They filmed with military-grade surveillance gear, worked with Danny Boyle on Trainspotting 2, and are one of today’s most interesting and exciting bands.
With their third album, Cocoa Sugar, Edinburgh-based Young Fathers confirmed their status as one of Britain’s best bands, twisting rap, R&B, pop and dance music into a rousing, assumption-challenging blend of genres and world-views. Always outspoken, the three-piece (Alloysious Massaquoi, born in Liberia and moved to Edinburgh as a child; Graham ‘G’ Hastings, born in Edinburgh; Kayus Bankole, born in Edinburgh to Nigerian parents) were last year kicked off the bill of a German festival (then re-invited) for supporting pro-Palestine group BDS, which campaigns for boycotts against Israel, and their recent video for ‘Holy Ghost’ uses a long-range surveillance camera in the Scottish highlands to eerie effect. We established a link with G to find out more.
[kzzzzrt] Where are you and what are you doing at the moment?
We are in Nuremberg, Germany. It’s a day off, I can hear school-kids singing outside, suns out. No complaints.
When filming that video, you were working with a military surveillance camera – what was it like performing with a thing like that in the mountains?
Fucking freezing. But we had to get the difference in temperature for the thermal to work. The camera was a dot in the distance and even though you know it’s all for a music video, it still felt invasive because of how detailed it was.
The film has got a chilling atmosphere… What do you hope people take away from viewing it?
I think we initially fell in love with this camera because of what it did to skin and the extremity of the zoom. Richard Mosse did a thing we saw at the Barbican that looked brilliant but disturbing. When you think what these cameras are used for, usually on top of long-range guns… to see children playing around with no idea they were being watched through a scope miles away really felt unfair.
So, Oscar [Hudson, director] came up with this idea to mix some vaguely religious notions… with surveillance, where the watched become aware they are being watched. Which felt good in a way, as it means you have defeated the camera and its purpose. You can get away with doing anything with music videos. I enjoy that.
You’re Edinburgh-based, and some of you were born or have parents from outside the UK. Do you think what’s happening in the UK at the moment (ugly nationalism, xenophobia) is something that's always been there, or do you think it’s something new and dangerous?
It’s definitely not new. The UK has a disgusting history in how it has treated people here and around the world, it is a country in which its affluence is completely indebted to its crimes against humanity. I grew up hearing racist things daily while outside playing on the street, and although not directed at me, I was always at odds with it and would ask why people would say certain words or hold unfair grudges. It was obvious, because their parents did.
Where did the parents get their information from? Tabloids and a glorified history. So, it’s very clear that education is the most important thing in challenging this. A racist parent is a negligent parent – schools should treat it as such. It’s not free speech, it’s not your right – it’s hatred, plain and simple. Freedom of speech, to me, doesn’t count unless you see everyone as an equal human being first.
You worked with Danny Boyle on Trainspotting 2. I loved that it felt a more downbeat, melancholy counterpart to the original, fitting for the mood at the moment. What did you think of how your music played a part in it?
I think Danny nailed it. The humour in it was great. Couldn’t have really asked for more with how we were treated. He didn’t have to do everything he did, not just in regard to the amount of songs he used, but how he treated us as well.
More generally, what do you think of the role of arts and culture in protest and politics?
Weird thing with the arts is it has a generalisation of being liberal-leaning and forward-thinking, when it is in fact a very mixed bag. There’s as much greed, ego and power abuse as there is in any other big industry, if not more… We’re too desperate to rely on it so heavily.
So, it’s great when people put themselves on the line and inform the public, but wouldn’t it also be great if teaching modern politics and current social problems from a young age was standard… or respect for members of the community who dedicate their lives to helping out tirelessly was standard.
I saw you were uninvited from a German festival (then re-invited) for your support of BDS. How does it make you feel to have something like this happen because of your political views?
Sad. Especially when people accuse you of being something that you despise. But in order to simplify, they turn it into a football match. One team versus the other. This is not sport. There are no ‘sides’. We do what we feel best for the people who, as usual, are suffering in the middle. The scales are so unevenly tipped and it’s such a very critical stage that whatever tiny amount you can do hopefully helps in some way.
You’re open about your political views. Are you wary of being pigeonholed as a band in this way, or is that a mantle you gladly accept?
We’ve tried to be strategic before, so they let you in the metaphorical building, which sometimes you never get the invite back to. It’s kind of why we’re not a bigger band, I think – it makes people uncomfortable. We don’t consciously protest in our songs and never wave the finger at anyone, but people have sensed it from us. Which makes it easier to accept. The songs have to be good. That’s the only parameters.
Learn more about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement
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