Young Fathers – Deaf Institute, Manchester

Young Fathers are an act characterised by a mish-mash of origins and influences that is so fragmented it really is hard to place them at times.

After drumming up a notable amount of attention amongst the underground towards the end of the last decade, there were some who were professing it was only a matter of time before they crashed the mainstream.

Five years later they have yet to really do so, but it remains to be seen whether they will be in any way bothered, given that – regardless of the marker it turns out to be – new album ‘DEAD’ is their best full-length release thus far.

Having been snapped up by Big Dada – the label behind the likes of Roots Manuva, Saul Williams and Mercury winner Speech Debelle – the new record sees Young Fathers take on a darker sound than on previous occasions.

In a jack of all trades kind of manner, the group’s vocal trio can rap like Jay-Z, sing like D’Angelo and work the crowd like the most crazed of drum ‘n’ bass MCs. On paper, this sounds as if it could lack authenticity and when a frantic electronic backing that wouldn’t be out of place on Warp Records is considered, it is perhaps understandable that a few could be turned off by the prospect of all this going on at once.

This is a notion that is given extra weight when the band are greeted by a venue that is less than half full (giving the new LP’s title an added significance that is no doubt unwanted but unfortunately apt).

The sparseness of the crowd is in no way detrimental to Young Fathers’ high-octane stage presence though. After rattling through DEAD’s opener ‘NO WAY’, they urge the audience to fill the gaps at front of the room. The resulting set is one with an intensity and enthusiasm that would be more than deserving of a sellout.

Fusing hip-hop, R‘n’B, catchy pop hooks and a clash of brooding electronica, the band is comprised of an equally unorthodox combination of personalities. The African roots of vocalists Alloysious Massaquoi (Liberia) and Kayus Bankole (Nigeria) are something that shine through in the music. ‘LOW’ showcases a kind of tribal percussion that seems to tip its hat to traditional African folklore but somehow simultaneously encompasses the band’s conception and base in Edinburgh by giving off a vibe vaguely comparable to the march of the Scots Guards.

The remaining frontman ‘G’ Hastings is Edinburgh born and bred grew up on the Drylaw housing plot, which was designed in the 1950s to provide an alternative for lower-earning residents from the gentrified town of Leith. With such a vibrant make-up, it is hard to turn up to a Young Fathers gig with many preconceived ideas about the way the music will translate live.

During poppier moments there’s a slightly choreographed feel to the show that almost paints the band as a sort of Backstreet Boys for the modern hedonistic dubstep demographic, but this is most certainly doing them a disservice.

It is more accurate to say that the intrigue, otherworldly production and category-dodging nature of Young Fathers is the embodiment of the kind of hip-hop as art that Kanye West tried and failed to achieve with his Yeezus album last year.

It seems that with each track the rapturous reception from the shy-of-100 audience gets more enthusiastic. It is likely there are hundreds of bands out there who would let their heads, and consequently performance, drop in the face of such a modest turnout. But instead the 50-minute repertoire shows the rest of the world exactly what they are missing out on.

‘I Heard’ brings proceedings to a close and what was simply a few sporadic cheers and claps when the band arrived has evolved into a widespread (but ultimately futile) call for an encore by the time they leave.

Patrick Davies

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