique, and high on sex appeal, the growing-in-fame trademark boogie is calculated to match the intensity of the music and to get crowds pumping. Listen for the screams of delight when he busts it out at the Hong Kong show.
'I'm not going to be able to dance like this forever, because it's not too dissimilar from an embarrassing dad dancing on stage,' Macfarlane says, followed by a quickfire self-deprecating laugh. 'So I'm going to make the most of it while my age allows me.
'My dancing is completely not technical at all - there's no thought-out foot movement or anything like that, it's just a natural reaction to our music when we're playing live. I like completely losing myself, because if I do that the crowds tend to join in a lot more.'
Dancing like a possessed animal is clearly a passion for Macfarlane. Asked what contemporary band he would join for a day if given the opportunity, he picks Big Freedia, a barn-storming transvestite from New Orleans who is the anointed leader of the incredible 'sissy bounce' movement - a form of gender-bending electro-rap music that implores its eager followers to dance with their posteriors facing skywards and jiggling like jackhammers. It has to be seen to be believed. Big Freedia's best-known single is called Azz Everywhere.
'It's this transvestite front-lady going crazy with loads of backing dancers just shaking their asses everywhere,' enthuses Macfarlane. 'So I'd probably join her band for the day, just because the live dancers are absolutely ridiculous. When we were at South By Southwest, we asked her to support us, but we specifically asked her to go on after we played, because she basically invites the whole crowd up and everyone goes absolutely nuts and starts shaking their asses around.'
He might not have quite those moves in his arsenal, but Macfarlane is planning to fully unleash his inner Elvis in Hong Kong, which he says he can't wait to visit.
'It's always fun playing to crowds you've never met before,' he says. 'I like having to make a good first impression. Usually in the first track I get in the crowd and start dancing and I can judge whether I'm feeling the crowd or not.'
One can only hope that he will be feeling it. Then Hong Kong could be in for something very special. The Friendly Fires have never been hotter. And if you see Macfarlane out the night before, send him off to bed for a nice rest before someone slips him some Rohypnol.
Friendly Fires and Gypsy & The Cat, August 16, 7.30pm, Rotunda 3, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$420, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288