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Interview: Young Fathers

The FKA Twigs beating, sometimes boy band dancing, renegades of genre

Posted by Robert Brown

Young Fathers are ostensibly a Scottish hip-hop group. Although their last album, ‘Dead’, defies categorisation (part alternative hip-hop, part experimental hip-hop and part undefinable genre), it beat both FKA Twigs and Damon Albarn and won the esteemed Mercury Prize. Notoriously sombre in person and fiercely open in discussion, Young Fathers are the type of band will rap “AK47 send my brethren straight to heaven” and then break out into a choreographed boy band dance just to mind-fuck you. We spoke to Alloysious Massaquoi about how they want their new album, ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’, to open up a dialogue about equality.

Well done on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize!

Thank you, thank you.

Did you spend the prize money on anything stupid?

No, nothing extravagant. Mostly just equipment and living costs

Are you guys happy people?

Are we happy? [laughs] Yeah we’re happy, we’re happy. We’re climbing up the ladder with more fans and more followers and as long as we’re creative and we’re performing, we’re as happy as we can be.

What was your response to people who thought you looked too sombre after winning the Mercury Prize?

Well basically, they misquoted the amount of records sold before that, [and made] the argument that that’s why we don’t smile. But, it works – having a straight face in a moment like that – and to be honest it wasn’t about the award… its never about the award. It was more about the performance to get people to witness something live. It wasn’t about jumping around and rolling around… The award was not the most important to us. We’re doing this because we want to succeed in being passionate and creative, and we want people to hear something that hasn’t been done before. Doing something that’s different and pushing back, that’s art. Selection for the award – it’s nice, but we want people to see that we’re serious and think ‘they’re not playing around, they’re serious about their music’.

I asked a friend about Young Fathers, and he said your production was similar to the NY hip hop trio, Ratking. Why do you think people always start with a reference point when describing Young Fathers?

It makes things easier, like, if you have nothing to compare us to. It would be nice if you could say Young Fathers make Young Fathers music.

Are there any artists that the band does look up to?

Ahhh Nah [laughs]. I listened to my father’s records and my mother’s records when I was a kid as much as Graham and Kayus did, and then you go to school and what we were listening to was pop music and boy bands and girl groups. We respect artists for the stuff that they have achieved, artists that have had their moments and times in musical history… but it’s one of those things, I’m not really fussed about anybody else. Yeah I can say names but there’s no reference, it doesn’t add to the music.

You guys have just been recording in Berlin? How was that experience?

The whole experience was good. To get out of our comfort zone, pushing ourselves and making ourselves a bit more awkward. That’s usually the goal when we’re recording you want to put yourself somewhere else and challenge each other so that’s what we tried to do.

When I listen to your music I hear a lot of different ideas coming through. Does that mean you guys argue a lot too?

Yeah, yeah definitely. There needs to some kind of tension and friction, it helps get the creative juices going. But it’s a democracy, so if two people in the group like something and you don’t, then you just have to accept it or sit on it for a while. We’ll go back to it to double check but we’re three different people so we’re always going to argue. That’s standard.

I think it was you who said of Dead that it’s a “strikingly fearless album that would smell like sweat if it could”. What does White Men Are Black People Too smell like?

It smells of a conversation about equality. It smells like a conversation that everybody should be having in general because we’re all one people, we all came from the same place.

People will take offense no matter what you do, do you think a small part of why you do some things is because you enjoy fucking with these people? 

No we make music for ourselves first and foremost. We spend hours going over different stuff that we love, to make something different that we haven’t heard before. It’s for us you know, I’m not really bothered about the people that we’re going to piss off. You can’t be too hung up on [thinking] “you can’t do this because people might be too upset”. People are going to get offended by anything. If you think about a radio station; they don’t play some of our music because it sounds to tough, why is that? Because it sounds too hard, it sounds too big. You can’t win. All you can do is have a compromise and for us the compromise is putting something out there to [start] a conversation. Because the conversation is always done behind closed doors.

And you’ll be opening that discussion up with a tour soon?

Yeah we’re actually going to London tomorrow [and later on] going to Africa on the 25th of this month.

What are some things you want to bring to, or that you’ve been looking at doing in your live performance?

We’re just working into the new songs, what we sound like when we’re rehearsing them and then taking them onto the stage. Seeing what’s working and whats not to see what’s good and what’s not.

Will there be any more choreographed boy band dancing? [laughs] If you want to move a certain way then go for it.

White Men Are Black Men Too will be available on Friday April 3 on Big Dada via Inertia.

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