Youth Code Turned the Sound of Inflating a Tire Into Electronic Music

Youth Code
Youth Code Rick Rodney
Youth Code may not have its roots in the goth scene, but the duo is arguably the most popular of the current wave of bands influenced by early industrial music. Along with groups like Burning, from Minneapolis, Echo Beds from Denver and All Your Sisters from San Francisco, Youth Code embodies a synthesis of experimental electronic music and a more visceral sound from raw live shows.

When the group launched, in 2012, vocalist Sara Taylor had never been in a band, unlike her partner, and the other half of the duo, Ryan George. Rather, Taylor had toured between ages seventeen and twenty-seven with metal bands like Suffocation and High on Fire.

For a while, she settled down from the touring life to spend time with George and work at a record store. It wasn't long before the store had a showcase of employee bands that challenged Taylor to finally start her own project.

Nearly five years later, Youth Code has released records on one of the hippest underground labels, Dais, and toured with Skinny Puppy multiple times, becoming one of the most exciting live acts around. While this hasn't made Youth Code monetarily wealthy (Taylor is back to selling merch for other bands between Youth Code tours), its confrontational electronic music is inspiring a new generation of musicians.

Westword recently spoke with Taylor about how she discovered early Wax Trax bands, how Youth Code decided to make the kind of music it has, and how sampling has made it possible for the group to make music out of literally any sound.

Westword: How did you get exposed to early Wax Trax music?

Sara Taylor: From my dad. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was relatively young, he was into music that could be made on machines. Synthesizers and all that stuff was kind of new and exciting technology. My dad was super into Depeche Mode, and he had the “Jesus Built My Hotrod” CD single [by Ministry]. I liked Depeche Mode because my dad was into it, but I also really fucked with Metallica and Pantera. So my dad had these CDs on his shelf that were weird-looking: Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry. All the artwork on it seemed crazy to me. I didn't know why there were flames and a backwards “n” on Nine Inch Nails's Broken. I would wait until my dad was asleep and plug my headphones into his computer and listen to the CDs on the computer. I was like, holy shit, this is crazy, because this is exactly a marriage between all the electronic stuff that he liked and all the really angry stuff that I really like. From there, looking at the backs of CDs, the backs of magazines, reading the liner notes from these bands' CDs, I found out about that early industrial sound and fell in love with it.

Was Youth Code initially an industrial band?

For me, I can say industrial was the focus of the band. We were both going to these minimal-synth clubs, and in L.A,. synths were rising in popularity at the time. Ryan and I both said, when we first started Youth Code, that this stuff was all cool, but it didn't have an aggressive side to it, which is what Ryan and I fuck with. You'd hear “Smothered Hope,” by Skinny Puppy, or Nitzer Ebb's “Join in the Chant” but nobody was doing a new take on old industrial when we first started doing this. We didn't want to start a metal or punk or hardcore band together. Ryan was doing all this stuff with synthesizers, so we gravitated toward that. With the most recent record, [2016's Commitment to Complications], we've been drawing from so many different sources, and we've gone in a direction where it's too aggressive for regular EBM and industrial stuff and too industrial for a lot of metal kids to fully grasp.

Do you see a link between industrial music and more aggressive music?

I kind of look to old [Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV] performances and the way that TG did stuff to fuck with people. The music wasn't necessarily as hard-hitting as a metal song, but they did things that were confrontational in this way where the aggression existed. To be a band that's playing feedback, tape loops and cutting things together and just being abrasive and in someone's face, that's a very aggressive thing to do, especially in a time frame like the ’70s and ’80s. You had Depeche Mode and then you had Throbbing Gristle, who were being the weirdest in the entire universe. That link has been there before us. Probably millions of people like Ryan and I, who are aggressive, that also don't necessarily want to go the standard route about how you get out your aggression. I think it's so much cooler with electronics.

Not dissing on guitar music, because it's sick as well. But with guitars, you have a sound and then you modify it through a bunch of pedals. You basically skip the whole pedal part when you go into electronics, and you can make whatever the fuck you want. For a lot of the drum patterns on the tape and our first record, Ryan and I would just go walk around and tape-record hitting a hollow plastic pipe onto whatever steel frame outside a building. Then label it as such and drop it into a sampler and fuck with it so much that, in turn, walking around on the streets became part of our music.

We were putting air into a tire once, and this air machine was glitching out so bad that we turned it into a snare roll, basically. You can literally make a song out of anything, and I think [that's] beautiful. I love guitar solos, but I do not know how to play sweeps and leads, so the fact that we can program stuff like that without me having to necessarily learn the art of how to shred is so much fun, and I get to essentially mimic the stuff that inspired me in a weird way and do something different.

Youth Code, with Code Orange, Lifeless and Of Feather and Bone, Friday, January 20, 7 p.m., Marquis Theater, 303-487-0111, $12 - $14, all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.