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Five Minutes With: The Folk Ups

By Sophie Pettit 22 December 2016
Banjos, broken strings, and a suitcase drum called Shelby - this is the quirky life of Hong Kong band, The Folk Ups. We've spotted these soulful 16-year olds at several music events throughout the year, including Clockenflap and the Hong Kong Sevens, and we're totally hooked on their fresh, folky sound. So when we heard that they've just released their first EP, we were first in line for a chat. 

First things first, let's talk about the band name ...

Well, we didn't have a name when we joined our school's music contest, so they asked us to make one up. We wanted to be funny, but thought that the teachers in charge would realise its cheekiness. Actually, no one realised until the finals and so The Folk Ups stuck.

How did The Folk Ups duo come into being?

We both live in Mui Wo, we're in the same class, we have the same group of friends, and we both really liked the song Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men, so one day we decided to come together and record a cover of it. We thought we sounded pretty okay so then we tried to make an original song together. That song turned out to be Red In The Sky and we turned out to be The Folk Ups.

Where's your favourite place to jam in the city?

We like to write our songs outdoors in Mui Wo because it's peaceful and free. You've got to get outside the box to think outside the box!

... And your first gig?

In the doorway of our school's music block!

Any pre-performance rituals?

Every time we break a string on one of our instruments, something good seems to happen. Jasmine's guitar string broke right before our performance at the Lion Rock Music Festival and we ended up getting invited to perform at The Hong Kong Sevens. A month later, she broke two banjo strings before our school music contest and we took home two awards. So next time you see us before a performance don't tell us to break a leg, tell us to break a string! The Folk Ups Hong Kong band

We hear that your collection of instruments includes a suitcase drum?

Oh, Shelby! Ryan spent a few hours hand-sawing a hole in a suitcase he bought on AsiaExpat. He attached a drum head to it and together we spray-painted our logo onto it. He drew inspiration from a musician called Shakey Graves, who also uses a suitcase drum. However, his is nameless and doesn't have a soul like Shelby does (pictured above).

Let's rewind - when did you both start playing music?

Jasmine: When I was five my parents signed me up for piano lessons and I didn't like it at all. I quit when I was nine and didn't take an interest in music until I was 13. I was at a friend's house and she had an old, broken ukulele so I picked it up and started to play the military wake-up call Reveille. I have no idea how or why I did that but that sparked my interest in music and I asked my parents for a ukulele for Christmas. The year after ukulele I moved onto guitar, learning how to play both instruments from the trusty YouTube.

Ryan: I've got a story something similar to Jasmine's. I first picked up the guitar when I was 11, then put it down again for three years because I wasn't interested. I've always been writing stories and poetry, but eventually I thought, "I like my poetry, but no one will ever read it, so I should try doing something different." So I then wrote lots of awful lyrics for a while, until I eventually tried putting it with my guitar when I was 14. That's when I consider myself to have actually started.

... And now you've released your first EP! What are you favourite tracks?

Jasmine: Mine is Tempest. It's about a girl who is trying to seduce a guy, but he's not that into her. Eventually he gives in and they live happily ever after. I just love the melodies - they make the song really catchy, lighthearted, and easy to sing along to!

Ryan: I'm the polar-opposite! I fell in love with Red In The Sky and how ridiculously dark it is after we made the music video and invited our friend Samantha Tsang to record a violin track. It's a murder ballad - in it I kill Jasmine (!) - and I just think it's really fun to get into the zone and character while performing it.

How does the songwriting process work?

For some of the songs, we'll come together and dedicate a day or two to write the bulk of it, and after that we'll pass ideas back and forth until it feels like we're done. With other songs, Ryan noodles around on his guitar until something clicks, and the song might be finished in a few hours.

What other music do you listen to?

Jasmine: Alvvays, TOPS, No Vacation, SALES

Ryan: A lot of Alt and Indie-rock, but I'll listen to just about anything which isn't Mandopop.

How about Hong Kong bands?

Asyndeton, Paisley Daze, Shatalene, and The Interzone Collective are all great. We were honoured to be invited to the annual HK Folk Fest gathering - everyone was super lovely and we really felt like part of the gang!

You finished out 2016 as the only student band with a slot at Clockenflap - how did you get there so fast?

Countless opportunities that Belinda from Yrock, Chris  from The Underground, and Lauren from The YoungPost have not only helped us to grow as artists, but also lead to us being selected to perform by the lovely folks at Clockenflap. We'd like to thank them for all of their hard work and support!

... And finally, your dream gig?

The NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts. It would be an honour to perform at a place where so many of our favourite artists have.

The Folk Ups Hong Kong music band

Get folked up!

Listen to The Folk Ups' first ever EP playlist on YouTube and click here to download it for free! Also available on Spotify and iTunes.

Catch The Folk Ups live on January 7, 2017 at The Underground's Sub Terra #4 and January 17 at The Wanch.

Read more! Spend Five Minutes With some other colourful Hong Kong characters or check out The Best of Localiiz 2016.

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Sophie Pettit


Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.