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Young Fathers – Electrowerkz, London 13/02/14

18 February 2014, 16:30 | Written by Kitty Richardson

If you’d been asked to pick out ‘Gig Most Likely to Turn Into a Sing-A-Long’ from last week’s London listings, it’s probable you wouldn’t have selected noise rappers Young Fathers. Still, enveloped by a sea of hollering Scottish people and raised fists, I can’t help wondering why more hip hop shows don’t go off like this.

Staged in the bowels of everyone’s favourite industrial hell-hole Electrowerkz, tonight’s sold-out gig celebrates the launch of the trio’s new LP, DEAD. The crowd is, to say the least, diverse; only a handful of backpack-wearing hip hop fans pepper the audience, rubbing awkwardly up against suits, punks, people who look like they still read NME, and the aforementioned Scots – whom, I am told later in the queue for the cloakroom, ‘move in packs’. This in unheard of for most Anticon shows, which tend to pull a limited crowd of alt-rap devotees.

In the first few minutes of their set, it becomes immediately apparent why everyone is here. As opener “Fortune”’s ominous monologue gives way to an immense roar of carnival percussion and bass, the three men on stage collapse into a blur of limbs and coat tails. Where other bands may give simple permission to dance, Young Fathers lead by sublime example. London crowds can be the hardest to move, but within minutes this one is feral. Punk-scuzz-cum-rain dance “The Queen in Dead” rolls in without pause, instigating a call-and-answer chant that would be feel more appropriate at a Bon Jovi reunion than an indie rap show. It’s both remarkably refreshing and a teensy bit surreal.

Elements of the show appear staged – at least to a degree – though this is by no means a bad thing. Be it synchronised dance moves, or one unnerving moment where ‘G’ Hastings seems to threaten bandmate Kayus Bankole with a penknife, an immense amount of thought has gone into Young Fathers’ performance. Between songs, members turn their backs on the audience in sync, returning to form a tableaux downstage like actors between scenes. Backlit by three harsh spotlights pointing out into the crowd, they end each number teetering on the stage edge, stoney-faced and breathless. There is quite a bit of wrestling, and little room for corpsing – though their unbridled physicality, and one stifled grin from Bankole at the end of apocalyptic party anthem “Get Up”, suggests the boys are having an extremely good time.

With most of their tracks clocking in at under three minutes, there is a chance for the group to squeeze in an almost equal number from all three releases, the gentler of which are axed in a relentless stomp through their loudest material. This trend is broken only once by an achingly sweet rendition of Tape Two‘s “I Heard”. In a much-needed pause, Bankole rests with bowed head on a monitor, crooning in a falsetto that is even more remarkable when you consider how much shouting he’s been doing. Perhaps he’s thankful when the crowd take over on the song’s refrain, the environment feeling once again like a bizarre hybrid of dystopian rave and pub dancefloor.

Most live UK hip hop comes in a familiar format. Loops of old soul, played by bored-looking DJs, rapped over by MCs who, despite pouring considerable thought into their lyrics, pour minimal effort into their live performances. Young Fathers offer a vision of what hip hop in the UK could be; frenetic, theatrical, in which rappers swap po-faced machismo for unabashed displays of affection and emotion. This is how it should be done – and more established MCs would be wise to take note.

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