On the red carpet media run before the Mercury Prize ceremony kicked off, I asked all the nominees why their album deserved to claim victory. Most of the bands and artists shuffled awkwardly, mumbling that they didn’t think they should win but were just delighted to be nominated. Apart from Young Fathers. “We’ve made something new and original,” said Alloysious Massaquoi. “No one else is doing what we do.”
The Scottish trio said they didn’t care for awards and that the only thing that mattered was performing later that night. I’ve never interviewed a more sullen, deadpan and genuinely nonchalant band at an awards ceremony. As you can see from this photo taken by The Guardian’s Tim Jonze they couldn’t look less thrilled. They look like they’ve just been given a group detention. Casual doesn’t cover it.
Rejecting the hype so brazenly is a rare, refreshing and commendable attitude to have in today’s music industry. Not only that: I’m sure their self-belief and disregard for critical attention has allowed them the space and focus to create a record so coherent and individual. It stands alone, even from a short-list that included a strong handful of original talents.
In 2014, bands and musicians have to be all over the internet much of the time, releasing tracks constantly to keep up with everyone else and get signed, conversing with their fans on social media, uploading videos and Vines and Reddit AMAs, responding to diss tracks to grab headlines, desperately trying to fight dwindling album sales and sell gig tickets. It seems that Young Fathers, who’ve been together since they were 14, have turned their back on the cacophony to focus solely on making music.
We don’t know that much about the group bar quotes from a few interviews. They’ve apparently only sold about 1,500 copies of ‘Dead’ so far – they’ll inevitably sell a lot more now – and their previous EPs were hardly recognised. You won’t catch them on Twitter or Graham Norton. But they’re certainly ambitious. “We just want people to hear us,” they shrugged earlier. If more British bands and artists were so single-minded, we’d have better music all round.
Young Fathers’ debut album ‘Dead’ is a great record with one spectacular tune as its beating heart: ‘Get Up’. Few predicted the album would win but, for the first time in a while, a lot of music fans will be happy with tonight’s Mercury Prize result. If anyone’s making exciting, forward-looking music in 2014, it’s Young Fathers. Even if they look like they’ve won 20,000 slugs instead of 20,000 quid.