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“I think rock’n’roll is on life support”: Doncaster’s Yungblud on being young, not-so-dumb and full of ambition

“Move fast and break things” might be the unofficial motto of Silicon Valley, but it could well be Yungblud’s, too.

19-year-old Dominic Harrison is all about smashing through barriers, tackling taboos and propelling a tidal wave of change. He’s just released his vital debut album ’21st Century Liability’. It’s is a empathic ride that comments on mental health of his generation, prescription medication addiction (‘Doctor Doctor’), sexual assault, (‘Polygraph Eyes’) and gun culture in the US (‘Machine Gun – F*ck The NRA’). 

He does so because it’s what his young fans are talking about, and leading the conversation and dialogue is the best way to engage them. There’s a new age about to ushered in by hyper-aware, smart and talented musicians – and Yungblud looks set to be at the front.

When we first met Harrison, we revelled in his chaotic aura. It was January 2018, and we’d invited the best new artists on Planet Earth to swing by our studios for our NME 100 shoot. It was a chaotic day. Members of essential post-punk Shame rubbed shoulders with rising rappers like Avelino and Ms Banks, with future pop stars Pale Waves not far behind. Yungblud, though, was perhaps the one that made the most memorable entrance, strolling through our offices like a bonafide star, all messed-up hair, smudged make-up and jangling chains.

He was lead to our studio where our photographer Dean Chalkley took some candid snaps all day long. Yungblud made the effort to greet everyone in the room with a huge hug before he stepped in front of Dean’s camera. With music blaring, the pair started egging each other on and Harrison began leaping up and down like a kangaroo on a powerful pinger.

Yungblud began kicking his leg out and his last lash out falls barely an inch short of booting the camera – and Dean, for that matter – into next week. He apologised, but there was no need. No contact was made, and the shot was magic.

Yungblud is currently on the final Vans Warped Tour, the famed punk-pop carnival, that will see him take in just about every state in the US and make or break as a new act. He’ll be fine, though. When we caught him at renowned north London shithole Water Rats earlier this year, he showed the promise to become one of the nation’s most explosive performers. A hybrid of the energy of Sex Pistols’ leader Johnny Rotten and the swagger of a titanic rap performers like Travis Scott.

Before that jaunt began we managed to pin him down in London, fresh from a flight back from LA. Jetlag? No chance, mate. Yungblud is here to change the world – and it seems like he won’t rest until it’s done.

Do you think rock music is in a good place right now?

“It’s just the same as it always have been for 30 years, and not reinventing itself. There’s always some 70-year-old in a Def Leppard t-shirt telling me it’s not rock’n’roll because it’s not what they want. It’s about that fundamental and undeniable lack of fear to be yourself and say what you think – that’s rock’n’roll.

Why do I want to do the same shit everyone is doing? I’m excited when I take something out of my comfort zone and influence from something I never thought I would take influence from.”

“Artists right now are on such a pedestal where it’s like, ‘I’ve got the microphone; you’re the fucking peasants.’ Bollocks to that.”

You’ve been hanging out with young rappers like Lil Yachty and 6ix9ine lately. Do you feel like they’re the rockstars of this era?

“At least they’re saying something. I might not agree with what they’re saying –§ a lot of the time it can be quite misogynistic or racist, but they’re saying something and giving me the same fire in my belly as The Clash did. It makes me feel something and want to get up and dance and say what I think. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? That’s why I think rock’n’roll is on life support. It’s four idiots in leather jackets singing about fuck all, and it’s not connecting because it’s not real.

Young people are not just yobs, they’re very fucking intelligent. We see a future we want to be a part of, and a place we want to get to – but it’s being held back by a generational thing that don’t understand us and aren’t ready for the world to go there yet.”

There’s some mad energy in your shows, have you always been like that?

“I’ve always had a lot of energy and had a lot of opinions all my life – people misunderstood that about me being naughty, gobby or different. This record goes out out to all those people, because it’s a really fucking bad way to feel. Now I’ve found an outlet for that. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been listened to.”

“I don’t want to be here for 20 minutes; I want to be playing when I look like an old lady’s handbag”

What was life like growing up in Doncaster?

“My Mum and Dad were always supportive of me. They always let me express myself. When I was 10, I had dyed red hair and I used to paint my nails – I think my Mum secretly loved it. It’d be people in power who were trying to suppress me. There’s always something scary about someone who wants to challenge you.

I came down to London when I was 16 and went to art school for like three months and they were fucking worse from where I was at the start. I always wanted to do it my way. Not in an arrogant or a cocky way – it just made sense to me. I fucking hated the idea of not being fundamentally myself; it frightened me.”

Who were big influences growing up?

“When I felt upset and lost, music always had the answer. It was Alex Turner who knew how I was thinking even though he’d never met me – that fucking blew my mind. It was because he was writing songs about where I was from.

Eminem, The Clash and Busta Rhymes: they just didn’t give a fuck. They said what they wanted to, and that’s what I wanted to be like. The Clash and Joe Strummer made protest songs, but also made me want to dance as well. That was an interesting moment for me. It was the only thing that made me feel like being myself was kay.”

You and your fans are very close. What’s an average day for Yungblud on social media?

“I’ll get like 100-200 DMs a day just from people saying, ‘I found your music and it’s making me feel empowered and giving me answers’. That blows my fucking brain to smithereens. Ultimately I don’t want to tell people what to think – who the fuck am I to do that? I’m not Mother Theresa or Jesus. I don’t want to be that.

“Artists right now are on such a pedestal where it’s like, ‘I’ve got the microphone; you’re the fucking peasants.’ Bollocks to that. I want to change the way shit’s done. After every show I want to meet my fans. How can I write about what I’m writing about and just get in van and fuck off afterwards? That doesn’t make sense to me. We’re building a community where it’s not just an artist and a fanbase.

I feel like we’re doing this for a reason. I’ve got fans getting tattoos of my lyrics when I have six songs out. It’s inspiring me and pushing me to keep doing this. It’s not just me shouting into the darkness now; it’s me having a conversation. I don’t give a fuck if people like or dislike my music; I just want people to have an opinion about it.”

Does it feel like real movement is happening with young people like yourself?

“It feels like the ’60s again. There’s been such suppression on young heads. For example, March For Our Lives – I was there in Atlanta because that’s something I feel so strongly about. There’s a song on the album called ‘Machine Gun (Fuck The NRA)’, because when I first went to America it baffled me that it was easier to get an assault rifle than a pint of beer. It’s fucking ridiculous. I’m not even American, but for the sake of humanity, something has got to change.

People are going to say, ‘Oh god, this song is really uncomfortable’, and good, because you know what is uncomfortable? Being 16 years old and someone walking into your school with a fucking shotgun or assault rifle. I want people to be at my show to bounce around, but also because we all see a better future.”

– Yungblud’s  debut album is out now