Photo: Stephen Roe

Live Review: Young Fathers at Somerset House, London – July 15, 2023

With repeated shouts of “FUCK THE TORIES…FUCK THE TORIES!” towards the end of their set at London’s Somerset House, it’s clear how Young Fathers perceive the political landscape of this weird little island. It’s an important moment to close a great show, and it’s followed by a call and response with the audience of “Say it loud, so it clear – refugees are welcome here.” The music that Young Fathers create is a postmodern bricolage of sounds and influences, and a melting pot of stylistic ideas, yet their political views are unified and entirely singular. This is what makes them one of the most important acts in the current musical landscape. 

When the band march on and break into a truncated version of “Get Started” before reeling out a frenetic version of early track “Queen is Dead,” there’s such a vibrancy and sense of urgency coming from the stage that the relative lack of volume from the sound system is quite alarming. It’s quiet. Too quiet for what’s coming from the stage. Regardless, it’s difficult not to be spellbound by the trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and ‘G’ Hastings and their touring band whose sense of collectivity stems from their empowered agency. Roles are mixed up, those in centre stage constantly revolving, while the supporting cast of musicians and singers are anything but supporting. They are in the mix and takes turns in the spotlight; they are a big aspect of this party. And we’re here to party.  

The early triple-header of “Wow”, “Get Up” and “Holy Moly” deliver the goods and lift the crowd. There’s a celebratory feel in the air, with huge grins everywhere apart from on G’s face. He’s essentially the personification of the band’s tempered and purposeful political narrative, whereas Massaquoi and Bankole are equally as charismatic yet less pensively guarded. Bankole in particular whips the crowd up as he careens across the stage, commanding them to let loose. 

The minimalist stage design is perfect. There’s no need (and maybe no budget) for anything more than a rumpled curtain across the back of the stage, and the lighting is effective but barely noticeable. The energy from the band is all that’s needed. Young Fathers have an ability to create such a personal focus in a large space without the aid of superficial dazzle. 

There are near-constant shifts in genre tropes throughout the set – this is not a band readily pigeonholed. Their sound is a patchwork quilt of aural references whilst also remaining distinctly unique. There are pinches of hip-hop, reggae, rock, soul and an emphasis on the beat more than the melody, with a hint of Massive Attack from time to time, and the propulsive energy of Sly and the Family Stone also recognisable. 

The set covers a wide range of their recorded output, showcasing the fact that their career trajectory may be rising but their songwriting skills have always been first rate. Everyone else is just catching up. “I Heard” is resplendent and vulnerable, and acts as respite for the sheer exuberant force of the second half of the set. “In My View” follows, and the crowd reaction and singalong highlights what these songs mean to the people here. Every track after is greeted with the same reception from the audience, and even those earlier resistant to moving have thankfully given up their cool London hipster resistance.  

The closing three songs of “I Saw”, “Shame” and “Toy” go by in a blur, but there’s a real air of celebration in the crowd by this point. When the band bring things to a close there’s a sense that something special has been witnessed, a validation of the years of hard work and craft that Young Fathers have pursued with a singular vision that shows no degree of compromise to mainstream sensibilities, even if their audience is going to get significantly bigger in the next few years.  

When so many of the population still kowtow to anyone with a mildly posh accent, whilst blindly genuflecting to the narrative controlled by non-tax paying billionaire newspaper owners so as to be the first people in history to essentially place self-imposed sanctions on themselves, there will always be a need and a place for the righteous anger of artists to stir people out of their slumber. This is why Young Fathers are important, but the politically loaded in this weird world of music would mean little if the message wasn’t carried within such a beautiful package.