Young Fathers are DEAD.
Or, rather, DEAD is Young Fathers. Their first full-length album, released in February, 2014, on Anticon and Big Dada has been given the kind of critical appraisal normally held hidden in the filing cabinets of dusty music journos and only brought out, along with the bottle of fine blended whisky for those special occasions, those special rock occasions. You know the kind, when a credible bunch of guitar, bass and drum twenty-somethings from some northern town in the UK or from Indianapolis USA put something together in the studio that reaches out and reminds everyone that modern life isn't rubbish. Which is a weird reaction for a group who sit in some non-categorisable space between genres ancient and modern, who take hiphop and pop and dip it in a tie-dye mix of Ronnettes and krautrock and ragga and dub and post-punk and afropsych… and make something, something, something.
Many years before dropping DEAD the three individuals who became Young Fathers were apprentice young men. 14 years old, meeting in a sweaty dancing circle in the infamous original Bongo Club in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Moving to the in-your-face beats of early noughties hiphop, R&B and Dancehall and then at the end of the night, agreeing to meet at solemn faced would-be producer G's house, to 'make records' on an ancient karaoke machine. The three of them, already looking like their future selves: Alloysious, city street holy man, sad eyes to the stars, past of the Liberian war atrocities buried in childhood scar tissue; Kayus, face exploding from frowns to huge laughter, pure naija boy on the outside but reflective and always feeling far away from his Nigerian home on the inside; and G, quietly watching and waiting for good things to come, practising the serious don't fuck street face for the neds where he grew up, but nurturing a heart of soul.
From the bedroom to the basement. It took them a few years before they found the small underground studio in Leith where they could perfect the uniqueness already nascent in the early days. Here they developed what they call, like the Sicilian mafia, 'our thing'. Recording processes that involve ritual, musical techniques more usually found in bebop jazz, playing with ways to write lyrics and tunes, scouring the further reaches and always recoiling from cliché. But always, always staying true to the Rules of Pop which demand hooks, energy, sparkle, accessibility, passion and beats that vibrate below the waist. From this point came their first release, what was originally conceived as a mixtape, literally only available on individually recorded cassettes with hand printed sleeves: TAPE ONE was the moment, recorded in a week, ready to release in two.
Shortly thereafter, TAPE TWO was recorded and a deal with far-out Los Angeles hiphopping label, Anticon inked. TAPE TWO took the dirty mounds of its predecessor and moulded beautiful sand sculptures, sealed by the sea, with the same processes, the same inspiration, gone deeper, gone darker. A year after its release TAPE TWO wins the Scottish Album Of The Year Award (2014), an indication, perhaps, that people are really starting to get it. YFs are just happy more people are listening, even if that 20 grand prize money does come in handy for debts and mashed up gear. And a final, critical tick from the music business comes at the end of summer when the album is nominated for a Mercury award.
Did I mention the live show? I don't believe so… on an insane tour of the USA, UK and Europe, heading over to Australia, Japan, Russia and then back to Europe. A huge 27-date UK & European tour preceded standout performances at SXSW, with a 33-date US tour supporting Anticon's Baths before playing a homecoming show at the Park Stage at Glastonbury. By the end of this year, YFs will have driven around the world one and a half times and flown it several times more. What happens? Each time they appear as a support, the headliner regrets and celebrates, because, if the headliner can't hope to make the desired impact after the explosion of uber-watt energy that is a Young Fathers show, they can at least reflect and bask in the knowledge that they were partly responsible for something special happening.
When they headline, they squeeze hours into 45 minutes and leave the audience exhausted from spectacle and bass, necks aching from craning, ears ringing and a delayed smile forming as they leave after pointless demands for more. (Of course, YFs never give more, because they have given all they have).
Sounds like hyperbole? Read the reviews… The Guardian were particularly kind about DEAD, Alexis Petridis wrote: "Young Fathers have quietly constructed a strange and intoxicating musical universe that feels entirely their own" – Guardian 4/5 (Lead Review). I know the group intimately and yet they still shock me on a regular basis. Not with anything as base as the kind of look-at-me desperation of a shocking rocking Rocky Horror spit show, nor with pyro and cannons and strippers or any of the other circus tricks. Just with presence and passion and looking like that beamed in from another world lost aliens with a message of love type of group. With intense engagement… intense… the Johnny Rotten, Ian Curtis, James Brown kind. Taking that brief blast of special that is normally only allowed to boys from terraced houses for a couple of years before imp or exp-losion but YFs just, keep it going, impossibly, like an Ethiopian marathon racer. Which should be an indication, dear star watchers, that something special is happening.
OK, 850 odd words and still so much info to impart. How about… America, it's like jumping into a deep fat fryer, so many delicious possibilities, like: Jimmy Kimmel, set to take the crown of late night TV chat show hosts, who hosted Young Fathers in June, watched by the entire Anticon roster, performing with blood shot intensity after 24 hours of partying (yes, they party, seriously of course, as you ask) in Los Angeles. More America: the entire staff of KEXP in Seattle, cramming into the control booth and watching in awe during YFs' radio session there. If you know how many artists go through those doors you'll know what an accolade that is.
What about the BBC? How about all the love from Zane Lowe for the singles, not to mention the weekly shows they made for 1Xtra through October last year (2013) ? Episodes of some outer space Dada drama slotted in amongst all the herbal urban clichés. How about being banned by the beeb? Queen Is Dead, from TAPE TWO, officially banned just in case the Queen of Britain pops her clogs at the moment of spinning.
Time to round it up and leave all the untold good stuff for another time. Now signed with Big Dada, Young Fathers are already recording the next album, printing more of their iconic T-shirts (have you got one yet? You'll probably have to wait), making more videos, sweating their way through the summer festivals, ignoring stupid borders and other constraints in order to bring it, whatever it is, to you. ENDS