To describe Dublin’s Academy as packed would be an understatement. Bodies have been piling in in rapid succession after a slow trickling start. The main floor is shoulder to should with sweating teeming masses barely able to contain their anticipation for the Scottish hip-hop trio Young Fathers‘ arrival. The crowd tonight is beyond hyped up. There’s an intense positivity within all the anticipation that fuel some of the night’s most powerful moments. Thirty minutes after the opening DJ finishes his surprisingly enjoyable set of chipmunk soul and reggae cuts, the house lights dim and stage beams with white light. Three figures walk across the stage. As individuals, they look like a member of Hurts, Boyz II Men and a cowboy who decided to join the Black Panthers. Together, they cut one of the most impressive figures in contemporary pop music able to bring down the house with a single phrase: what a time to be alive. As soon as those five words ring out over the PA, the room is swept up in the cacophonous manic energy these three men can generate. It is in this euphoric flurry that we spent the next hour of our lives.
The Academy doesn’t often get a lighting setup as powerful as the one tonight. A monument to minimalism, the stage design is incredibly sparse. There is a drum kit in the back, an additional drum on stage left and analog synth stage right. Behind the group is a large, blank canvas from which one of four colours will be beamed at any time: white, red, blue and orange. It’s a decided simple setup that manages to lend a depth to the whole show. Not only does it allow the band to play around with shadows and silhouette in an incredibly stylish and memorable way, but it also gives them the opportunity to add a certain conceptual thread to the night. Each of the four colours used links in some way back to the artwork that adorns their discography; the muted off-white comes from their debut, Dead, the deep red of White Men Are Black Men Too, the distinctive orange glow of Trainspotting and the rich blue of Cocoa Sugar. With this set up they can telegraph and transition between moods and eras with the utmost slickness.
A lighting show without the proper performance to accompany it is just a load of rhythmic flashes, and Fathers are well aware of the power of playing with your whole self. This is one of the most carefully constructed shows that you’ll see. All three work in perfect synchronicity with one another at all times. If any of them need to take centre stage, the others will effortlessly fade into the background and allow the audience to fully focus on what’s in front of them. Their movements, while loose and at times frantic, have this underlying deliberation to them. Everyone knows exactly where they need to be at all times and how they must position themselves. As songs finish, they each stand in a definitive location for maximum impact with the lighting behind. It’s not that they’re manufactured or forced, they’re simply well choreographed. It takes a great deal of effort to make things look this spontaneous. But even outside of the care put into their movements, each of them is throwing their entire selves into it. Our Black Panther cowboy, Alloysious Massaquoi, spends much of the gig oscillating between delivering his vocals with the utmost confidence, clarity, and strength and hammering on the bass drum driving that beat home. Where Kayus Bankole and “G” Hastings give every drop of sweat in their pores to give these songs the airings they deserve.
Wisely, they opt not to bring on a full live band with them. Given the ramshackle, unwieldy nature of their songs, the fewer musicians on stage in a venue as intimate as this the better. But rather than just rapping over the backing tracks, however, they bring with them a drummer whose contributions prove to be invaluable. You see as the songs swell and mutate into this wonderful, unpredictable creatures, the thing that grounds them is the beat. By choosing only to emphasize the central beat over anything else means that even as things get impossibly noisy and chaotic, there’s still a rock-solid rhythm to keep you locked in place.
The night reaches its zenith in the final trio of tracks: ‘Only God Knows’ from the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack, ‘Lord’ from Cocoa Sugar and ‘Shame’ from White Men. The first of these hit the ground running with a pounding beat and keeps building and building to the audiences breaking point. This unreleased tension leads us directly into ‘Lord’ in which Kayus and Alloysious deliver what can best be described as a transcendent experience. You can almost feel the spirit of everyone on the floor being elevated as wave after of wave of thick, beautiful synth blasts fill the room. The comedown from something so cathartic is intense, but rather than reveling in their ability to bowl over the audience they launch into one final frenzied number: ‘Shame’. The crowd doesn’t know what hit them. The lights, the energy, and the music are all too engrossing. There is an elation and freedom in this mass of flesh. We’re all experiencing something truly special together. As the show winds down and walls begin to drip with sweat, there’s one phrase on the lips of everyone in here: what a time to be alive. Will Murphy
Photos by Ian McDonnell