Young Fathers

We chat to the hip-hop outsiders after their surprise Mercury Prize win...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 30 Oct 2014
  • min read
Hip-hop alchemists Young Fathers have been writing and playing together since their early teens, forging a new sound that melds the DNA of rap with leftfield R&B, punk and dark electronica.

Dabbling in everything from African rhythms to post-punk to American soul, Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings have sketched out their eclectic hip-hop vision in graphic detail.

But the incubation process has been lengthy: the Scottish trio been working together since they were 14, honing their rapping skills in open mic slots before tentatively recording using cheap music software.

Initially dubbing themselves a ‘psychedelic hip-hop boy band’, they’ve since morphed into something much darker.

Their recent signing to Big Dada here in the UK, as well as Stateside underground hip-hop label Anticon, brought them to a wider audience, helped by the re-release of their stark EPs Tape One and follow-up Tape Two.

But it’s their debut album Dead that has really pushed the right buttons here in the UK, as proved by last night’s Barclaycard Mercury Prize win.

We were on hand the Roundhouse, north London, last night to catch them at the press conference afterwards…

We haven’t really thought about it yet, but we’re off to Berlin to record our next album so the money will definitely come in handy.

How’s the new album coming along?
Well, we’re constantly writing and trying to be as creative as possible. It’s hard work, and it’s a continuous thing.

Your debut album is big mix of sounds, where does it come from? What are the inspirations behind it?
It comes from the gut.

Is this win going to make a difference to how you work in the future?
No, it doesn’t change anything at all.

So what does influence how you work?
We try to stay in a childlike mentality, just absorbing stuff as much as possible. When you watch a child play, they’re really into what they’re doing. There’s no other people around, that’s how they get into that vibe. So we try to create that atmosphere.

What is it about Berlin that draws you to it?
I think it’s the second or the third biggest centre for music and we want to get our foot in the door. We’ve been there before and done quite a few shows and we love the vibe.

Is it the techno culture that attracts you?
No, not at all. It’s just that we’ve always recorded in the same basement so it’s about getting out of our comfort zone and trying something different. A new environment can have a contribution to the music we make.

Are you interested in going mainstream or do you still want to work with independent labels?
We want people to hear us. We want everybody to hear us.

People will know who we are.

Are you excited to have won? You don’t look that overjoyed…
It’s just part and parcel of the industry. The cameras, us standing by the mic, it’s just what happens…

What are you trying to say with your music?
Sometimes you dunnae ken what you’re trying to say. You’re recording stuff, you’re getting into emotions, half truths, the truth or whatever – you don’t know at the time and sometimes you do. There’s no way of telling…

So it’s about the sound you make rather than the statement?
It’s emotion.

Can you say what influences you got from Scotland on this album?

Do you see yourself as part of the UK hip-hop scene or do you see yourself as part of a broader thing?
We see ourselves as Young Fathers. We don’t try to confine ourselves to representing Scotland or representing anything else. We’re flying our own flag for ourselves. That’s it.

If you could collaborate with anyone from the Mercury Prize shortlist tonight, who would it be?
To be honest, we haven’t really heard most of the music that was on the shortlist or even the albums that have been nominated so it won’t be fair for us to say.

Kate Tempest said she was a fan – would you be interested in working with her?
Well, she’s our label mate so…

Is there anything that the money will help you do?
We’ll be able to buy a van.

Where will you go in it?

You gave a great performance tonight – how much were you able to enjoy it with the announcement looming?
We just go out and do what we do. We’re three passionate men and we love what we do y’know. We had the opportunity to get Lauren (aka LAW, pictured above), our sister, up on stage with us as well so it was great.

Do you see the shape of the next album right now or is it still taking form?
We have notes that we carry around with us. There’s nothing set in stone so we’ll see what happens.