Youth Code: Industrial Music Duo Are an Unlikely Breakout Success
PHOTO BY RICK RODNEY
Ryan William George and Sara Taylor gather beats for their music from the noise surrounding them. It helps that the couple lives on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. "It's loud as fuck outside our window," George says. They'll record hydraulic noises from a bus or, in the case of the bass line on their song "Sick Skinned," a filtered and distorted sound. They won't say where said sound came from, but it's definitely not a bass.
Sometimes the pair — he's 37 and she's 28 — go on "dates" just walking around, banging on pipes and recording the results.
When there's construction on their building, that provides another rich mine of sound. "I always know I'm going to get a cool snare sound when I see a building crew show up," Taylor says.
Together, the pair are known as Youth Code, which has come out of nowhere to widespread critical acclaim. Their raw, stripped-down reinvention of industrial music has won raves on sites like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan, and their self-titled debut won a slot on L.A. Weekly's 10 best L.A. albums of 2013. They've opened for Andrew WK and haven't had any downtime since their first gig a year and a half ago.
Too punk for industrial, too danceable for punk, the group's Black Flag–inspired bass lines produce a sense of dread and helplessness.
They prefer old-school synths, filters and sequencers to computers. "Computers make people lazy," George says.
"We're actually playing instruments," Taylor adds. "The limitations that hardware provides is a point of growth for us. You have to learn them inside and out."
Vocals distort beyond the point of humanity, creating not so much melodies as layers of rhythmic noise. Their beats resemble metal scraping against metal, and their drum sounds are like shotgun blasts. "Without vocals we'd just be weird techno," Taylor says. George adds: "A good sound is something that is harsh and fucked up."
They alternate vocals, George providing the tortured screams and Taylor offering a throatier, huskier sound. When performing, one second they look like DJs, the next like a hardcore band.
George works the door at Cha Cha Lounge and previously was in a hardcore group called Carry On. (He's been collecting electronic gear for years.) He met Taylor — who was a roadie for various death-metal bands — in 2011 when a mutual friend's band played Club Moscow at Boardener's.
"I kept seeing her stare at me," he says.
"I was nervous," Taylor says, cutting him off. "I didn't know what to do because you're really good-looking."
Today, they're hanging out at Caffe Vita in East Hollywood. They're both smoking (George is trying to quit) and dressed down, she in an ancient-looking Metallica shirt and jeans, he in a T-shirt and army jacket. Both are heavily tattooed; George has a small black outline of a heart under his left eye.
"The reason we play industrial is because it's something the two of us can do together," Taylor explains. "You have to be a certain kind of freak to be into industrial," George says at another point in the conversation.
Youth Code started out as something of a joke. Well, the name did, anyway. Both of them apparently find the moniker hilarious, though they decline to elaborate on why, exactly. But the group kicked into gear when a boss at Taylor's employer, Vacation Vinyl, called their bluff and asked them to play a showcase put on by the record store.
"We had no songs," Taylor says, "no nothing. All we had was a stupid name."
To make matters worse, the pair had taken on extra shifts at work and were forced to move out of their old apartment that week due to roommate trouble. "It was one of the most gut-wrenching moments of my life," Taylor says.
This first performance, in September 2012, at intimate, experimental Silver Lake venue Pehrspace, was a glorious mess. "We just threw a bunch of delay on everything," George says. Taylor forgot the lyrics, extemporizing in Chinese. They worked over the decks, putting together analog beats and samples, pausing only to move around the stage in something between a bounce and a lurch.
Still, everyone seemed to have a good time, and not long after they walked outside to get a breath of air, the pair got offered a second gig.
A small-batch demo cassette released soon thereafter sold out in less than 24 hours, while a single on Angry Love Productions — run by industrial pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge — sold out nearly as quickly. Their self-titled debut LP on L.A.'s Dais Records (which has released records from talked-about artists such as Seattle neo-folkie King Dude and L.A./New York synth artists Cold Cave) sold all 1,000 copies in less than a month before being repressed.
It's clear that they're no longer a joke.
It can be a bit hard to pin these guys down, sonically. George says their sound primarily comes from the early industrial scene, but with a punk-rock spin.
"There's a lot to be explored in early industrial," he explains. "We listen to industrial of that era and say, 'Let's do something like that, but make the bass riff sound more like Black Flag.'"
Interplay between punk and industrial is nothing new. In fact, punk's do-it-yourself energy is a large part of what fueled industrial's first wave of danceable beats and harsh electronic noise. In the late 1970s and early '80s, groups like England's Throbbing Gristle and Canada's Skinny Puppy were looking to break away from verse-chorus-verse pop and examining the possibilities of new electronic-music technologies. They were using drum machines, synthesizers and sequencers, blending them with tape manipulation and white noise to create a grating new sound.
Both members of Youth Code express an affinity for classic and contemporary minimalist synth music, as well as the French proto-noise movement musique concrète, and even William S. Burroughs' experimental sound collages.
While there are other groups experimenting along these lines — such as Tense, from Houston, and White Car, from L.A. — Youth Code are rough and raw on a whole other level. They're less "amazing songwriters" than innovative engineers, Nikola Tesla making beats you can dance to.
Their stage show remains raw and uncrafted, and they come onstage in street clothes. This is strange in a scene where appearance is everything: If you go to an industrial party, don't be surprised, for example, to see plenty of people wearing vinyl and rubber.
Truth be told, neither of them is really involved in the industrial scene at all. "We're not trying to fit into a specific sound or an image," Taylor says. George is quick to add: "I'm not going to wear a gas mask and plastic pants to play industrial."
In an ever-atomized musical landscape, groups tend to have a very specific notion of what they want to sound like. For that reason, it's often easy to pick apart a band's influences and reduce them to down. Youth Code defy this type of categorization, however. They're just a couple of creative musicians in love, having a great time together.
Youth Code play Complex in Glendale on Feb. 23.
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