Adam Smith puts us front and centre as the Mercury Prize-winning Scottish hip-hop trio come to Cardiff.
I reach for my iPhone as soon as they come on stage. I want to record this moment so I can relive it after the fact. I want to make a poor quality video clip of around three minutes in length which I can show to my friends and say I was there and you should have been too. I want to upload it onto Facebook so that in five years time I will be reminded that on my this day I went to see Young Fathers at Clwb Ifor Bach.
I’ve got my phone in my hand and I’m ready to press ‘record’ as they begin to play ‘No Way’. I listen to the pulsating drums, the pulverising low end frequencies coming from the synthesiser. There’s no way an iPhone mic could cope with this.
I see Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole lit-up by strobe lights; how is a camera meant to focus on this? My eyes are struggling, my ears can barely keep up. The singers’ voices are colliding and collapsing in on each other. Their vocals smothered in layers of echo and distortion so it’s almost impossible to tell who’s singing at any one time.
They play ‘Deadline’, the three men huddled around a single microphone, singing: ‘Shoulder to shoulder, we are pretenders, making the headlines.’ They move as one, swaggering across the stage in time to the beat. The look is part a cappella group, part cartoon Cerberus.
I think how the mythical three-headed beast is a good if slightly obvious metaphor for a band who have clearly devoured so much music – gospel, blues, soul, reggae and hip-hop – and grown into their own unique beast.
Young Fathers feel like the weird turned pro, ideologues who’ve read the rulebook from cover to cover so they can turn the game inside out, twist it on its head. Take the Queen is Dead where the traditional Bling trope gets cut-up and reimagined in the chorus of ‘Money, money, cash for gold.’
And ‘Get Up’, which is the perfect ironic party anthem. Its apparent references to Spike Lee, Three 6 Mafia and the Upsetters soon giving way to a bleak images of dealers and corpses, before laughing in the face of the ‘cowboys’ with their guns.
There is a raw velocity in their performance which no video could hope to do justice to. The visceral intensity would be so diluted that something fundamental would be lost.
Hastings looks like Ian Curtis, jittering away in his shirt sleeves and his austere hair cut. Massaquoi pops and locks while Bankole spins windmills like he’s at a hardcore show.
I think how it’s funny how everyone wants to put a genre onto Young Fathers. I read an interview where they said:
We don’t so much cast the musical barriers aside as never acknowledge their existence in the first place. Why would we want to build our own coffins when there is so much life in our bodies? Box us in when we’re dead.
As they play ‘Old Rock n Roll’ I think how the need to label things comes from the same place as the impulse to record, the desire to make sense of the world in order to try to control it.
Young Fathers know that every time you give something a name you put up a wall. They want to break down the barriers that exist between us and erase the boundaries that limit our creativity.
At least that’s what I get when they say: ‘White men are black men too.’
For Young Fathers’ remaining tour dates you can visit their website here.
(photo credit requested)