Young Fathers at The Academy on March 28th 2018
Sometimes at live shows an artist’s music and body language transmits their prevailing emotions, or what’s running through their minds, transformative but rigid, catering exclusively to the art of performing itself. In one of those truly uncompromising, electrifying affairs, precious time is assigned by Young Fathers to platitudes, gratitudes, or filler.
Edinburgh-based future gospel-rap experimentalists Young Fathers—Kayus Bankole, Graham “G” Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi—spend the night releasing guttural screams and visceral incantations, dancing as if possessed by poltergeists, and interchanging between rapping and singing with envious ease. The trio’s chemistry, supercharged by the notion of a leaderless band, starved The Academy of oxygen — each short, feverish performance bristling with imagination and grit.
At times, Massaquoi, who is sporting a gold-sequined cowboy jacket, resembles a songbird, at other times, a ’80s soul icon. He, on occasion, races from centre-stage to pulverise a drum and nearby cymbals. Later, we see him smashing this drum unrepentantly with a tambourine. There is no relenting moment of release.
And Bankole is even more animalistic, his Jagger-esque mannerisms—gyrations, microphone-stand swings, neurotic yells—make for vital viewing. Less animated is Hastings, the group’s beatmaker, who sporadically makes his way back-and-forth between the mic and a console he is using to produce the submersive, wailing industrial drones and synths.
Young Father’s hymn sheets are full of biblical allegories, explicit references to spirituality, and quick-witted social commentary exploring race, identity and injustice. In a live setting, it’s a soul-cleansing ritual commandeered by multi-faceted, genre-splicing artists at the top of their game—they present a tense stand-off with centuries-old deities, their striking gospel influences serving as the ultimate subversion. “You can tell your deity/I’m alright/Wake up in the bed, call me Jesus Christ,” Bankole bays out on Holy Ghost.
Warped opener Wire, plucked from new album ‘Cocoa Sugar’, is purposefully jarring, with its propulsive techno beat and frenzied drumming, courtesy of tour-drummer Steven Morrison. Morrison, stands tall through the night, leading the fight like the guitar-flaming Doof Warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Cocoa Sugar was typically unconventional but sleek, producing some of their most meditative and engulfing pop-moments yet. Toy and In My View, two hypnotic Cocoa Sugar highlights, transcend the album versions, and are entirely spell-bending in such an intimate backdrop.
The performances were at their most deliberate the trio dig deep into the vaults (Get Up, Queen is Dead). But, upon striking new and approachably pop-territory with their latest batch of songs, it’s here where the connection, or hex, is at its most head-spinning. Young Fathers live theatrics are evidently as alive as their expectation-defying and genre-bending experiments to date—they may just be the abrasive yet tuneful antidote to the overwhelming malaise, both societal and personal, of rigged power structures.