Music/Interviews

YUNGBLUD is ready for rock to become political again

May 4, 2018

Northern England’s brightest export is on an exhilarating run to become the next Mick Jagger. He also has a lot of things to get off his chest.

Between the demands for gun control in the US and the fight for reproductive justice around the world, young people everywhere have been at the forefront of some of the most challenging political issues of our decade. This is no exception for North England’s Dominic Harrison who performs under the moniker Yungblud, a tireless young rock and roller who’s become one of the brightest rising stars in UK’s newest rock revival. Sitting in the sun of a particularly bright morning in Toronto’s Drake Hotel, Harrison is no stranger to these parts and this past April, he played his second show of the year in Toronto. When I asked how he felt about the snow despite being firmly into Spring, his response was buoyant: “Bruv, it feels like Santa Claus is just gonna bring me a fuckin’ present. I love it.”

As a performer, Yungblud’s onstage antics are thrilling and unpredictable: he bounces around on stage with his tongue hanging out, smashes his Telecaster into cymbals, and pauses in between melodies to give his guitarist the occasional smooch on the lips. I realized early on during his performance that at the heart of Yungblud’s rebellious charm is a passion for rock ‘n’ roll and the spirit of resistance. This made him not only a captivating performer, but a palette cleanser in a stale rock scene. Before his first American tour, he experienced a spell of exhaustion, and two days later he returned back to the studio. “I’m hungry. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop until I’ve fulfilled what I want to achieve. And it’s quite funny because I don’t necessarily know what I want yet,” he laughs.

Growing up in Doncaster, a large market town in South Yorkshire, Harrison describes his origins as an artist as a “simmering pan”—an environment that allowed  his creativity to grow. At 16, Harrison moved out of his parents’ home and into the big city. “They were always supportive of me. It was everyone else I felt misunderstood by, like school, and just other people. To put it this way, I was the kid the moms didn’t like.” Feeling misunderstood, a fire ignited when he struggled to find a community that allowed him to express himself. “I moved out to London and went to art school for a couple months, and I thought art school would be great! They’d let me express myself. But they were even fuckin’ worse,” he exclaimed.

I think rock and roll music is boring, no one’s talking about real issues right now.

Dominic Harrison, YungBlud

Harrison  admits that the “lid blew off” in the aftermath of Brexit, which left him feeling as if the British youth had been robbed of a voice. “Yeah I think rock and roll music is boring, no one’s talking about real issues right now,” he explains. “If I hear ‘bitch get down’ or ‘I love you so much I’m going to shit myself’ one more time I’m going to strangle myself.”

Harrison’s commitment to the resiliency of young people feels both rebellious, universal and rooted in an activist spirit. His first, self-titled EP, released just this past January covers topics like sexual assault and gentrification. With lyrics like, “Leave it alone mate/She doesn’t want to go home with you,” he’s fierce when it comes to his politics while also wanting to make it clear that it’s not an authority on the subject. “[I’m] not trying to say I’m Mother Teresa but I’m just doing my thing. There’s a lot of incredible artists right now and I just think politics is so relevant. I can’t believe no one’s talking about it in pop music.”’

These days, Harrison credits his influences to the new wave of sadboy rap, citing artists like Lil Xan, Trippy Redd, Jessie Reyez, Post Malone, and particularly, gaining inspiration from Lorde. “She’s really representing the movement of female empowerment which is so crazy because she’s saying to young girls, ‘you can be yourself and if someone does not like you for who you are, then they are not meant to be in your life,’ and that’s what I love about that. And it’s the same with Dua Lipa and Camila Cabello, and that’s why I did that cover and a lot of people were like, ‘that’s not rock and roll,’ and I was like “yes it is!’”

By reclaiming and reinterpreting the parameters of the rock genre, his meticulously curated public persona places him directly in dialogue with some of the most popular current artists as diverse as Billie Eilish or Lil Uzi Vert. The combination of Blur-esque rock riffs with trap flourishes makes his sound accessible to the unlikely listener. “Right now, hip hop’s inspiring me more than anything else,” he says. “Because I grew up on an accumulation of hip hop and rock. I’m so much more inspired by hip hop right now because it’s giving me the same feeling The Clash did. It’s representing something.”

Proudly admitting an undying love for Eminem and Arctic Monkeys, Yungblud fuses hip hop and rock throughout his EP, but particularly on the track “Anarchist.” “I started writing it on the piano and then we transitioned it to guitar,” he explained. “And then we were like ‘fuck it man’ and put trap beats behind it. Even with the new album, I never want to be genre defined. This album’s coming and its touching on so many issues, I don’t think anyone knows what’s coming yet.”

In more ways than one, Yungblud is the rockstar we’ve been looking for—white knuckled and red in the face. He’s is unafraid to directly address major political issues without wincing, aiming to be the voice of a younger generation pushed into liminality. Keep your eyes peeled for his signature pink socks, Yungblud is an artist on the brink of a meteoric rise.  

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