Young Fathers are DEAD. Or, rather, DEAD is Young Fathers. Their first full-length album, released in February, 2014, on Anticon and Big Dada has been given the kind of critical appraisal normally held hidden in the filing cabinets of dusty music journos and only brought out, along with the bottle of fine blended whisky for those special occasions, those special rock occasions. You know the kind, when a credible bunch of guitar, bass and drum twenty-somethings from some northern town in the UK or from Indianapolis USA put something together in the studio that reaches out and reminds everyone that modern life isn’t rubbish. Which is a weird reaction for a group who sit in some non-categorisable space between genres ancient and modern, who take hiphop and pop and dip it in a tie-dye mix of Ronnettes and krautrock and ragga and dub and post-punk and afropsych… and make something, something, something.
Many years before dropping DEAD the three individuals who became Young Fathers were apprentice young men. 14 years old, meeting in a sweaty dancing circle in the infamous original Bongo Club in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Moving to the in-your-face beats of early noughties hiphop, R&B and Dancehall and then at the end of the night, agreeing to meet at solemn faced would-be producer G’s house, to ‘make records’ on an ancient karaoke machine. The three of them, already looking like their future selves: Alloysious, city street holy man, sad eyes to the stars, past of the Liberian war atrocities buried in childhood scar tissue; Kayus, face exploding from frowns to huge laughter, pure naija boy on the outside but reflective and always feeling far away from his Nigerian home on the inside; and G, quietly watching and waiting for good things to come, practising the serious don’t fuck street face for the neds where he grew up, but nurturing a heart of soul.
From the bedroom to the basement. It took them a few years before they found the small underground studio in Leith where they could perfect the uniqueness already nascent in the early days. Here they developed what they call, like the Sicilian mafia, ‘our thing’. Recording processes that involve ritual, musical techniques more usually found in bebop jazz, playing with ways to write lyrics and tunes, scouring the further reaches and always recoiling from cliché. But always, always staying true to the Rules of Pop which demand hooks, energy, sparkle, accessibility, passion and beats that vibrate below the waist. From this point came their first release, what was originally conceived as a mixtape, literally only available on individually recorded cassettes with hand printed sleeves: TAPE ONE was the moment, recorded in a week, ready to release in two.
Shortly thereafter, TAPE TWO was recorded and a deal with far-out Los Angeles hiphopping label, Anticon inked. TAPE TWO took the dirty mounds of its predecessor and moulded beautiful sand sculptures, sealed by the sea, with the same processes, the same inspiration, gone deeper, gone darker. A year after its release TAPE TWO wins the Scottish Album Of The Year Award (2014), an indication, perhaps, that people are really starting to get it. YFs are just happy more people are listening, even if that 20 grand prize money does come in handy for debts and mashed up gear.