The Scoop: The Other Folk – We Are Witnessing an Alternative Folk Revival

There is a steady force taking a hold of London’s pubs and venues. Stages once dominated by angsty punks and distorted guitar are beginning to find themselves home to haunting strings and guttural wails. Tales are being spun reminiscent of bygone times, no longer fixating on the disappointments of city life, instead detailing lush landscapes and aching hearts. We are witnessing an alternative folk revival. 

For some fans, Katy J Pearson’s stirring Halloween release, reworking tracks from the classic Wickerman soundtrack with a selection of the scene’s most fascinating talent, may have been the first indication of a blossoming trad folk love affair among musicians. For the more keen eyed, the mention of Broadside Hacks, who feature on ‘Lullaby’ and Pearson’s particularly evocative rendition of ‘Willow’s Song’ may have led them further down the rabbit hole. 

Broadside Hacks are integral to this tale, a collective whose 2021 compilation ‘Songs Without Authors’ was a revelation in introducing predominantly indie centric audiences to the allure of trad folk. With acts like Oscar Browne, Gently Tender and Pixx contributing, the comp was a fascinating insight into the diversity of folk music, and its surprising parallels with the wider direction of alternative indie. Folk may seem at odds with the music being made by scene leaders such as Sorry, but it was Sorry’s own Campbell Baum who founded Broadside Hacks

Since ‘Songs Without Authors’ was released, and Broadside Hacks toured their riveting trad folk sound across the UK, Europe, and even the sun baked streets of Austin for SXSW, a number of its musicians have gone on to become leaders of the next musical generation. Oscar Browne’s intricate multi-instrumental songwriting has allowed his music to cut through the noise and form a cult following. The collective have hosted nights showcasing many of the finest voices rising in alternative right now, from The New Eves to Clara Mann

Many of the venues and even musicians that were integral to the post punk ‘revival’ are at the heart of this blossoming folk movement, and in a number of ways it feels like a natural progression. There is a shift away from cynicism and toward hopeful truth. Where post punk seeks to highlight the strange realities of the everyday, there is an intrinsic beauty in folk, a desire for escapism within the details of the mundane, and a confrontation of the most human of vulnerabilities. It is a well-needed antidote to the adversity faced by venues and musicians in their day-to-day survival. 

Though collectives such as Broadside Hacks are overtly folk in nature, the draw of trad folk songwriting has begun to spread across the scene, rooting itself in many of the most interesting rising voices in music right now. Emerging in the same period as Broadside Hacks we find Shovel Dance Collective, a group of nine musicians who have been celebrating the oral tradition alongside diving into its queer, feminist, and class transcendent nature since 2019. A few sonic steps away from these we find My Life Is Big, an art collective that wanders between formats with curious glee, merging music, art and theatricality in a beguiling fashion.

The acts tied to My Life Is Big are inherently folksy in nature, with groups such as Tapir! placing storytelling, folklore and nature derived imagery at the forefront of their identity. Their concept of following the tale of a Pilgrim across a lush yet treacherous landscape echoes the narrative heavy nature of folk, with characters being subject to difficult and complex journeys in order to undergo personal and emotional transformations. Similarly, The Last Whole Earth Catalog’s 2023 release ‘Do You Face The Brutal Reality’ sees the group shift toward incredibly stripped back, lyric centric songwriting. The resultant album is a profoundly moving experience, an utterly personal and vulnerable release that resonates with you long after the last track. 

The emergence of these collectives ties in closely with the disruption caused by COVID and its repercussions across the London musical community. Broadside Hacks’ decision to form initially began as a label, centring on the ‘Songs Without Authors’ compilation, bringing together artists remotely since they could no longer be on lineups together. From this a folk club began, initially a jam session among friends before developing into a series of events. 

The rise of collectives including Broadside Hacks, Shovel Dance Collective and My Life Is Big ties in to a wider shift in the scene, with more artists diving into their folksy sound and experimenting with the tradition. Groups such as Bishopskin, whose mesmerising debut album was released last October, musically worship an England of the past. Frontman Tiger Nicholson has reflected that “English people have always thought of an ancient, better version of England, a more beautiful version than the reality.” The album sees them delve into the alluring ideals of a forgotten England, entranced by luscious countryside, religious imagery and storytelling in a way that mirrors many of the acts involved in the aforementioned collectives, not least Tapir!

The ripples continue to spread, from the intricate, moving live sets of Black Country, New Road’s Tyler Hyde (who performs under the pseudonym Tyler Cryde) to the fantastically delicate songwriting of Clara Mann, whose tales sound like the musical equivalent of tracing the fine details of a spider’s web. The primal, inherently feminine vocals of The New Eves, contrasted with harsh instrumentation creates an eerie yet alluring trad folk sound, something that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack of a classic folk horror film. 

The Other Folk in print inside Issue Forty-Eight of So Young. Buy a copy here.

The appeal of trad folk is clear, and its roots are beginning to take a hold of many of the finest voices in alternative music, encouraging them to confront human truths and pushing them to make brilliant sonic offerings. What is less clear is its cause. Perhaps it is the desire for community, a deep need to regain the unity that was fragmented by COVID and a celebration of being able to get so many people in a room together, creating again. Alternatively, it could be a wider reflection of artists having the opportunity to explore further inspirations and experiment with their sounds. As Broadside Hacks’ Campell Baum has reflected in a previous interview, “it was because of lockdown we had an opportunity to dive into something brand new, because you suddenly had the time.” 

An enticing and empowering interpretation is that the revival ties into the defiant longevity of the art of the working class, something that resonates with artists as they face increasing economic difficulty in their pursuit of creativity. This sentiment is echoed in the words of Naima Bock, who featured on the Songs Without Authors compilation, describing how “there’s the history of working class people who made the land and communities that we have remnants of today. Singing these folk songs is honouring them and their history, rather than the history of the elite, their money and their wars.”

Whatever the cause, the strange allure of trad folk is beginning to spread, and it only feels inevitable that the wider indie scene will follow. Soon haunting vocals, string instruments and vivid storytelling may become the norm. It is an exhilarating shift that is bound to produce some truly original and brilliant new offerings, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.

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