Meet the Leeds based soul and hip-hop collective making revolutionary grooves.
When you ask most people about the musical character of Leeds you may get a mumbled response about indie-rockers the Kaiser Chiefs, or older school citizens might mention post punkers Gang of Four, or the Goth movement of the mid-1980’s.
Outside of West Yorkshire much less is known about the underground influence of the city’s far broader cultural lens, from being home to the country’s longest established West Indian Carnival, soul and funk nights at the legendary In Time, the illegal blues clubs of Chapeltown through to The Warehouse, The Orbit, Nightmares On Wax, Back to Basics, the Iration Steppas – and even Corinne Bailey Ray.
Fold are a collective who channel the soul, funk and dance roots of old Leodis and make music with a social conscience, tunes that make you dance but also celebrate the things that make us more alike rather than different. And performers like them are never more welcome, as the streets we all love become more and more polarised by dissident voices trying to make money for themselves by spreading hatred amongst everyone else. Ladeeez and gennermen, prepare to get your groove on to…Fold.
Give us, in 100 words or less, the Fold story?
My son was born in 2008. A sense of urgency to leave him a better world took root. Seeking ways to help advance equality, unity and empowerment through music while confronting narratives that sow division and enable exploitation, I looked to those whose voices move others and started composing around them. In 2011 I relocated from London to Leeds and, following my daughter’s birth, installed a like-minded line-up of drums (Kane Rattray), bass (Ben Walsh), guitar (Sam Hutchison, since 2015) and keys (me). We’re periodically joined by Emma Johnson (sax & brilliantly arranged horn sections) and Kieran O’Malley (violin).
The title of the album is We’re The Ones – what does it refer to?
Potent Whisper’s concept for the title track was a simple but poignant one: “we get to be the ones that we’ve been waiting for to change the world.” The power lies with all of us if we would only take hold of it. The title also refers to the nebula of contributors on this record, including vocals by Potent Whisper, Mr Gee (Living On a Knife’s Edge), Natalie Davies (Stand Up), Komla MC (Bad Thing), MotorMouF (Stronger Than the Evils) and Daisy Martey (Backing vocals on Something Gives & Bad Thing); additional musicians Emma Johnson (sax & all horn arrangements) and various session trumpet & trombone players that she brought in, Kieran O’Malley (all violins), Jake Mehew (rhodes on Stand Up and Teacher). And of course it goes out to all of the voices of the past including Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Dorothy Dandridge, Bessie Jones, bell hooks, Lorraine Hansberry and more.
It’s a record loaded with messages, but all expressed in a really constructive way – were you trying to be an antidote to the negative tone with which the media portrays society?
James Baldwin said that as artists “we don’t change anything, all we can do is invest people with the morale to change it for themselves” and Nina Simone said that “an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Those are essentially our mission statements. Part of that is being an antidote to narratives that sow division but more is required with respect to the media. The ways in which the it uses narratives to uphold a longstanding power structure that wantonly exploits the public sphere need confronting. That can only be done by exposing those narratives and their benefactors for what they are. The more transparent & aligned our collective picture of reality is, the better our chances of moving forward in positive strides. If our music helps achieve this in even the smallest way then we are happy – it helps us sleep at night.
The “political” dimension to popular music has waned in the last 20 years, up until Brexit and Trump – what can Fold do in an age where bad actors are relentlessly melding fact and fiction into “alternative truth” ?
Bad actors always have and probably always will be doing that to people. We’re just one of countless twigs on the ancient tree of resistance. Over the years of trawling through endless archives of spoken audio we’ve noticed how much the level of public discourse has declined since the sixties. Comparing discussions between contemporary luminaries now and then reveals a stark contrast. What we can be part of is raising the level of discourse by providing some kind of intellectual challenge and rigour in our output. Making you think as well as making you feel (but hopefully not too much of the former lest we put people off).
Living On a Knife Edge is especially poignant, given the violence on our streets – in the case of artists in certain genres (Like Drill) do you think stopping them from performing is the answer?
I’m no expert on Drill or the culture surrounding it so I am not qualified to comment on that but it is in any case a tricky subject. Artists do need to act responsibly to a certain extent – if you are at a gig deliberately & directly inciting hatred, discrimination and violence towards a group of people or an individual then I think you should be stopped for obvious practical reasons. However, there is a distinct validity to Drill and all genres that honestly respond to or reflect the world at large – however nihilistic they may be – and we need to engage with those responses rather than dismissing or condemning them outright. Again, a greater effort needs to be made by everyone to raise the level of discourse and avoid continually polarising debates. The media needs more narratives that illuminate the realities & identities of those who are both subject to and involved in street violence rather than perpetuating stereotypes and false narratives such as ‘black on black violence’.
How have you had to adapt to the changes in the way the industry works in terms of streaming vs physical, playing live, radio etc?
We’ve never done anything but adapt! Little has remained static since we began some 10 years ago and our strategy just has to keep pace. There have been a few constants though, we’re very grateful for the consistent support we’ve had from BBC 6 Music and regional radio stations in particular. Radio still has a significant influence in this country and rightly so. At present, release campaigns tend to focus much more on streaming – particularly pushing tracks to playlists – than ever before. We still put out vinyl because people (ourselves included) love it and a few CDs for those who still ask for them. Bear in mind that we do not make a living off of this, it is something we all do on top of our full-time jobs and families. We don’t really tour – we just gig when we can. Sam & I also DJ as Fold – we have a monthly residency at a bar called The Doghouse in Leeds – that helps keep the momentum going a bit while we’re not gigging. All that said, we did become profitable for the first time last year so the ‘long game’ has proven effective in that sense. One other thing that hasn’t changed is that the quickest way to make a lot of money through music is still sync licensing (Allowing your work to appear alongside visual media), particularly advertising *sigh*.
Do you think pop especially now is just escapism ? Where’s the art?
I would say on a positive note that there is always an opportunity for art, even within the narrowest of confines, but not everybody takes it. The ones that do tend to be very clever and their work always stands out. However there is no doubt that pop was long ago hijacked by industrialists in order to create a kind of sedative for the masses that makes enormous profits. That much at least has not changed much in my time, as old as I am.
Hip hop has always had the power to influence people’s lives in a positive way – how do we take it’s messages of unity and self expression and make them more prominent again?
I believe that UK hip hop culture is busy doing that – just look at Stormzy’s headline set at Glastonbury. Grime is still the current evolution of UK hip hop and Stormzy is leading the way by using his platform to, among other things, “speak about the injustice of young black kids being criminalised in a biased and disproportionate justice system” as David Lammy pointed out. Then of course there’s Jme encouraging people to vote, meeting with Jeremy Corbyn etc. On the other side of the pond we have to give enormous credit to Beyoncé for her Homecoming show – that was unity and self-expression personified to the nines. I was also impressed with Jay-Z’s 4:44 album – particularly the Story of O.J. Those are only a few examples but such developments are important in terms of leading by example and that is what we aim to do also, in our own much smaller way. We expect to see more prominent artists like Stormzy and Beyoncé making both unity and the challenging of false or divisive narratives their top priorities. As listeners and consumers we can help by openly praising and promoting artists who take such a stand.
Who in Leeds should we be listening to at the moment, or checking out?
Nubiyan Twist are the shiznit. Obviously the Haggis Horns are a mainstay as are Galaxians (all must be checked out live of course). Cowtown have been around for ages and are heavily underrated, in our opinion. We also dig DJ Nik Nak (Nicole Raymond) because she’s a way better DJ than any of us.
We’re already working on the next album and really trying to get the live show back up and running. We haven’t done a gig since the Brudenell in February 2018, but we’re aiming to ‘soft re-launch’ before summer’s end.
Check out We’re The Ones below: