“Are you still with us?” demands G Hastings. This line may seem like cliché stage talk from other musicians, but for Young Fathers, it embodies their “us versus them” mentality that they have held onto for over 15 years. It is a plea for unity from a band who firmly believes that their unconventional and energetic sound is actually “pop,” a viewpoint that is not typically embraced by mainstream radio stations.
Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole make up the core trio, but tonight they are joined by a drummer, a multi-instrumentalist, and singers Amber Joy and Kim Mandindo. These additional members are crucial to the performance and cannot be referred to as mere backup vocalists. The group enters the stage with a jittery energy, their constantly moving bodies casting large shadows on the plain backdrop behind them. This scene is reminiscent of Talking Heads’ concert film, Stop Making Sense, as Young Fathers exude the same level of vigor and joy.
Their sound cannot be easily categorized, although they are often labeled as hip-hop. They share a similar belief with that genre in the idea that contrasting elements can come together to make sense: for example, their song “Be Your Lady” combines elements of Einstürzende Neubauten with a rave-like energy before transitioning into a soulful sound. Despite their bold experimentation, the group’s unique blend of sounds creates catchy hooks and intense emotional surges, making it clear that they have a special musical talent.
Their songs are immediate, but the lyrics and themes are complex. The band’s second album, “White Men Are Black Men Too”, explores ideas of race, culture, and pain in the context of old Rock’n’Roll. Their anthems also contain conflicting themes, such as the song “Get Up” which balances both partying and revolution. In the song “Drum”, the repeated lines “Go numb / Have fun” suggest a dangerous undercurrent beneath the call for hedonism. However, Young Fathers also speaks directly and plainly when necessary, dedicating the song “Shame” to those who choose violence over peace and chanting “Fuck the Tories!” before their apocalyptic song “Toy”.
“Is everyone here?” shouts Hastings once more as his group’s exuberant and thought-provoking pop incites a standing ovation lasting several minutes. Though radio programmers may not grasp Young Fathers’ music, their audience certainly does.