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When Jeff Wootton (lead guitarist of Gorillaz) and Jamie Reynolds (formerly of Klaxons) decided to hang out and make music together, neither of them could have envisaged the chaos that would ensue. Reynolds had just built a studio in his London home, and, inspired by the recent release of Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’, the pair of them fell almost immediately headfirst into a blackhole of fizzing ideas and notions. When they finally emerged into the daylight two weeks later, Reynolds and Wootton had a band name, a concept, a creative direction and a wealth of songs. From this fiery frenzy, YOTA : Youth of the Apocalypse was born.
The name came from a book that Wootton saw lying on Reynolds’ bookshelf, titled Youth of the Apocalypse, the cover of which showed a monk standing in front of a pile of skulls. “That’s it,” said Wootton, “that’s the name.” It perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the music they found themselves creating. They’d stumbled upon a blend of contemporary hip-hop and rock that could be played live, a sort of epic and cinematic strain of their own – conceptual and abstract, but with the kind of infectious hooks you’d hear on mainstream radio. Most importantly, the songs carried powerful and ominous messages. “We realised that we are living in problematic times,” says Reynolds, “and we wanted our music to reflect this.”
Quite quickly, they established that the project was bigger than them, and a search began for new members. While on a writing trip in LA, via the producer Koool Kojak they heard about Young Lazarus; a promising young New York artist who rapped with a melodic twist thanks to his funk and soul upbringing. “He was the exact guy we were looking for,” says Reynolds. “I knew that Jamie was in Klaxons and Jeff was in Gorillaz. So I was like, okay cool,” laughs Lazarus, “I'll do it!” Next they brought in the drummer Jay Sharrock and Gorillaz’ bass player Seye Adelekan. Then, after seeing the London DJ Twiggy Garcia playing piano on his Instagram, they enlisted him on keys.
The members collaborated beneath the umbrella of their unifying mission statement: “Founded on frustration, punk ethics, a love of hip-hop culture, alternative culture, graffiti and guerrilla tactics, YOTA is a youth movement, a gang, a fresh and immediate art form made of music, words and fashion.”
Paul Simonon of The Clash once told Wootton that when you see a band, you need to want to be in them before you’ve even heard the music. He took it on board. When you see Youth of the Apocalypse play live, it’s like some sort of transatlantic cult have invaded the stage and commandeered the instruments. Every member is dressed in black, with the menacing and almost religious YOTA logo gleaming in white on their jackets.
They played numerous live shows before they’d even released a song. “People were going crazy and they hadn’t heard the music,” says Reynolds, “and that’s when we knew we were onto something.” For Wootton, their performances began to inform the sound; “so many times you finish a song, then you go out and play it, and you end up playing it even better,” he says.
Rumours had been circulating around the internet that some sort of Gorillaz/Klaxons supergroup was forming in the underground, but it wasn’t until June this year that the band announced themselves with ‘Drop The Bomb’, released via The Fader label, produced with James Ford and accompanied by a symbolic war-themed video. The song was a perfect distillation of their vision: a bittersweet rap track featuring MF Doom, that’s written from the both literal and metaphorical perspective of someone who knows a bomb is going to drop from the sky one day.
Since those secret early shows, the band have now played across the UK, supported Kasabian, appeared at Demon Dayz in LA, and recently played a raucous festival set at Rock En Seine. Early next year, they will release their hyped debut mixtape, featuring collaborations from Noel Gallagher, Darryl ‘DMC’ Daniels, Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Kool Kojak (Nicki Minaj / Sean Paul etc), Buddy Ross (Frank Ocean), The Invisible Men (Iggy Azalea etc) and Fred Ball (Rihanna etc)
One of the most explosive songs on there is ‘Revelation’, a pounding and industrial hip-hop track about how it feels to be living in a world where everything seems to be falling apart around us. “That’s what these songs are all about,” says Reynolds, “the apocalyptic nature of the times we're living in, whether that is on a global scale or a personal scale.”
In the early days of YOTA, Wootton would send unfinished songs to Noel Gallagher (the pair are good friends and have collaborated in the past) for his opinion. “Then,” says Reynolds, “we’d see him on a night out and he’d be singing them back to us. I was blown away.” They decided to get him involved and the result is the unforgettable ‘Fire In My Mind’, a darkly love song packed with screaming guitars, glistening vocals and a pounding drum beat. Gallagher joined them onstage to perform the song at their debut headline show in XOYO, London. “He was wearing the jacket and everything,” laughs Wootton.
“That’s the amazing thing about collaboration,” explains Lazarus, “when you bring people from different backgrounds together, you can make this amazing breed of sound, style and quality. All the ingredients are in the pot.” Wootton agrees, and takes things one step further: “I just got sick of seeing four guys on a stage with guitars and a drum kit. I want YOTA to explore, and make something that appeals as much to someone in Manchester as it does to someone in Chicago.”