Interview Young Fathers: ‘We Use Hip-Hop, Throw It Away, Spit On It…’

The UK’s most dazzling, provocative new band Young Fathers have a potentially game-changing debut album up their sleeves.

What do Nigeria, Liberia and Scotland’s Drylaw housing estate have in common? Not much, on the face of it - other than that each contributes a member to one of the most head-spinningly exhilarating bands of recent years. Thrown together amidst Edinburgh’s unlikely spires, native Scotsman Graham Hastings, second-generation Nigerian Kayus Bankole, and the Liberian-born Alloysius Massaquoi may well seem an unlikely alliance. The end result, however, is Young Fathers - a band who are not so much ripping up the musical rulebook as they are eviscerating it with a flaming chainsaw.

2014 sees Young Fathers ready to take things up a gear. Having already sent the blogosphere hype-machine into near meltdown with last year’s ‘Tape 1’ and ‘Tape 2’, ‘Dead’ looks like the beginning of a concerted assault on the mainstream. Combining the compelling lyricism of spoken word poetry with the raw danceability of bass culture’s darkest recesses, these releases were heady masterclasses of artistic juxtaposition. While those two maddeningly fleeting mixtapes clock in at barely 19 minutes apiece, ‘Dead’ is much more a satisfying 36 - enough time to see whether those glimpses of potential were flashes in the pan, or the beginnings of something special.

In the meantime, the band’s mood is one of bullish self-assurance. Although to say that may be slightly unfair - the band don’t come across as arrogant, but simply as a group with an unshakeable belief in their own creative processes, and a healthy disregard for the judgement of others. As is inevitable for any band that takes music into new, interesting territory, the internet has taken great pains to get them into a ‘genre-box’ as soon as possible, but the band themselves are much less fussed. As Alloysius puts it, “we make what we make…and folk deciding what it is or isn’t is no concern of ours”. ‘G’ Hastings is equally as blunt; “It’s not our problem. They can catch up eventually… We use everything we find, like the kids in the mines in the Congo. We use hip-hop, throw it away, spit on it, pick it back up. It’s the same amount of loyalty we have with any other form - none”.

This sense of artistic ruthlessness, that hard-nosed intention to make music without boundaries or restraint, is something both members cite as vital to any artistic process. “That’s how you make it exciting”, says G. “No allegiance. Same as with everything.” Alloysius is quick to agree. “We’re fearless when we go into our manager’s basement. Whatever happens will happen as we move very quickly, capturing a moment or a vibe.”

“There are no rules”, adds G. “Quickly get in and get it all out. Be brave, it’ll be alright. Force it if you have to… you might like it in the morning.”

The writing and recording of Dead was clearly an intense process - and you can sense this same intensity in the group’s live shows. While there are parallels to be drawn with a Savages performance - the same brooding eye contact, a similar sense of gravity and occasion - where Young Fathers take it up a level is with their sheer physical intensity. Periods of tense, introverted calm are punctuated by explosions of frenetic action, the trio tearing across the stage to the beat of their frenzied live drummer. Just as with their recorded work, live performance is something Young Fathers take extremely seriously - “we’re not here for you to just have fun and go home”, insists G. “We want you to change, stand right there and change.”

“Different venues have different moods, so you can’t try to copy-and-paste a performance,” he adds. “Couldn’t do it if we tried. You will get something born in front of you that night that you will never see again. Not ever.”

Alloysius is keen to make something clear. “We are leaders, not followers,” he says. “We want to take risks, and life is the biggest risk. Why don’t you do something that’s rewarding and good for the soul? That helps you sleep at night when you’re an old man?.” Whatever you think of their music, you can hardly claim that Young Fathers are playing it safe. No matter what happens from here on out, they’ll sleep soundly enough.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.

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