For my third dose of lockdown, I have returned to my parents’ house: it is Radio 4 in the kitchen, sausage dog print duvet covers, warm coats and sensible shoes on blustery walks. It is the very antithesis of folly. The heat and effervescence of live music seems both a distant memory and an intangible agendum.
That is until the opening bars of Folly Group’s third single ‘Fashionista’ yank me from the monotony. I am immediately transported to sticky floors and impending tinnitus. With the country trapped indoors, it seems like everything we are fed is made to be consumed from within the safety of our own four walls. Folly Group stamp on this unwelcome notion. Before the group’s official inception, and before releasing their first single ‘Butt No Rifle’ in January of last year, they used live shows as a means to establish themselves, and test whether the quartet would actually work or not. Despite having known each other for a long time, and having all performed in various other projects in the past, there is almost a sense of disbelief when speaking to them that it took so long to find one another.
Their familiarity with the London scene, alongside a shared understanding of what it means to be an artist in uneasy times, is apparent throughout our conversation. Ultimately, however, it is their marrying of individual expertise and contrasting genres and niches which creates the unique sound of Folly Group. Drummer/vocalist Sean Harper succinctly describes the three tracks released so far as their ‘mission statement’, smash through a window into the future of what is to come for us all post lockdown.
Tom, Kai, Louis and Sean are living in London across three separate households. They appear unfazed by the new processes of writing and recording remotely, thriving on the opportunity to work independently and excited by the juxtapositions they offer each other. The band are equally serious about their art but not precious about the projects, respectful of each other’s skills; it is abundantly clear that the group was born out of enduring friendship.
‘Fashionista’ – the final track to be featured on the Slow Dance ’20 compilation – holds a mirror to the artistic circles the band feel they simultaneously belong to and seek to reject. A singular, deep note reverberates through the entirety of the track, and the amalgamation of electronic production with jaunty riffs builds into their most shadowy release so far. Despite only a handful of released music, Folly Group are already well refined and an exciting artist proposition. Enter the enigmatic quartet at the perfect time, promising to tear apart the tedium of lockdown with an EP in the pipeline, and the promise of riotous shows in better days to come.
I am very excited to interview you all and meet you virtually. How is the state of the world and the limitations affecting your creativity?
Sean: Kind of positively, in new ways that we hadn’t anticipated. I think that being pushed into these boxes has meant that we have bent into very weird shapes that we would have never foreseen before all of this. Tom and Louis are in one place, I’m in one place and Kai is in another. We have become pretty efficient at remote collaboration which was made a lot easier by the fact we have always recorded and made music at home ourselves. It is almost like running a small business at the moment; we all really enjoy fiddling with it, remixing, doing 16 bars, stemming it, passing it on to the group and then someone else will reinterpret it.
Tom: I’ve quite enjoyed doing things that way as well. You can kind of do it in your own time, see what comes back. If you’re together, they’re more gradual changes, but the stuff I send to Sean will come back and it’s gone fucking west and vice versa.
Sean: To hear another member of the band’s work when you haven’t been privy to the process they have undertaken in order to change it, you end up totally repurposing that piece of work. When we’re not all in the same room collaborating, brand new doors for this gestating piece of music are opened. You’re being made to hear something that you started in a completely new way, which for me has been brilliant.
Has the recording process changed during the lockdowns, as opposed to – for example – your debut track ‘Butt No Rifle’?
Kai: The only real difference was that I wouldn’t go to their house and record the production parts. I would do it at home and would send it over.
Sean: Kai’s been sending a lot of agogô bells and woodblock stems over email. Everything we have put out and are sitting on so far was recorded in Louis’ bedroom in Leyton. We don’t really have a set rule for writing. We chose ‘Butt No Rifle’ to be the first track that we put online as we felt it’s a perfect example of how each of us do 25% of the work; it felt like a good mission statement. ‘Fashionista’, however, was almost exclusively Tom. We fleshed it out together but it hasn’t deviated very much from the logic demo that Tom put together.
Tom: [laughs] I did listen back to that original demo the other day and it’s horrible! It’s a lot more refined now but, no, our original strategy hasn’t really changed at all.
I feel like your sound is very eclectic, drawing on loads of different influences, yet still giving the impression of unity and a shared experience. Could you perhaps tell me a bit about your individual musical backgrounds and how you came to form Folly Group.
Tom: We have all known each other in some shape or form for a very long time. Sean, Louis and I have played in projects beforehand and all three of us used to live together. Kai used to play in a band with some friends of ours. The biggest shift was moving in together, it was just like “why are we not doing this?”
Kai: My situation is a bit different. Me and Louis were in separate bands, but we toured quite a lot together. We’d always be at the same shows together around Europe or wherever. I’ve known that guy for crazy long. I just realised how long it’s actually been that I have known him, it’s a stupid amount of time. I think I first met him when I was still a teenager! We never got the chance to properly work together so it’s kind of cool to join up with these guys now.
Louis: I feel like there was one fatal tube trip where we all looked at each other talking about music and we were like “well this is pointless, we should definetly be in a band together.”
Sean: I think we were railed as well, where were we coming back from?
Louis: I feel like that was around Kai’s birthday and before we had ever considered being in a band together. We’ve known each other for a long time; this isn’t our first try.
You have just released ‘Fashionista’, which is featured on the Slow Dance compilation. What was the inspiration behind this track?
Louis: The song is about growing up and making art, and being assumed into circles that you’re not particularly comfortable with. Even though these circles contain lots of wonderful, talented people, they can also often be pretty problematic. Despite making wonderful art they can be pretty nasty. The track is about the anxiety around what those circles are like in London sometimes, growing up and then suddenly you’re in your late teens and early 20s, meeting all these handsome men in SE London that do terrible things to other people.
How do you feel about being featured on the Slow Dance compilation for 2021?
Kai: Yeah flattered.
Sean: We’ve been trying to have as much control as possible over how we put our stuff out into the world, which is why there isn’t anything on Spotify just yet; this will be the first thing. It’s really good to finally exist in the eyes of the wider music community; it’s a relief.
Tom: Something to brighten up 2021!
Louis: We have always had a lot of respect for Slow Dance and the effort they put in to pushing music forward that is not the most conventional. It is important to us to be part of an oeuvre of left field music, particularly artists with electronic influences. That’s something Slow Dance are really good at. Even just to be considered by them is a badge of honour.
Louis, your vocals on the track are wonderfully assertive. As a band, do you feel any sense of obligation to bring to light the issues of our generation and into your music?
Louis: There are very few issues that don’t affect our generation.
Kai: It’s impossible not to address what’s going on.
Sean: It comes from a kind of earnest desire to interrogate, rather than a sense of obligation. The things that one might feel obliged to address are the very same things they can’t help but want to. These issues are the most pertinent to us. As Louis said, there isn’t really a social situation since the dawn of western civilisation that hasn’t reared its ugly head lately, in an extremely accelerated and condensed period. A great deal has happened in the time that we have been making music together. It is really hard to avoid writing about these things; I would certainly feel as though I was personally missing something if we weren’t.
Louis: I think that the time when a person will say the most important stuff is when their guard is down. I think we are always at our most comfortable when we are backed up by our music. It’s a vessel for us to express the things that we’re really feeling. It’s important for us to talk about; we don’t really get to talk about them in day to day life without being impolite or causing a front.
Tom: I’m writing a track at the moment about Louis not doing the washing up enough.
Kai: Get ready for fist fights on stage.
I really love the electronic, punky, genre-bending sound you have – could you speak to me a little bit about your influences as individuals, as well as a band?
Sean: I have always loved guitar music – for lack of a better phrase – and electronic dance music as much as each other, for as long as I can remember. I’ve always tried to exist in both worlds. We are all massive fans of a lot of electronic music, and I have quite an extensive background in making it. I think you can hear that in the way we treat samples as instruments, and we flip the originals of our own tracks. Some of that comes from my love of Sheffield 90s bleak techno and old Warp Records releases. Everyone’s got a USP in this project which is kind of what keeps it really exciting to be in.
Tom: I’ve had a lot more of a guitar background. I’ve enjoyed electronic music my whole life but in a less educated way. Since hanging out with Sean I have learned so much more about it. I have started enjoying it in a different way, really thinking about how I can use it. But really, I just loved guitars as a kid
Kai: I know it’s a bit of a cliché when people say “I listen to everything” but growing up in London you are exposed to many different subcultures and groups. I’ve been playing from really early; the only drummer in my school – I was in every flipping band! But it opened my ears and my eyes to music that a lot of people wouldn’t expect me to like, and I shock myself sometimes. Similar to Tom, the latest music influence for me was more traditional electronic music – I’m not talking about anything that is produced on the computer. Techno was just like ‘what the hell?’ for a long time. But then, hanging different groups of people, going away to different countries, to Uni and stuff, you just get exposed to so much.
Louis: I like to think I sit at a nice little cross section between everyone. I had both the pleasure – and displeasure – of working in the Windmill for a long time as a front of house engineer, which meant that I didn’t like music for a very long time. Now I am back in the land of the living. I grew up listening to a lot of guitar music, but I also listen to a lot of folk and a lot of drill at the moment – I don’t know why.
Kai: Because it’s fucking good! It’s having a huge moment and it makes sense that it’s at the forefront.
Louis: Also, it just makes me feel good when I’m walking down the street.
Sean: We definitely try to make a point of paying homage to our influences. We make a concerted effort to not pillage genres, just because the internet facilitates us being able to access whatever sample we want.
Louis: It’s interesting because liking lots of different genres and being genre-bending isn’t ‘cool’ anymore, its just a symptom of being.
Kai: Everyone listens to everything now.
I think what really stood out for me is that fact that the genres you pull from are married together noticeably well; it’s never jarring or dissonant.
Louis: We don’t make music that can’t be expressed through the means and limitations that is our live configuration.
Sean: Mainly our limbs.
Louis: We don’t attempt things that are just going to be a fucking mess, mainly because it would be embarrassing to stand there in front of an audience.
Kai: None of us are that good at our instruments yet.
Sean: And I don’t think we plan on getting that good.
I agree, the three tracks released so far all sound as though created with a focus on playing them live. Do you think the lack of live opportunity has led you to recreate that feeling within your music?
Tom: It’s not been fun not being able to play, but we have still found a great deal of enjoyment making music away from the live show too. I guess it’s something we can look forward to. Everyone is on hold – it’s not just us.
Kai: The lockdown gigs have been the same amount of preparation. We treat it as though it was a normal gig. And it’s also just fun to get into a rehearsal room and see each other instead of through a screen.
Sean: I’m kind of grateful for the lockdown in some ways. We were hitting it so hard at the start of last year, it was an unimaginably intense January, February and March. It was so fun, but there was no slowing down. It’s given us a chance to get on top of our writing and production game and, context aside, I’ve weirdly enjoyed the sit-down nature of these lockdown shows. It’s been like easing back into it, not an overwhelming slap in the face. If we had picked up where we left off in March after nine months of total silence it would have probably broken us.
I can imagine ‘Fashionista’ – particularly the opening few bars- as an opening track on an EP. What does the future hold for Folly Group? Can we expect further music in the coming months?
Louis: You definitely can expect more music and opening bars.
Tom: We’re not going to quit!
Words: Rachel Mercer Photos: Holly Whittaker
‘Fashionista’ is featured on the Slow Dance ’20 compilation album, released January 26th 2021. Stream the track below and find out more about the compilation via the Slow Dance website.