Look up any article discussing the undefinable enigma that is Young Fathers, and you will be met with a multitude of journalists grappling with the musical classifications of a band that exists beyond the mainstream. More than just genre-bending, the Edinburgh trio continue to create something in and of itself. As they walked on stage, their shadows cast on a mottled draped backdrop, the slow-build soundscape of ‘Shoot Me Down’ echoed around the walls of Manchester Academy.
Kayus Bankole, Graham ‘G’ Hastings, and Alloysious Massaquoi, the foundation of Young Fathers, were joined onstage by Amber Joy and Kim Mandindo. With the addition of instrumentalists, each performer conducted every sound and motion with potent intentionality. Young Fathers do not just play their music, they perform it. As if orchestrated like a theatre production, the whole set came together with an erratic unpredictability, shifting between soulful anthems and rapid drumming.
The lighting was an actor in of itself, accompanying the heavy drums of ‘GET UP’ with flashing bright lights that ignited movement amongst the crowd. Whilst the audience may not have always replicated the energy that was generated on stage, it was not a necessity. In fact, to stand stagnant in awe is sometimes all that can be done when watching Young Fathers.
‘Geronimo’ was a perfect example of this, with the eruptive “Get on, get on!” chant making the track a standout of the 2023 album Heavy Heavy. Simultaneously powerful and contemplative, it addressed the contrast of life’s ups and downs and the nuances of masculinity: “Breathe in like a lion// Breathe out like a lamb.”
Admittedly, this was not the first time I have seen Young Fathers, attending their first tour of album Heavy Heavy during the early Spring of 2023. Whilst nothing may be able to recreate the euphoria of the first-time viewing, this time Hastings approached the crowd with a new engagement. After checking in with the audience, and Bankole running to the barrier mid-song, Hastings took a moment to speak. “We want a ceasefire now,” he shouted, dedicating the lyrics of the 2015 track ‘Shame’ to “those that drop bombs without reason.” As the lyrics “I’m a sing, ‘What a shame on you’” were sung out, it was a reminder that to be able to stay silent during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a privilege many do not have.
This message was one carried into the marching drum beats of ‘I Saw.’ With lyrics repeating “I saw what I saw// I keep on walking the line”, the song originally tackled the impacts of post-colonialism in Brexit Britain, with Bankole explaining “it also touches on how effective turning a blind eye can be, that idea that there’s nothing really you can do. It’s a call to arms, but there’s also this massive question mark.” Following Hastings’ previous remarks, these lyrics took on new meanings: just because one is untouched by conflict, does not mean that it can be overlooked. The repeated motif of “Brush your teeth// Wash your face// Run away” rang out into a prolonged acapella, ricocheting back and forth across the walls of the venue.
Young Fathers’ approach to live music is unconventional. They don’t play into fanfare or idolisation, as Hastings shouted “We don’t go off and do f*cking encores,” proceeding to ask the audience what song they want next. After a few shouts from the audience, the heavy breaths of ‘Toy’ commenced, ending the show with abrupt drums and synths. Each member took a moment to relish in the applause but never lingered. Whilst it may be unorthodox, it is this that sets Young Fathers apart. There was no need to dress up the gig with audience antics; the performance stood sturdily on its own.
Young Fathers not only raise expectations for live music, they reshape and redefine it altogether.