24th January | O2 Academy
Photos: Andrzej Zajac
As mounting anticipation took a sour turn, the crowd at Young Fathers turned stomping feet and clapping hands into bitter jeers and the rumbling of boos. Fans of the Scottish trio should count themselves lucky: hip-hop legend, Lauryn Hill’s European leg of her recent Miseducation anniversary tour often kept audiences waiting for two hours before she appeared on stage. Young Fathers, in comparison, were only half an hour late.
And, initially, it took a while for the avant-garde group to win over the crowd, who had been waiting for this rescheduled show to take place since December (not literally – the Christmas period spent encamped at the O2 Academy wouldn’t be that festive). But before long, the tenacious energy of the set won over any previous frustrations that members of the audience may have had.
They opened with percussive-heavy tracks from the entire spectrum of their discography – often led by the beat of Alloysious Massaquoi’s drum. His piercing blue eyes (or, at least that was the colour the illuminated stage design transformed them into) scoured the audience, luring them into the performance and enticing them into the band’s mysterious soundscape.
The Edinburgh trio make music in a genre notoriously difficult to pin down. Is it hip-hop? Rap? Electronica? Indie? R&B? World? Does it matter? Answer: probably not. It’s their spicy blend of a little bit of everything which makes them so compelling, especially in a live element, with hollering voices, really loud pre-programmed beats and bass lines.
Add to that an anarchic stage presence that, nonetheless, feels carefully considered and geared more towards a theatrical production than a rock n roll outfit, never sacrificing tempo for a moment to breathe. What they lacked in between-song chat, they made up for in direct, no-nonsense tunes that were rife with intrigue and almost always had something intelligent to shout about, whether it concerned dystopia, royalty or race.
Although the show missed out on a few key tracks (‘key’ being a potentially biased term for ‘my personal favourites’), it was just over an hour of killer tunes, mainly from their two most recent LPs Cocoa Sugar and Black Men Are White Men, but with a sprinkling of standouts, like ‘Get Up’ and ‘Low’ from their Mercury Prize-winning debut DEAD that catapulted them into the spotlight in 2014.
No matter what was played, where it was fished from in the band’s complex and richly sonic history, the vocal fusion of Massaquoi, Graham ‘G’ Hastings and Kayus Bankole was bewitching, their many layers leaving so much to listen out for and so many audible threads to lose yourself in. And, even though their set was short, it was anything but sweet: instead intoxicating might be a more appropriate turn of phrase.
See Young Fathers perform ‘Toy’ on Later… with Jools Holland here: