Scottish alternative hip-hop trio Young Fathers were the surprise winners of the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, triumphing over a host of better-known names including FKA Twigs, Royal Blood and Blur‘s Damon Albarn.
The band’s album Dead – while critically acclaimed for its mix of De La Soul-style grooves and sonic experimentation – was a rank outsider going into the ceremony, held Wednesday night at London’s Roundhouse venue. But despite having sold fewer than 2,500 copies in the U.K., it was declared the best British or Irish album of the last 12 months in a result shocking enough to rival any of the ceremony’s previous upsets – as when Blur’s Parklife lost to M People’s Elegant Slumming in 1994 or when Roni Size / Reprazent’s New Forms triumphed over Radiohead’s OK Computer in 1997.
Young Fathers, formed in Edinburgh in 2008, seemed as surprised as anyone. Alloysious Massaquoi’s acceptance speech was one of the shortest ever, consisting entirely of the words: “Thank you, thank you. We love you all, thank you.”
All 12 nominees played live during the ceremony, and even before their victory, the group’s aggressive performance of “Get Up” was the talk of the show – even if Albarn’s hypnotic, stripped-back version of “Hostiles” (from his debut solo album Everyday Robots) and Royal Blood’s blistering “Figure It Out” prompted the biggest cheers from the crowd.
Many previous leftfield winners of the prize, awarded every year since 1992, have used the platform to break into the mainstream. But at a notably irritable winners’ backstage press conference, Young Fathers – completed by Kayus Bankole and Graham “G” Hastings – insisted that the award “didn’t change anything at all.” The band refused to smile for the massed photographers, and when asked if they were happy to win, Massaquoi responded, “Should we be jumping about the place? It’s just part and parcel of the industry.”
Still, Massaquoi and Hastings seemed happier about the win when they spoke to Rolling Stone after the press conference, the former noting that the award would mean “more people are going to be listening to our music and seeing the name Young Fathers.”
“We’re a very ambitious group,” he added. “So all that helps.”
Those ambitions include a 2015 tour of the United States: “We grew up watching America and listening to music from America,” said Hastings. “It’s such a big, vast land, they have so many talented singers and so much great music. So when you go over there from a small corner of Northern Europe and people come up to you after a gig and say, ‘I’ve never heard anything like that,’ it’s amazing for us.”
Before that, the band plans to record the follow-up to Dead in Berlin and ponder how to spend their £20,000 ($32,000) of prize money – especially when that cash is supplemented by a surge in royalties from album sales and streaming. Royal Blood, according to the Official Charts Company, have sold an extra 59,000 copies of their self-titled debut since the September 10th Mercury shortlist announcement.
The other shortlisted 2014 albums were: FKA Twigs’ LP1, Polar Bear’s In Each and Every One, East India Youth’s Total Strife Forever, Nick Mulvey’s First Mind, Jungle’s Jungle, GoGo Penguin’s v2.0, Anna Calvi’s One Breath, Bombay Bicycle Club’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down.