Young Fathers – Live @ Eventim Apollo

Jamie MacMillan

A cold and rainy evening situated in the district of West London, all walks of life merge within one another, tangling into the electrified pavements as double-decker buses across your vision and taxis swirl corners releasing an eager spew of people from the underground towards the Eventim Apollo (formerly know as the Hammermsith Apollo).

The Eventim Apollo, situated under the Hammersmith flyover, is lit by a fluorescent rainbow glimmering amongst the damp haze that surrounds it as block letters above the entrance that reads YOUNG FATHERS for tonight’s performance. The Hammersmith Apollo (Eventim Apollo) was originally built as a cinema called ‘Gaumont Palace’ and opened in 1923. However, since then, the 5,300 capacity venue has been the host to many great acts, including The Beatles, Queen, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Bob Marley. Now the most exciting and breathtaking alternative hip hop outfit and album of the year, plus mercury prize winners Young Fathers claim it as their own.

How do you explain Young Fathers? That was my initial thought before acquiring this review. “Well, it’s kinda like hip-hop, tribal, experimental, soulful, art pop, indie, noise pop with rock, kraut rock and electronica influences”. It doesn’t narrow it down. That’s because you can’t narrow it down, nor categorise or pin point something that is so utterly perfectly authentic, unique and prominent to the current times. In years to come it will (probably) be easier for me to understand them, however at the moment they are otherworldly.

Young Fathers are not only at the forefront of creativity and experimentation musically, but they capture everything about modern life in the UK and what surrounds it stronger than any photograph will ever be able to document or reproduce. In fact, a similar resemblance to them would be The Specials, but not sonically. When The Specials emerged from a bleak industrial Coventry back in the late 1970’s, they combined uplifting danceable rhythms of ska and rocksteady with the bubbling energy and attitude of punk that surrounded the underground airwaves at the time, they didn’t just formulate a new sound, but they gave birth to a new celebration of individuality, unity and social political commentary that surrounded everyday life. Although the music emanates an uplifting joy, there was a deep political undercurrent that stood in the foundations. The Specials used their own individual musical roots; rocksteady, rock n roll, reggae and combined it with the contemporary punk sounds at the time, to unite all influences together into a cauldron of sounds that was so distinct and unique sounding that resonated with millions of people across the country, all upheld by the same bleak political and day-to-day oppression. Even Graham Hastings’ presence and signature mic stand lean resonates so much of Terry Hall’s presence. Anyway, this is merely a comparison, but more of a reference towards attempting to explain the ability and force that Young Fathers have obtained to punctuate time and encapsulate it so accurately. Young Fathers have created a sound so blissful, so organic, and contemporary that is constructed upon energetic and cathartic influences inviting the listener to join them on a dance-filled transcendent experience. A definitive moment in British music.

The support for this evening is Mercury prize nominee Nadine Shah. The stage is positioned within an abyss of darkness, a row of spotlights above shine upon the band as they begin to lock into the turbulent hypnosis of rigid industrial tangled beats, and stabs of razor sharp cuts of guitars. Nadine’s voice walks a delicate tightrope through the cabaret of over-worldly percussion and rhythms as she seemingly orchestrates the regulated entropy of the intertwined gruelling bass and angular percussions. The band, consisting of two guitarists either side of the stage, one of whom also dominated the elevating astral keyboards, and bassist and drummer, and centre front… Nadine Shah. Watching Nadine Shah felt like something was impending, about to happen at any moment, as the silhouettes of the band working like clockwork on stage, the tension building further and further, driving the anxiety of the tracks further and further until balancing it with nuance and a clear sense of when to reign it in just enough to avoid it feeling ostentatious. As I peer around the audience, the crowd appear lost within the performance. Nadine’s Kate Bush and Bjork melodic vocal structures combined with her Siouxsie Sioux delivery, and synchronised movements across the stage to the sharp stabs pull the audience from the pillars of mesmerism and back into reality. Although there’s a deeply-routed hypnosis buried at the foundations of Nadine Shah’s music, the free-flowing eastern-inspired grooving beats allow you to fall trance-like into the weaving rhythms while Nadine crafts memorable pop lines that coil into the sounds and create accessible pop-inspired sounds. Smoke rises from the stage amist the brutal tension, until the band remove their instruments and leave the stage abruptly.

If you are unfamiliar with Nadine Shah, you must become familiar, and immerse yourself into the discography that lay awaits you. Nadine Shah’s forthcoming fifth album ‘Filthy Underneath’ is set to be released in February 2024. ‘Topless Mother’ the latest single from ‘Filthy Underneath’ is out now.

The audience quickly rush off to the bar to fuel and quench the ever-so anticipation for tonight’s headline act. As Nadine’ Shah’s instruments and equipment are replaced by the Young Fathers’ ever so minimal set-up, the backdrop of a ragged cloth with holes and stains is revealed. There is a special atmosphere in the air, as the crowd eagerly linger knowing what they are about to witness will be extraordinary in many ways, but also will go down in history for years to come. A blue haze is projected onto the stage, the lights drop…. Now is the time.

An intense strobe introduction against the white stained and torn cloth that hangs at the back of the stage welcomes Young Fathers. Within seconds of being on stage, they dive straight into ‘Shoot Me Down’ from their latest and most versatile album ‘Heavy Heavy’. A perfect introduction to the set accompanied with the tumultuous samples at the beginning, alongside the severe strobes, until a droned synth blossomed from the chaotic samples overpowering and dominating the track alongside the thumbing bass as the backing singers began to repeat “Ooh baby, ooh baby, ooh baby, don’t shoot me down” soothing the confusion and beginning the journey into the set.  At the forefront of the stage stands Graham Hastings [left], Kayus Bankole [centre], Alloysious Massaquoi [right], as the synths and sampler stand to the left, an array of backing singers and the standing drums at the back all stand frozen in the scene, completely motionless. Drummer Steven Morrison stands above his stripped back drum-kit and dictates the tribal rhythms, until Hastings snatches the microphone from the mic stand and leans forward bellowing the verse of the track. Just as the track builds further into the earlier introduced sampled chaos, the stage is plummeted into darkness and silence, until bouncing straight back into the 2014 single sing-a-long deep hip-hop cut ‘Get Up’. In complete juxtaposition to the introduction, everyone on stage breaks into motion, no one is still, the backing singers bounce around the stage as the deep innovative organic sampled sounds mixed with Bankole, Hastings and Massaquoi’s share the verses until uniting into synchronicity for the soul-inspired pop chorus as the crowd get out of their seats and dance and singalong. A spectacle of happiness is visible as everyone on stage beams with happiness; there’s no outfit, there’s no specific dance routines, everyone is simply expressing themselves for who they are and is celebrated for doing so. Bankole’s unhinged James Brown-esque dancing; squatting and shaking his legs, as Graham Hastings stands leaning into the mic and the constant movement around the stage, from the backing singers adds to the total visceral energy and thrilling power that is being emulated from the stage. Mammoth amounts of influences can be picked from their sounds, such as world music, hip-hop, Artpop, soul music with anger. However, it is impossible to put your finger on one specific thing, as the uniqueness of their sounds doesn’t match anything that has ever come before them. Young Fathers are an unstoppable movement of mass power, not just musically but as a communal entity.

Next up is ‘Wow’ from their 2018 album ‘Cocoa Sugar’, which showcases the deep intensity that Young Fathers can produce from the dual hypnotic tribal power drumming, the vocal drones of the backing singers and the pure weight of the glitched bass that snakes through the track and lays at it’s forefront all while Hastings unenthusiastically says ‘What a time to be alive, everything’s so amazing… I said wow’. As chimes peak from the darkness, the audience stands tranquillised by the otherworldly authentic sounds as the intensity deepens further and further before abruptly ending and sliding straight into the cool leaned beats of ‘Rumbling’ from their 2013 debut release ‘Tape One’. Rumbling showcases the band’s initial touches on the experimental hip-hop sounds, created with deep ground shaking bass pumps as Hastings, Bankole and Massaquoi exemplify their signature lyrical styles and sounds.

It is great to hear the stylistic progression of the Young Fathers’ discography. Although their latest music is dynamically different, but somewhat the same, they still celebrate their roots and the journey they’ve undertaken to get where they are today. I find myself unable to remove my eyes from the band. The sheer power and energy that radiates from their constant manic expressive movements within the primitive, and almost bleak, theatrical set-up allows me to realise that this is music at its purest form. Young Fathers don’t need expensive back-drops selling themselves or their new album, or stacks of expensive high-range equipment that can make any sound known to mankind, no… they just need what they have, one another, and the melodies and harmonised unity comes naturally.  

A piercing propelling organ loop bellows from the stage introducing the hit single ‘Rain or Shine’ from Young Fathers fourth album ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’. A definitive moment of the night as the eery cluttered atmosphere and haunting lyrics “I may not be around come rain or shine” is swept across the venue, inviting a space for thought, but also glimmers of optimism, while keeping an inherent grittiness that clouds the audiences vision and settles into the torn and stained fabric that hangs vacantly behind the stage. The cluttered repetition of the minimalist industrial sounds are reminiscent of a Can record, they create and open a new realm for the listener to fully immerse themselves in combining hip-hop, psychedelic, electronica and art-pop which gradually gathers a pace until it explodes. On stage Hastings leans forward singing the chorus, holding the microphone stand in his left hand, while Bankole and Massaquoi embody a soulful groove as the pattering of the organ emulates the sounds of rain dropping one by one across the stage.

Another highlight of the evening was hearing ‘Rice’ from their latest album ‘Heavy Heavy’. An infectious, boost of indigenous inspired grooves accompanied with subtle meditative harmonic vocals that drift through the track, Massaquoi and Bankole share vocals and call “I need to catch more fish baby, I need to eat more rice”. A pure spectacle to be witnessed by the audience as each member intertwines with one another, applying their own contribution into the communal energy that is generated and pulsating off stage and into the audience, as everyone in the audience is transfixed into a liberating daze of dance, from the standing at the front right to the very back, people are dancing, hugging one another and beaming with happiness. This is music at its definitive point.

As the set draws to an end, the hits ‘Only God Know’s’,’ Shame’ and ‘Geronimo’ shake the dust off the Eventim Apollo’ and rattle the building’s structure to its timber. As the band vanish into the strobes, I am unable to fathom how they are already leaving the stage. The 18 track set flew by faster than any band or act I’ve seen in the last decade. As they return to the stage for their encore, a momentous ‘Free Palestine’ speech is heard for the victims of Gaza, resulting in a chant calling for the freedom and liberation of Palestine, before dropping straight ‘I Saw’ from their latest album, ‘Heavy Heavy’ potentially one of the catchiest tracks you’ll ever hear. As the momentum begins to build again, the electric buzzes around the room snapping into each and every soul under the roof of the building as the band and audience sing in unison with Hastings “I saw what I saw, I keep on walking the line” as the dynamics grow further and further boosting the total sonic elevation of the track before settling back into the darkness of the stage. Bankole asks if the crowd are still here, and summits straight into ‘Toy’ one of the ending tracks from their fourth album ‘Cocoa Sugar’. A bouncing harmonic and dysfunctional donk-esque glitched drum machine beat opens up as the crowd go berserk and Bankole, Massaquoi and Hastings showcase their idiosyncratic vocal talents surrounded by the constant freeing movements of backing singers. As the track draws to an end, Bankole shouts ‘Fuck the Tories’ and ‘Free Palestine’ before destroying the drum kit, waving to the crowd and exiting the stage abruptly into the white light… The audience is immobile with awe, the room feels vacant as a lengthy standing ovation given from everyone at the front and everyone in the seated sections. Young Fathers have conquered the world, and can only gather more and more fans across the globe. I’ll say it now, the greatest band of our generation.

In the same place where audiences spilled back into the same streets after seeing The Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, or Queen for the first time. Tonight people leave in amazement having seen Young Fathers, knowing history has been made and this gig will be looked back upon for many years to come. The crowd filters back into the streets of Hammersmith and beyond. Arm in arm, embracing each other and descending off into the night.

Photo Credit – Jamie MacMillan