A wry smile crosses G Hastings’s face as he leans into the mic and observes “I’ve never been tear gassed before a gig before.” It’s probably fair to say that for most of us in the audience at Loppen this also is the first time. While a police raid on Christiania continues into Friday night, the venue begins to feel like a refuge, but Young Fathers are not a band to make us forget the burning makeshift barricades in the street outside.
The Edinburgh-based trio burst into the limelight after winning the Mercury Award for their album Dead, quickly following it up with this year’s White Men Are Black Men Too. But no matter how much praise their records receive, it is immediately obvious that Young Fathers are primarily a live band. While a drummer flails his limbs wildly along with the distorted synth lines, the trio rap, scream and croon with a rare intensity.
The first half of the set draws mainly from the band’s most energetic, uncompromising material. Songs like “Rumbling”, “Just Another Bullet” and “Old Rock n Roll” seem to justify the hip-hop tag that often gets bandied around, but their energy derives from the lo-fi simplicity, rather than samples and complex beats. The defining feature of Young Fathers is the interplay between the vocal styles: G Hastings’s howls and screams, Kayus Bankole’s violent rhymes and Alloysious Massaquoi’s more soulful side.
From the far-left of the stage my main view is of Kayus Bankole, his purple shirt drenched in sweat, gazing intently into the crowd. This power of the band’s presence, their attention to what is going on around them. You can see it in Bankole’s eyes, hear it when Hastings speaks in support of migrants, or else when they gently discourage people from moshing. To many that last part sounds like the words of a kill-joy, but really this is a battle that has gone on since Ian MacKaye’s passionate disavowal of mosh pits during the hay-day of 80s DC hardcore. But whereas MacKaye could sound a little holier-than-thou, tonight Hastings manages to discourage annoyingly violence dance moves with a gentle firmness that instantly quells the crowd. Gigs are for everyone, not just jumped up meatheads.
It feels a bit perverse to claim that the highlight of the gig is the final a cappella song, given how rhythmically exhilarating the band can be, but I stand by it. Because it proves the thesis that this band is driven by three unique and urgent voices.