Young Fathers @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 30 Nov
Young Fathers return to Scotland after a huge year of accolades to deliver a relentlessly triumphant set
Young Fathers' music is boundary-defying and hard to place; it doesn’t sit neatly in any clearly definable box. It is genreless. And with it, they're carving a new frontier for Scottish music, one that has no use for borders or backgrounds. What a source of great pride it should be to our music scene to have witnessed their star rise this year. And 2018 has been an incredible one for the trio. You’d be forgiven for thinking they peaked too early, releasing their critically acclaimed Cocoa Sugar in the year’s first quarter, a record that went on to win the Scottish Album of the Year Award and the no less impressive accolade of sitting atop The Skinny’s album of the year list. But they followed it with a show at the Barrowlands, an iconic venue that was an indicator of just how far they’d come. The summer saw their reputation across the Atlantic skyrocket.
And so this show at the O2 Academy is something of a homecoming for Young Fathers, even if they hail from Edinburgh. While the live music scene on the Scottish east coast takes a kicking (something the band have spoken out about), ahead of closing out their set tonight with fan favourite Shame, the band’s Graham 'G' Hastings takes a rare moment to soak in the ramped atmosphere, noting, as is usual when bands roll through Glasgow, that they are the best crowd in the world. The subsequent ovation renders Hastings speechless. Alloysious Massaquoi is a squat silhouette; Kayus Bankole is, perhaps for the first time tonight, motionless.
Rewind to a couple of hours previous, ticket holders are still filtering in from the lashing rain outside. The lingering dampness doesn’t mute the tingling anticipation. First there is the prospect of South African Yannick Ilunga, known as Petite Noir. Striking in a suit of crimson, his music is a fitting opening for the occasion. Like Young Fathers, the beats are militaristic, bass-rattling the Academy’s floors, and there is an underlying current of terror that, even in his most upbeat of songs, claws through.
It’s unclear whether the night’s headliners arrive on stage a little while after their advertised set time because of actual delays or to allow the crowd’s expectancy and patience to ripple a little. When they do appear, the audience reacts so raucously that the applause almost drowns out the beginning of opener Get Started.
Perhaps because they are from here, rather than despite, the threesome offer few words between songs, instead preferring to tear through a set that leans on Cocoa Sugar and White Men Are Black Men Too, mixing in a handful of choice cuts from their earlier tapes. While the new songs sparkle with the pop sensibility that has seen them gain so much traction this year, it's a marvel to see the same enthusiasm greet their more abrasive material.
Behind them a sheet of strobing light, Massaquoi, Bankole and Hastings deliver a relentless and triumphant set, aided by live drummer Steven Morrison and Callum Easter on keys and lap steel. What strikes the hardest, similar to the way they can inhabit characters in songs like Fee Fi and Wire, are the many musical costumes they can effortlessly fit into when playing live: the intensity of rap, the thumping impact of dance, the smarts of art rock, exuding the sexual energy of classic rock stars, and even the suave cheekiness of a boyband. In this respect, like their music, they are genreless.
The show ends in a crack of feedback and the crash of a collapsing drum kit and toppled mic stands. Kanye West once said that "rap is the new rock'n'roll". If this night at the O2 Academy is anything to go by, it’s clear that actually Young Fathers are the new rock'n'roll.