Young Fathers

PopGun Presents

Young Fathers


Nov 21

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Elsewhere - Hall

Brooklyn, NY

$20 / $25

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This event is 16 and over

Young Fathers
Young Fathers
Young Fathers are a Scottish rap trio comprising members from across the planet. They have been going for a while but the outside world are only just catching on/up – Time Out made them one of their ones to watch for 2012. And now they're about to have their debut EP, Tape One, first released in 2011, reissued by Anticon. It's their breakthrough moment, if signing to a label synonymous with underground hip-hop can be said to mark their arrival as a commercial force – Anticon might not be in the Definitive Jux league when it comes to experimental rap, but it hardly purveys pop.

Funnily enough, Young Fathers do think of themselves as more pop than rap, which is odd considering their melodies, if any, come buried in askew rhythm and random noise. There are occasional snippets that catch the ear but hummable choruses are few and far between. And yet they're adamant: "I don't even see us as a hip-hop band," one of them has said. "Really we're just pop boys. We grew up with pop music, so that always makes sense to us when we're writing tunes." From Liberia, Nigeria and America, they have been working together in Edinburgh for years, since their early teens. They honed their rapping skills in open mic slots and began tentatively recording using cheap music software and a microphone from Argos. They initially saw themselves as a "psychedelic hip-hop boy band", but really they're hard to categorise. There are musical ideas and textures on Tape One that you'd expect from a post-rock/leftfield indie band, and there is some of punk's energy and DIY practice – they're a self-contained unit who make their own posters and direct their own videos. There are also African tribal and reggae beats, and generous use of electronics. Look out for signs of whimsy in their lyrics, and metallic surges: they're the missing link between De La Soul and Death Grips. If you didn't know they were Scottish you'd presume they were some art-rap outfit from LA – either way, being on Anticon should raise their profile in the US.

Deadline opens Tape One, setting the harsh, jagged tone. There are sirens, unison vocals that make the words sound like a chant, and the impression given is of a brand new cult announcing themselves in no uncertain terms. They don't quite sustain the pace thereafter, but then it could be reasonably argued that everything you ever needed to know about Death Grips was contained in Guillotine. The titles on Tape One are all one-word with the sole exception of closer Dar – Eh Da Da Du, conveying a sense of pithy urgency and brevity, as though what Young Fathers have to communicate can be boiled down to a simple essence. It's not entirely clear what their worldview is but it could perhaps be reduced to "dystopian with humour". Things get murky on Romance, which is so full of cloudy tricknology it's hard to tell where the sample (from Bob Marley?) ends and the original music begins. Remains is also slow and sorrowful, with a creepy lyric ("Tonight, I decompose"), but as ever clever production, a steady military beat, a chanty refrain and a blissed-out rap that recalls PM Dawn ensure there are always things to hook the listener in. Maybe, for all the noise and effects, they are pop after all.
- The Guardian
In the dark times,
Will there be singing? 
Yes, there will be singing, 
About the dark times. (Bertolt Brecht)

We won’t be led to slaughter.
This is self-genocide.
It’s the hand of the people that’s getting tenser now,
And when we rise up… (Algiers)

This is the musical response that dark times demand, one that not only shakes its fist but deploys it. Locally-informed global citizens, Algiers refuse to sit idly by while most contemporary artists appear perfectly content to sit out the revolution. Not only do Algiers harbor a purposeful sense of obligation in what they do on their latest resistance record The Underside Of Power, but they recognize the roots and thorns of precedent in said resistance.

“This album was recorded in a political environment that collapses the late 70s economic crisis and the looming onslaught of arch-conservative neoliberalism, via Thatcher and Reagan, into the late 1930s, a world riven by fascist nationalism and white power fantasies in the US and abroad,” says bassist Ryan Mahan. Their shared experiences and collective understanding of this rising tide of sinister politics compels them to make music together, to combat the potentially crippling waves of frustration and despair to let out a soulful roar, a call-to-action set to an eclectic, positively electric beat.

The inclination to do otherwise is one worth fighting. Take Algiers frontman Franklin James Fisher, for example. Writing incendiary and even beauteous lyrics from inside a Manhattan nightclub’s coat check room, enduring the same damn songs thumping away nightly in the next room for the pleasures of a predominantly white audience, he tends to see the bigger picture as well as its pointillistic details.

“This nightclub is every nightclub in the world, basically. Whatever is being played there, whatever is happening there is happening everywhere else in the world,” he says. “It’s as if the entire history of music is boiled down to these fifteen artists--and I use the term loosely,” he says with an exasperated, dismissive sneer. With the world burning outside, a generation’s obliviously privileged dances to a carbon copied soundtrack.

It speaks volumes that a black man in America with an expensive Master’s degree--and all its overwhelming personal debt--finds himself picking up shifts at such a place that literally manifests the culture industry’s exploitation and commodification of black experience. An aptly unjust fate, Fisher is confined to an enclosed space while others move their feet freely mere steps away from him. “You have to find ways of getting through it without completely losing your mind. Luckily I’m able to escape inside my own head.”

Fortunately, the multiracial quartet Algiers provides more than mere distraction, but rather a revelatory creative release and wholesale rejection of the globally normative corporate playlist culture. Poke at the seasoned members’ bruised flesh, and out come wafting touchpoints as disparate and intriguing as Big Black, Wendy Carlos, John Carpenter, Cybotron, The Four Tops, Portishead, Public Image Limited, Steve Reich, and Nina Simone, to name but a few. Deep echoes of Black Lives Matter and its 20th century forbears gather, surge, and subside in their often soulful work, a form of principled, acute dissent more interested in learning from the past than in evoking nostalgia.

The variety of locales in which the band recorded the genre-resistant The Underside Of Power echoes their present state of diaspora, as a multinational musical cabal with no more than two members living in the same city simultaneously. The group’s virtual homelessness exposes them, collectively and individually, to the codified injustices of creeping fascism, the compounding plain-sight provocations of Britain’s xenophobia and Trump’s America.

“Brexit and the US election taking place at the beginning and towards the end of the process definitely shaped it for better or for worse,” says guitarist Lee Tesche.

And while many artists seem uninterested or even afraid to fully engage with these potent topics in song, Algiers has zero qualms about taking a direct approach. “We’re fortunate enough now where we’re able to openly talk about racist, violent police and murderous state structures,” says Mahan. “When we were growing up in the South, these critiques of class and race oppression were largely and sometimes violently suppressed. It’s why we take inspiration from the Panthers or the Chicano movement, to name two.”

Furthermore, the lack of a singular geographic base of operations only seems to creatively embolden Algiers, who’ve adapted in brave new ways musically. “Being separate and still wanting to write forced us to really get to grips with modern technology, to bend it to our will,” says Mahan. That doesn’t mean geography is not important to Algiers. As the band’s very name more than implies, they are inspired by the Algerian city at the center of a struggle to overthrow its occupiers, a symbol of dignity and resistance to oppressed people everywhere.

Adding to this Casbah rocking mix of ideas is the relatively recent inclusion of drummer Matt Tong, formerly of Bloc Party. Joining the group for the touring cycle following their prior album, he’d spent time gelling with the original trio as a core component of their simply ferocious live sets to understand and help shape the dynamic. “I was very conscious of being the new guy, working out how to augment the emerging compositions without distracting from them,” he says. For a band that seems to revel and thrive in flux, Tong’s substantial role in the making of The Underside Of Power worked out well. “For me, what it is to work as a musician has changed drastically since I first started out and Algiers has shown me that there is still so much to master.”

Beyond the technical necessities living their respective lives both in and outside of music, Algiers’ continued deviation from a more traditional band approach created a more versatile sound, one that better incorporates a collective and respective panoply of influences and styles. “We were determined to push our sound even further than before--weirder, gentler, catchier, noisier, groovier--and had hope that we could somehow translate our live energy to record,” says Tesche.

Some of this is informed by their choice of collaborators in this process, a crew that includes Adrian Utley [Portishead], Ben Greenberg [Uniform, The Men], Randall Dunn [Sunn 0)))], among others. Pick any track off The Underside of Power and the reference points expand exponentially, a dizzying and thrilling Recommended-If-You-Like list that would consume a series of afternoons.

Featuring a fully-sanctioned sample of slain Black Panther Fred Hampton, the revolutionary “Walk Like A Panther” presents an alternate reality where Adrian Sherwood produced Yeezus instead of Rick Rubin, with Fisher bellowing justifiable threats over a storm of formidable sonics. “Death March” fuses post-punk primacy to the Italo-horror tradition, in an effort to mirror a looming and perpetual sense of modern dread. Elsewhere, the raucous “Cleveland” turns into a full-on demonstration, with names of victims of institutionally sanctioned racial violence like Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice invoked over a neck-snapping electro beat.

The dangerously poppy title track finds a glorious midpoint between Suicide and The Temptations, making for the catchiest expression of outrage this side of the ‘70s. A molotov cocktail of a single, that particular song represents a potential paradox for Algiers, the maintaining of a renegade righteousness in the midst of a peppy soul tune. “It’s more important than ever in this particular time, but it’s something we’ve never shied away from,” says Tesche.

The band doesn’t concern themselves with that risk. “No matter what your messaging is, you can’t control what people will or won’t take away from it,” says Mahan. “The only thing you can do is put stuff of substance out there.”

-Gary Suarez, April 2017
Venue Information:
Elsewhere - Hall
599 Johnson Ave.
Brooklyn, NY, 11237