Tickets are now available for Folly Group at Rescue Rooms!
Drawing from post-punk, dub, trip-hop, dance music and traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms, Folly Group have established themselves amongst UK experimental rock’s new leading lights. Marrying open-hearted lyricism with furiously inventive self-production, this bracing, complex record lends a genuinely original voice to a familiar theme: alienation in modern Britain.
Collaboratively self-produced by the full band, “Down There!” is thorough in its exploration of being a young adult in this country: covering mental health (“Bright Night”), physical health (“Freeze”), financial pressures (“East Flat Crows”) turbulent friendships (“I’ll Do What I Can”) and more. Its lyrics are split between drummer / vocalist Sean Harper and Milbern, who – despite their respectively more abstract and literal styles – deal with shared themes of “disenfranchisement, dejection, anxiety and financial ruin,” Harper explains. “For every personal step forward, an off-the-cuff decision by a politician we’ll never meet puts us two steps back – a lot of the time we’re basically furious.”
This is illustrated in the 3D cave network on the cover: it features 10 points, lifted from a map of the 10 most important places in London to the record’s creation. “They’re represented as a cave, as a visual metaphor for feeling under the weight of the world,” he continues.
The band tie many of these feelings to the realities of being a young musician, which they have to balance with full-time jobs. “We don’t have enough time to do this band, but we do it anyway. We make enormous sacrifices in areas of our lives, out of blind faith that we’re right to be doing this.” This underscores the feeling that “Down There!” is – despite its themes – a triumphant album. Its committed, meticulous creation and honest lyricism speak to the group’s shared self-belief and determination, against the odds this album details. “The mere fact that it exists is a victory.”
Formed in 2019, the band comprises Harper, Milburn, Tom Doherty (bass), and Kai Akinde-Hummel (percussion, drums). Following the national lockdowns, they burst onto the UK scene with the BBC Radio 6 Music A-Listed singles “Butt No Rifle” and “Sandfight”: the latter of which IDLES’ Joe Talbot declared his “favourite song of the year.” Heralded as ‘one to watch’ by NME, DIY and BBC Radio 1’s Jack Saunders, they released their acclaimed debut EP “Awake And Hungry” in 2021.
This led to tours with Do Nothing and PVA, a Metronomy collaboration, and festivals including Latitude, Truck and Pitchfork Music Festival London. The band followed this with their explosive second EP “Human And Kind”, featuring the BBC Radio 6 Music A-Listed single “I Raise You (The Price Of Your Head)”. This led to a UK headline tour (including London’s Studio 9294), tour supports with the likes of Orlando Weeks, and festival appearances at Glastonbury, The Great Escape and SXSW.
Their debut album “Down There!” is shaped by genre-hopping: shifting playfully between post-punk, dub, trip-hop and more. The band ascribe this to their far-ranging reference points at the outset of making it. While Akinde-Hummel recalls listening to lots of drill, UK jazz and hardcore punk, Milburn had gotten heavily into 80s artists like Squeeze, The Specials and Joe Jackson. In the production alone, references span Dangermouse, ESG and Soulwax. “We all had a million different things we were pulling from,” Harper explains. “I wanted it to have this one blanket draped over the whole thing – a consistently dusty, downtrodden effect, because that’s what our favourite albums are like. We love Massive Attack and early Gorillaz, where it’s not about genre as much as creating your own cinematic universe.” Running through it is an experimental sensibility. “All the instrumental parts have been written with the desire to do anything other than the obvious, natural thing – there’s not much rock in our rock songs.”
Central to the album is Folly Group’s fusion of rock subgenres with ideas from dance music. Programmed drums appear alongside live percussion on most tracks. Dance music’s influence also expands to the simple, direct guitar arrangements played by Milburn, who claims “I would never want to play a guitar part that you wouldn’t hear played on a synth in a dance tune.” Overall, tracks in “Down There!” exist on a spectrum, ranging from the rock-orientated “I’ll Do What I Can” to the cold electronica of “Nest”: gradually developing around a steady rhythm in the style of a techno track.
Further contrast stems from Milburn and Harper’s contrasting lyrics, dealing with their experiences of alienation and financial pressure as young adults in modern Britain. Their recent single “Strange Neighbour” – a wiry, off-kilter pop song featuring a dub break and layers of inscrutable vocals – reflects on the housing crisis. “Everyone’s being forced to move house, with rents constantly getting put up; you used to have communities, but now you live close to people who probably won’t get to know you – because they know in a year you’ll be gone,” Milburn explains.
The album’s scope also covers more universal themes. These include anxieties around technology in the storming, heavily electronic ‘New Feature’, mental health in the darker, muscular “Bright Night” and physical health in “Freeze”. “We were on tour with Do Nothing, and I drank so much over a period of time that I ended up in hospital, thinking I was having heart attacks” Milburn explains. “They were like: ‘no – you’ve just got really bad heartburn.’ It’s about those times of reflection, when something so humbling and embarrassing happens, and you just reflect on your lifestyle.”
Folly Group collaboratively self-produced “Down There!”, working with a shifting cast of instruments courtesy of Milburn’s day-job. “I work at a place that buys and sells equipment, so this stuff constantly moves through” he explains. “We might have a vintage Roland in, so we’ll use it for some songs. Two weeks later the band will say ‘can we do that again?’ but it’ll be gone – sold to someone with actual money.” The album is full of curious additions, including the sounds of members hitting chairs and fire extinguishers, while the combination of live and programmed drums feeds into their live shows: forming a basis for the electrifying, heavily-improvised back-and-forth between percussionists Akinde-Hummel and Harper.
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