Youth Code’s new record A Place To Stand might have just been conceived as a stopgap between last year’s self-titled debut and the follow-up due next Spring, but it feels like a giant leap for the band, pushing their harsh take on body music into new realms of intensity.
Six months after they started dating, Sara Taylor and Ryan William George founded Youth Code to play a show at the store Taylor works at, Los Angeles’ Vacation Vinyl. Now, just two years later, A Place To Stand confirms they’ve grown into a fearsome proposition. Recorded with production assistance from Joshua Eustis, the man behind Telefon Tel Aviv and a sometime live member of Nine Inch Nails, side one lines up four new tracks offering a scorched-earth take on Wax Trax-style electro-industrial that nonetheless point out to influences as diverse as Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again and Whitehouse’s Birdseed. On the flip, meanwhile, we find four remixes from a diverse assortment of allies: Sanford Parker of experimental metal groups Buried At Sea and Corrections House; Sub Pop-signed noise-rap group Clipping; electro-goth stalwarts God Module; and dark techno mainstay Juan Mendez, aka Silent Servant, whose effort is exclusively streaming below. On paper, a bit of a hotchpotch, but as a listen, it flows surprisingly smooth.
Both Taylor and George have roots in hardcore and punk rock. He used to sing for the Californian straight edge group Carry On, and for a while fronted major label rockers The Adored; she’s worked as a tour manager and sold merch. Consequently, they’re caught somewhere between cultures, to be found sharing stages with punk bands – 2014 has already seen tours with the gothic post-hardcore group AFI and shoegazing metallers Nothing – but with shows locked in supporting industrial heavyweights like Front 242 and Skinny Puppy before the end of the year. “We don’t really fit anywhere,” admits George.
Refreshingly, though, Youth Code’s hardcore past manifests in an ethical stance that’s rare in industrial music, where transgression and political ambiguity hold sway. Earlier this year they made a video in support of Peta, while one track on A Place To Stand, ‘A Litany (A Place To Stand)’ finds Taylor decrying the evils of racism, sexism, transphobia, and animal cruelty with righteous venom. FACT caught up with the pair at their home in Silverlake, California to talk about being a band of principle, playing music with your significant other, and winning over the dudes in plastic pants.
So what have you been up to since the last full length?
Sarah: That was September, I think, of last year. We’ve been touring, working, doing art and design stuff. All the stuff you would do with a band. After putting out the album we went on tour with our friends Night Sins, and then back in January we did the AFI tour, did some dates with Nothing, a couple of shows in New York. It’s been pretty busy.
So is there a difference between playing live with, say, punk bands like AFI or Nothing, and playing with, say, Suicide Commando or other more dancefloor-geared industrial stuff?
R: It’s really different. When we got offered the AFI thing, we were just so absolutely baffled we had to do it.
S: I had this mathematical equation that it would work on the AFI tour, because Davey [Havok, vocalist] and Jade [Puget, guitarist] have this electronic project Blaqk Audio. I was like, oh, all AFI fans are obsessed with everything AFI ever does. But it turns out that people that actually go to AFI shows are 14 years old, or dudes still stuck in the Warped tour mentality – flipped up Lagwagon hats, Blink 182 shirts…
R: The worst, basically.
So was it enjoyable?
R: The first two shows we got booed…
S: Not offstage, though.
R: We got through our set, but we weren’t playing to the crowd, we were just in the zone. If you want to keep your morale high in moments like that, you go, “What’s up, you guys pumped for AFI?” And the crowd go, yeaaaah!
S: If you talk about AFI at an AFI show, they think you’re OK. But I think there was one night, where I was like, “This is a song we put out on a label called Angry Love, which is run by Psychic TV – do you know who they are?” And it was like, crickets.
R: It felt like enemy territory a bit.
S: But after the show, the dads of the teenage girls, the moms even – they were like, “Oh yeah, I used to listen to Ministry, that shit was cool”. While their kids are like – [chirpy valley girl voice] “So, you’re dubstep Crystal Castles?” And I’m like, uh, no.
R: We felt like missionaries on that tour.
S: When kids came up and were interested afterwards, I actively made it a point to talk to the younger people, the young girls. I was like this was my opportunity to be, you know, cool role model person. I figure that if five kids per 2500 capacity venue go home and Google what Skinny Puppy actually is, we’ve done our job for a genre we really like.
R: It was good for us, learning how to play on different stages. Not just artsy DIY shows. We learned how to use our equipment on bigger stages.
You both have a background in hardcore and punk music. It’s interesting to me that those scenes often seem to breed lifers in terms of people that create music – although often people who move onto other musical genres, like industrial, or folk.
R: It’s funny, as I’ve gotten older I see American hardcore is folk music. I don’t think you could be a suburban American kid that didn’t grow up on Black Flag or Minor Threat. It’s like our parents’ Beatles or something. It’s a common denominator.
Youth Code isn’t a hardcore band, but it feels like some of that is in your DNA.
S: Yeah, for sure.
R: As we’ve progressed, it’s increasingly reared its head. When we started, the idea was like, let’s do an industrial EBM band, like the older stuff we like. When we started dating, we really bonded over that – it was oh my god, you like this stuff? So do I! I’d been messing with electronics for a while. We were just mimicking, at the start. But we’ve got a little more relaxed when we write now, and like you say, it’s in our DNA, when we write. It’s like, this bit it needs to be harder, the riffs, the drum breaks, the vocals – it’s what we know.
Did it have a lot to do with happening on the right hardware?
S: Yeah. I remember when we first started, it was so minimal.
R: Around then, I couldn’t pay rent [laughs]. I had all these old analogue synths that I’d acquired through the years, and I was selling stuff off until I had one sequencer.
S: Just this blue Electribe, and a friend of ours had let us borrow their Microkorg. But I was out on tour doing merch for another band, and I came upon this red Electribe Ryan had been telling me about.
R: It’s basically a sampler. The idea was that we could do more with less equipment, sampling basslines, pads and drum sounds. But as we started using samplers more, we realised holy shit – that’s the Wax Trax sound. If you sample a bassline, it gets clunky, it degrades the quality. And we were like, it sounds awesome, this is it.
S: Our friend Jimmy randomly had a DX-7 in storage. My dad had a shit ton of gear in storage from when he was doing music stuff, rack things.
R: They just happened to be from that era when Ministry were doing crossover stuff, so it all had the same sound. We really lucked out. We’re doing a little better now, so we’re buying fancy Elektron stuff – we’re about to get an Analog 4. Gear is funny, you don’t really need a lot of it, but it’s nice to have it.
S: Ryan’s not allowed to go into modular world, because I know 15 thousand dollars later we won’t have a car but we’ll have three bleep-blop machines.
I liked the album from last year, but the new one feels tougher, clearer. It hits harder.
R: We’re definitely figuring it out. Working with Josh [Eustis, producer] was just the best thing that could have happened to us. It’s weird, a lot of electronic musicians are producers too. I am definitely not. I just put things together until they sound cool. That was like the LP was.
S: Being kids who come from hardcore, we’re the sort who pick up synths and just decide to figure them out. We didn’t spend a lot of time working out how to do it. We were like, we like this type of music, let’s write a song, play a show.
R: Josh really helped get everything nice and punchy, its own space in the mix. He was like, we can beat this sound – that was his phrase. We’d make riffs and then he’d resample them, really work on them. And we’d be like, holy shit, this extra bit of work is so worth it. It was cool. The first album was sort of cut-up, glued together on the computer. But for this album, we set out all the gear and wrote everything on this fold-out table, midi cables going everywhere. We programmed all the sequencers with no computers, just hooked them up to these crazy synthesizers. It was way more immediate, playing it like a band. It had a lot more force for that reason.
S: Ryan and I have this friend, Todd, who plays in a metal band. We were discussing how when you get a little bit of accolade, it’s so easy to go to a more commercial place. But Todd was like, “I went in a much harder direction, and I think people appreciated that more.” That resonated.
R: Doing that felt more true to ourselves. We’re not a pop band.
S: It’s like the change from Pretty Hate Machine to Broken. Nine Inch Nails could have gone either way. Like, they were kind of this Depeche Mode-type band, with these softer synthesiser sounds. But they also had these hard industrial elements. But on Broken, you can hear how Trent basically went, I don’t give a fuck about success, I’m going to go as loud and abrasive as possible. And it worked. We’re definitely trying to go harder, but with more of a refined sound.
I’m interested, can you hear your relationship in the music?
S: Our relationship is a huge part of the band.
R: It pretty much started at the beginning of the relationship, six months in, and it’s been a big part of it.
S: I feel like, even when things are abrasive, you can find love in it. I’ve been hanging out with Ryan listening to Whitehouse or Con-Dom, and it’s like just as romantic as listening to Sibylle Baier, you know?
Does it take a certain sort of couple to be in a band together?
S: From the moment I met Ryan I was totally intimidated by him, but when I actually started talking to him, which was after about three hours of staring [laughter], he had this real friendly approach to him. I knew I liked him, I was attracted to him, but I also felt a lot of comfort within him. Being in this band, it’s like we looked at who the other person was, seen the things we weren’t so comfortable about, and pushing each other – like, come on, you can be as good as I know you to be. I for sure hadn’t thought about fronting a band – I’m not, you know, a singer. And when you look for like, women that are frontpeople, they’re often either really beautiful, or they’re like they’re this, uh, sexy aspect of metal. Kathleen Hanna is cool – there are these great women who are super awesome. But I grew up listening to Metallica, Slayer, Skinny Puppy. Those people were my role models. With Ryan telling me you can do this, you’re going to do this, it pushed our relationship to a really supporting place.
R: It’s common for people in a relationship in a band to fight a lot, to have power struggles. But this band is like a support system for us, it’s brought us closer. Some people go on walks. We work on music, artwork, plan what we’re doing. It’s nice, real nice.
It’s interesting you mention Kathleen Hanna, because I want to talk about the song ‘A Litany (A Place To Stand)’. I appreciate you making industrial music and putting your principles quite near the front.
R: It was a very conscious choice on that song to make it not singy, and to make it without vocal effects. The music is not musical, it’s just a background. And bands…I mean, the world is so fucked up right now, and even if people hate that song, I think it’s so important…
S: So many bands don’t say a fucking thing, they’re like, “I’m an entertainer, I’m here to take the world’s mind off what’s going on.” But you have this opportunity in your life to say people to 10 people, or to 10, 000 people. Whether they choose to listen and pay attention… well I don’t care, I don’t give a fuck. But being a woman, and seeing how common rape culture is, I feel it is important to stand up, make your voice heard. If you don’t like it that’s fine, I’m not trying to force anything down anyone’s throat, but if I can get a podium, I’ll use it as a moment to express what I feel, the things that are important to me.
R: That song, it’s a philosophy that Sara and I have. And I think it’s important, because the lyrics often aren’t so literal. I think it’s important that people know we’re not just screaming about nothing. The animal rights thing is tied in to a broader philosophy: that if we practice kindness to things immediate to us, it will filter out into the world. If you practice kindness in something as small as your diet, if you smile in your interactions with people – not to sound like a hippy, but I think a lot of problems going on in the world today, differences with religion, wars, are solvable.
S: I hate to be a sap that quotes Morrissey, but it’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind. It’s a true sentiment. You look at like comment sections on any messageboard, and the world is just fuck this, fuck that, I hate you, you’re a woman so you deserve to be fucked, you’re gay and that’s dumb. It’s the easiest thing in the world to be a shithead. It’s not easy to take a stand about something.
There’s these weird samples buried in the song, too. Where did you get them from?
R: It’s a commercial from a factory farm I found while sample-hunting. They’re trying to sell you on it, but they keep saying things like “An animal is just like a crop, they raise it like a crop.” And they interview this lady, and they’re saying, like, we had to persuade her to work here… it’s just horrible. So we mixed it with that famous speech, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds…” While we were writing that song, I thought a lot about a book I read as a teenager, called The Sexual Politics Of Meat – the politics of eating meat, and how that relates to feminism. It’s about compassion. It might seem like a scrambled mess to everyone else, but it all comes together, in my mind. And being in a band that sounds completely hateful – I think it’s important to demonstrate out hate comes from situations.
I think people can appreciate that position.
R: Oh, I’m sure people are going to hate it.
Well, fuck those people.
S: We did this video for Peta, and the response to that – it was like, oh Youth Code, self-important once again.
R: [laughs] It’s like, no one ever is supportive of someone doing something good – we need to fucking get them and prove they’re a hypocrite!
S: Prove they’re not that good at all. [laughs]
When did you decide this was going to be an EP, not an album? Did you always plan the remixes?
S: Just through touring, doing music, we happen to have made quite a few friends who are super talented. Something I thought was amazing about industrial is that there’s so many routes into different things. Metal has a lot of industrial-influenced stuff, so does hip-hop.
R: Hip-hop is the same fucking thing as industrial music, it’s crazy – the culture is different, but the process, the sampling, the instruments, the approach, it’s the same.
S: All these people who did remixes were people who were super-supportive since the jump of things. I didn’t want to do a full remix album, they can be a little boring. Remixes are best done tastefully and a few of them – like a club EP, on the B-side. But there are some super-great remix LPs – I love Remanufactured by Fear Factory. I think the coolest thing you can do is share what you’re doing with other people, it’s cool to see what they do with it. Clipping came to us, like, we’d love to do something – and I was like, OK, what can this hip-hop group do that might be interesting? And Daveed [Clipping’s MC] actually asked for my lyrics, so he could offer his own reinterpretation, which is super. Silent Servant, Juan’s been on our side since the second show. And God Module, I’ve liked them for quite a bit of time. I was very vocal about liking them, and Jasyn from God Module came down to our Seattle show. I immediately turned into a 12-year-old. A lot of the current industrial scene, they’re a little confused about us.
R: A little cautious…
S: Yeah, like, “they don’t have these plastic pants on.”
R: Which is understandable. At first it was like, “why aren’t they embracing what we’re doing?” But I get it, they have their underground culture, and they’re watching it get uprooted.
It’s a closed scene like hardcore, I guess, they’re on the lookout for people who might be perceived to be fakers.
R: Totally. At first we were bummed because we really love that music. That’s why it’s important to have a band like God Module remix us, to show that. It’s Sara’s favourite stuff.
S: I totally love that clubby cybergoth stuff. I spent a good few years listening to Assemblage 23, Apop, VNV Nation, a lot of this stuff. Recently, we picked our five most influential industrial records for a website. I put a VNV song on there and everyone shit on it – like what’s wrong with you, this isn’t industrial! So we knew we wanted these remixes, and decided to mix it with this new material.
R: We made a record we would buy. Our label Dais is the raddest label in the world. We said to them, financially can we do this? And they were like, yeah.
Looking at the tracklist I was like, that’s interesting – but will it hang together? But the path from your music into the remixes, it’s surprisingly smooth.
R: I think the same. When I finally heard it, all mastered together…
S: It could just be an LP.
R: I think we said this, but we worked with these remixers because we wanted to show how industrial music, the ideas at work it in – it’s like a unity thing. If we’re getting any kind of attention, we want to use it as a platform to point out to things we think mean a lot. Because we’re all in this together. [laughs] Which is another hardcore thing.