The playful, genre-defying sound of Young Fathers reflects an equally unorthodox approach to studio recording.
Ten years after forming in Edinburgh in 2008, Young Fathers have carved themselves a niche as an uncategorisable band who blur the lines between soul, hip-hop, dub, gospel, Krautrock and punk. Arriving four years after their 2014 debut Dead won the Mercury Prize, their third album Cocoa Sugar marks another step forwards in their progression, offering a more accessible entry point into their often murky or frenetic music, with hooks aplenty and frequently dazzling sonics.
The trio met aged 14 on the dancefloor at the under-16s Lickshot hip-hop night at the Bongo Club in the Scottish capital, and began performing together as Threestyle two years later. All of them — Liberia-born Alloysious Massaquoi and the Edinburgh-born Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings — sing and rap, while Hastings handles most of their playing and production.
It was as kids in the latter’s bedroom that they did their first, rudimentary recordings. Hastings remembers that he would put together beats using the loops-based eJay software, before the three would add their vocals and rhymes around a single mic into a karaoke machine. “I had this old shitty computer,” he recalls with a laugh. “Basically it could only run that software. We couldn’t record into it, it was that slow. I had a karaoke machine from Argos, and we would just play and sing at the same time, always one take. It was an advancement when we actually got MiniDisc, ’cause MiniDisc players had that direct in where you could record, so it was easy for us. But that was just to listen back to.”
If this sounds like merely teenage fun and games, these experiments were in fact to inform Young Fathers’ entire approach to production, which remains spontaneous, lo-fi and rule-bending. In addition, at this early stage it knitted together the trio’s voices to create a unique, intuitive style. “When you hear our songs,” Hastings points out, “it’s pretty constant from start to finish vocally. I think those early days recording made it like that, ’cause we were essentially writing fully arranged songs before we even hit record. We had to be like,...
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