- Words Darcy Culverhouse
Firing up the rock scene, Folly Group talk about their experimental nature, grassroots beginnings and their mission to revive Worcester Sauce Walkers.
Angular guitars thrust and parry amidst the tumultuous dance of an aggressive syncopated drum beat. An anarchic energy pulses, all throughout the vast soundscape, as a relentless surge of guitars cradle Harper’s sinister vocals. It’s a track worth not one, but two head bangs, in time to brooding rock swagger that bleeds into fast and furious percussion. The song is titled ‘I’ll Do What I Can’ and serves as a quintessential testament to Folly Group’s artistry: an artistry
laden with a boundary-pushing ethos and innovation that is entrenched at the very core of everything they set their sights to. Melding disparate genres may pose a challenging feat, but after all, is there anything Folly Group can’t do?
Folly Group aren’t just a band sitting at rock’s leading lights; they’re a collective teeming with an avant-garde spirit that feels refreshingly novel. Crafting meticulously orchestrated chaos, the quartet—made up of Sean Harper (drums/vocals),Louis Milburn (guitar/ vocals), Tom Doherty (bass) and Kai Akinde-Hummel (percussion, drums)—elevates the concept of ‘genre-blur’ to uncharted territories. Uniting their eclectic yet diverse taste, ranging from Louis’s penchant for jaunty English pop to Kai’s rock camaraderie, they defy confinement to the narrow boundaries of rock, infusing elements of electronica, dub, trip-hop and more to their soundscapes.
For Folly Group, achieving success—especially basking in the spotlight at Glastonbury—is embraced with heartfelt gratitude. Born out of a wave of drunk enthusiasm during a tube journey home in 2019, Louis, Tom and Sean discovered their missing musical piece in Kai, whose vast knowledge completed the puzzle. In their early days they graced the stages of many of London’s iconic grassroot venues, but one, The Windmill, stood out for its pivotal opportunities, becoming a recurring backdrop as their careers took flight. Their hit debut anthems, ‘Butt No Rifle’ and ‘Sandfight’ were soaked in accolades, with IDLES Joe’s Talbot declaring ‘Sandfight’ as his “favourite song of the year”.
Jump ahead to 2023, riding the euphoria of their steady slew of genre-defying brilliance, they tease a snippet of their upcoming debut album, Down There!—set to be released January 2024. The project is poised to be shaped by Folly Group’s genre-hopping as well as a fusion of rock subgenres alongside elements derived from dance music. It will undoubtedly bear the electrifying sound of Folly Group, showcasing their knack for pushing boundaries and crafting the most anthemic, head-bang worthy tunes in the scene.
As we anticipate each twist and turn in their journey, we connect with Folly Group to discuss their electrifying sound, grassroots origins and their mission to revive Worcester Sauce Walkers.
We’ve been loving ‘Big Ground’ since it dropped. The single finds a perfect intersection between themes of rock and electronic music. Talk to us about the meaning behind the track.
L: The song is based on the old cliché that, when you’re so anxious and embarrassed, you wish the ground swallowed you whole and you would rather cease to exist. I wrote the lyrics in an incredibly tense period of life where relationships, friendships, work and music all felt like they were battling each other to the point of total collapse and with every decision made I wanted to absolve myself of all responsibility and disappear into a little cave.
At the same time, the song’s looping and forward nature almost felt like an exercise in reflection. Working through these feelings by making music almost became a celebration of the madness of when experiencing these things. I initially sang this but Sean took over and edited some smart words into the second chorus; it sounds much cooler now.
How do you try to make sure that all the different sounds you use come together in harmony?
T: We’re pretty set on making sure there is a continuous theme or mood running throughout what we do. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy breaking away from that and trying new approaches from time to time. Sound selection to some extent is a challenge that can solve itself. As the track develops it often suggests what is needed. Then there’s the times where you just throw the kitchen sink at it and hope.
Kai, we can hear you ‘playing’ a metal chair in ‘Big Ground’’s bridge percussion. How did you find out that could work so well?
K: I think it happened whilst Louis and I were towards the end of a long recording session and we felt like the song, with the most drums and percussion, was missing even more percussion. We were trying to find a sound that we hadn’t already used in the song, so we looked around the room, saw the chair and just went for it. It was a pretty impulsive addition. I am glad we didn’t overthink it.
‘I’ll Do What I Can’ is your latest single and it’s potentially your most riotous to date. Did you make it with playing live in mind? Where did that aggression come from for the track?
S: To an extent, for sure. I wasn’t thinking about our live show specifically, which is a little stranger in terms of setup than that of similar bands. Once I started writing it, I felt like I could feel an energy worth leaning into. By virtue of its inspirations, most of which are from – or heavily inspired by – that cold, gothic, gloriously over-produced 80s wave, the instrumentation is pretty traditional. So, it made sense for Kai to drum it and for me to be out front attempting a more classic frontman thing, though I still haven’t quite worked out what to do with my hands. I rarely go into tunes knowing what to write about, but with ‘I’ll Do What I Can’, I felt compelled to vent about this specific experience from years back of an old mate acting miles out of line on this specific thing, hence the anger this tune wears on its sleeve. That’s one of the beauties of all this, it’s an outlet. I’m an incredibly un-angry person!
Talk us through Folly Group’s creative process when making a track. Do you have a set formula you follow that is key to your success?
T: There are occasionally tracks that one member of the band sends over, and very little needs to be done so we just get it straight into the studio. More often than not though, an attempt at a song or just a loop is where things start. Then everyone has a go at it, and we start piecing together something that is more fully formed. If the opportunity arises then we’re able to road-test some of the songs before recording at shows. That really helps to refine things. So, there’s a few different routes to the final product, all with their own merits.
It’s quoted that Folly Group was formed on drunken enthusiasm on a late-night tube journey home. Can you tell us the story behind how Folly Group arose and how you met each other?
T: Me and Louis have known each other for years, and tended to knock about with the same people. Then Sean and Louis met as a result of releasing music on the same label when they were younger. Kai played in a band with some friends of ours and briefly played in a project with Louis too. So, Louis is very much the connecting factor in terms of getting to know each other. Louis, Sean and I lived together for a while and the said tube journey started off this project. Honestly, it was a bit rubbish to start off with and it was clearly missing something, which was Kai. Once he got involved everything made more sense musically.
You all have various music tastes and inspirations; how does each band member’s preferences contribute to shaping Folly Group’s unique sound?
L: The best (backhanded) compliment I ever got was after a Bristol show someone came up to me and said, “I love how you play your guitar, you just stay out the way”. So, I think being a guitarist who doesn’t really like the sound of guitars and just rips the whole way through a song informs the music a fair bit. I love all that jaunty English pop from the late 70s and early 80s too: XTC, Squeeze, Magazine, Buzzcocks, etc.
I think from Sean we get a good mix of industrial experimental electronic music blended with a love of modern American post-punk, which is where I think Tom’s taste blends with Sean’s. That love of bands like Omni, Preoccupations and Ought was one of the first things that brought us together to start this band. The other side of Tom’s taste gets into a fairly lethal amount of UKG, which helps when sculpting pulsing catchy basslines. Whilst Kai shares a love of rock that we all unashamedly dip into, his love of bands like Soulwax and rhythm more generally brings latin and Afrobeat percussion patterns into our music too.
How do you want people to feel when they listen to Folly Group? What’s your message as a band?
T: I don’t think there is a particular way we want people to feel. If they feel anything, then that’s probably an achievement. We’re immensely grateful to anyone who takes the time to listen in the first place to be honest. If there are any moments where someone interprets it as even close to good then that’s a bonus.
L: Like they’ve just unpacked a shiny Steven Gerrard Match Attax card circa 2006.
Describe your sound in 3 words.
T: Bunch of chancers.
K: Loosely considered chaos.
L: Anxious party time.
S: Post-kitchen sink.
When Folly Group started, you played a lot of gigs around London’s most iconic grassroots venues, from the Windmill, to The Old Blue Last. What’s Folly Group’s favourite venue? Is there one that you attach a lot of memories to?
T: As is the case for so many other bands, The Windmill will always be a special place for us. God knows how many times we’ve all played there in several different projects. Me and Louis used to work there for a while. I was behind the bar for a bit and Louis was a sound guy. It’s always a great night out and it’s a place that has provided so much opportunity to so many different people. Long may it continue.
S: I’m quite sentimental towards The Barrel House in Totnes where I’m from. I did my first “band” gig there at 16. Evidently, I left home, but on the rare occasion I’m back there, I just feel great.
K: I will always have a soft spot for places like The Windmill, The Old Blue Last and The Shacklewell Arms because they are places where I got to cut my teeth as a musician. We should also shout out places further afield that have always been welcoming to Folly Group, like King Tuts in Glasgow.
Your highly anticipated debut album, Down There!, is dropping in the new year. What can we expect from it?
T: We’ve worked really hard on this and we hope it shows. It still has the feel of a Folly Group offering but I think it also demonstrates some steps forward too. It’s probably safe to say there’s quite a paranoid atmosphere to it for the most part.
K: I think people can expect to relate to at least one part of the album. Either musically or because of the lyrical content. But especially musically. That is one of the nice things about being in a band that has so many different influences, hopefully, there is something for everyone on there.
The album artwork is an illustration of a map highlighting the 10 most important places in London to the album’s creation. Tell us about some of these places.
T: So, The Windmill is there, we’ve already mentioned that that place means a lot to us. Another pub that made the cut is The Floirin. That’s around the corner from Louis’ work where we did a lot of the recording. It was a nice place to regroup after some of the sessions and the landlady is always incredibly friendly and welcoming. Louis’ work also features and without it, I’m not sure how we would have managed to get this album over the line. We spent evenings and weekends there when the rest of the staff weren’t about. They sell recording gear so it meant we had access to a few bits we wouldn’t normally be able to use. The general areas each of us live in are on the map too. Most of the tracks came into existence, at least in their initial form, in one of our bedrooms.
Aside from your album coming out next year, you are also embarking on a UK and EU tour. What can fans expect this time round?
T: We’re really looking forward to the tour and very excited at the prospect of playing all this new music for everyone. There’s a bunch of locations on there that we haven’t been to before so it’s going to be really lovely meeting everyone. Expect more sweaty loud nonsense I suppose.
K: It’s been a while since we have been on tour, I think people can expect a much more cohesive gig experience but with even more energy. We have been itching to play these songs live and the process of learning to play them has made us more excited to bring them to a live setting.
If Folly Group could rule the world for the day, what would go down?
K: Hand on heart I can confidently say if we ruled the world for a day the world would end. It’s hard enough for us to organise ourselves let alone rule the world, but it would be a fun day.
L: It would be like that video where there are 100 people all with their own drum kit playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit” but much, much worse.
S: We’d be loading samples onto the SPD and SP-404 then look up and realise the day was over.
What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment so far in Folly Group’s musical journey?
T: There’s been a few to be fair. When we started to make our silly little noises in our bedrooms, no one thought we would be heading towards so many lovely opportunities. Glastonbury was a highlight. Some of the boys have played it before as part of other people’s projects, but to get to do it with our own work was a bucket list moment. Trans Musicales festival is another one that stands out. It was quite a while back now, but getting the chance to play to our biggest crowd yet and in such a cool place was a massive boost.
S: Trans Musicales was televised, which was absurd. We filled in for Steve Lamacq on New Music Fix a couple of months ago, that’s also up there for me.
What are you manifesting in 2024? Is there anything beyond the album and tour that you’d like to let fans in on?
T: 2024 is about enjoying the album in its live form. That’s our favourite thing about doing this and we’re going to be doing bags of it. There are loads of exciting things in the pipeline, watch this space.
K: I am manifesting that people enjoy the album and the shows but more importantly that they bring back Worcester Sauce flavoured Walkers.