Hard though it may be to credit during August, when the festival city is teeming with artists and audiences, Edinburgh is not always a nurturing environment for creative expression, according to acclaimed electronica trio Young Fathers. These Mercury Music Prize-winners had their fair share of discouragement before rising to become one of the city’s most audacious artistic exports – and now a leading attraction of the International Festival’s contemporary music programme.
Graham Hastings, aka the band’s beatmeister G, grew up in Drylaw, north-west Edinburgh. He is quick to credit his supportive family who put up with any number of noisy Young Fathers rehearsals in his bedroom, but as a teenager he was sensitive to the cultural cringe in the wider community. “As soon as you chose to stand out from the bunch and express yourself, there was a kind of knock-back from it, that weird feeling of ‘stop being a show-off’,” he says. “Being with the band and travelling the world, I’ve found that’s not actually very common. In South Africa, all the kids are encouraged to dance and to sing, and it’s fun to them. That kind of enjoyment people get out of expressing themselves, that’s how it should be.”
Young Fathers have toured extensively worldwide in the last couple of years, but they were particularly keen to test the appetite for their provocatively titled album White Men Are Black Men Too in the US and South Africa. “We know the world is not an equal place but that was the whole point of the album title, to start a conversation, agree or disagree,” says Hastings. “With South Africa’s history, it felt there was no better place to ask people about how it made them feel. One boy told us it made him think of redefining what blackness is, what being white is, what being Muslim is. These stereotypes just ruin everything because on a day-to-day basis people get along. I always think what a nightmare it must be, having to go about picking who your enemies are. The more you travel, the more you realise people are similar in what they want. Obviously there are traditions and rules, but generally people just want to get along and live as easily as they can.”
But for Hastings and the rest of Young Fathers, living easily does not mean doing what is expected of you. “One of our songs says ‘got me feeling like I’m Presbyterian’, because I always feel it’s a Presbyterian thing to just do your work, settle down, make a living, have your children, take care of them and that’s it. Being around the world has helped me to see the other side of that and how it’s in human nature to be able to express yourself.”
Words: Fiona Shepherd
Young Fathers, The Hub, 14-15 August, 9.30pm