Osheaga Music & Arts Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend, and if you were one of the estimated 135,000 music fans to descend on Parc Jean Drapeau for even one of those three days your ears are probably still ringing. Since about 120 different bands played it was impossible to see everything at Osheaga, but one of the great things about music festivals is not only catching the bands you know and love, but making new musical discoveries as well.
I knew very little about Young Fathers before deciding to catch their set at Osheaga Friday night, but their upbeat, danceable track “Shame” (think: Outkast), from their latest album White Men Are Black Men Too had been in my head all week.
Moments after FKA Twigs finished her last song on the opposing stage, drummer Steven Morrison, AKA soonbe, caught the whole crowd off guard with one resounding drum beat. When the opening of “Queen is Dead” began, the crowd cheered, and we were off. This first song was not exactly the straight up pop & hip-hop mix I was expecting, and for a moment I wondered if I was at the right stage after all. The song blends old school hip-hop elements with vocals that could be mistaken for Tricky, and… something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. (Turns out their bio counts dancehall, krautrock, and post-punk as some of their influences, as well as hip-hop, R&B and pop.) Honestly though, what does genre even matter when you’re dancing?
For the next 50 minutes the crowd swelled as the sounds varied between the almost-beatbox vocals of “Old Rock n Roll”, to tinges of gospel and soul in “Just Another Bullet” and “Dare Me”, to the epic, Teenage Wasteland, arena rock vibe of “Low”. It didn’t take very long for it to become clear to me that Young Fathers are the rare kind of act who can jam all kinds of elements, influences and sounds into one song. The result is a pretty amazing musical mashup that appeals to someone like me, who generally finds genres just plain silly anyway. Breaking out of boxes and blurring the boundaries between different types of music is where great stuff happens, and Young Fathers sounded pretty great from where I was standing.
To describe their stage presence as merely intense would be an understatement. Frontmen Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and ‘G’ Hastings stared intently at the crowd between songs, their faces blank. No jovial stage banter here, no smiles or encouragements of crowd participation like one has come to expect at festival shows, no matter what genre the music happens to fall under. The festival game can be a predictable one when each act competes with the next to make the most noise. It’s obviously not always easy to establish a real connection in a short amount of time with an audience who may never have even heard of you. However, before finally coming to a close with the danceable poppiness of “Shame”, Young Fathers put the competition to bed when ‘G’ Hastings addressed the crowd to say: “I’m not going to tell you to put your hands in the air, I’m not going to tell you to bounce, I’m not going to tell you to do anything. You do whatever it is you want to do.” The crowd wholeheartedly, and shamelessly, obliged.
– Amanda Z