Maybe the most telling thing about Youth Code’s self-titled debut has been the range of opinions that have accompanied its release. Embraced fully in some quarters for its beastly aggression and no-frills approach to electro-industrial while being decried in others as a product of some diabolical indie hype machine, it seems everyone had an opinion about the LA duo’s record well before they ever heard it. We here at ID:UD aren’t immune from that of course; having followed the band’s career since the video of their now infamous first show surfaced roughly a year ago, we’ve been proponents of Sara Taylor and Ryan William George’s music since basically we knew they existed, and there was music by them to support. Consequently, it will likely come as no surprise that we like the album: the apparent promise of their demo tape and debut 7″ isn’t so much realized as it is shredded in a hail of screeched vocals, 16th note basslines and machine gunned drums before being reassembled in a newer, far meaner and more predatory form.
I think the key to the enjoyment of Youth Code is in the appreciation of how unadorned and ugly it allows itself to be. While there’s a definite improvement in some aspects of their production (namely in the clarity of recording, wiping away a layer of grit to reveal a ragged edge underneath), it’s still got that same coarse-grained quality that attracted us in the first place. There is a change that’s only really apparent in listening to tracks we’ve already heard, namely the ones reprised from their demo; while they expand and contract slightly, the real difference is in just how much more tense and angry they feel. That’s an achievement considering how wrathful they were in the first place, the result of channeling a lot of that undirected rage into newly dug trenches of rhythm. The primal drum machine assault of “Sick Skinned” becomes more cruelly elegant in form, and the explosive fury of “Destroy Said She” drags out into a marathon session of abuse. That’s a common theme amongst all the LP’s songs: even its shortest track, the power electronics inspired “Rest in Piss” feels much bigger and more impactful than it’s minute and a half long runtime would suggest, with Taylor and George’s increased proficiency with their toolset allowing them to make more of what they had to begin with.
Of course the sound that Youth Code are working with isn’t without historical precedent. At least part of what makes them so exciting has been their wholesale adoption of post-industrial and EBM tropes, as filtered through a gutter sensibility, busted gear and countless pots of coffee. “No Animal Escapes” has a vintage Skinny Puppy bassline, reverbed snare and politics, and “Distorted Views” feels directly descended from the kind of transitional body music Leaether Strip’s Claus Larsen was making early in his career. And yet Youth Code are definitively their own beast: you can hear it in the the plodding 4/4 kick and rhythmically triggered vocal samples of “Let the Sky Burn” that act as a kind of cage for an unhinged Ryan to rail against. Or in the mechanized lurch of “First & Last”, where the sequencers barely seeming to hold things together and each synth part threatens to cause the song to self-destruct like a breeze block thrown into a dryer.
Youth Code sounds dangerous and vital to my ears, music being made with little regard for audience or image or precedent. Far from the uncredentialed plundering of industrial’s ever diminishing cred that some have accused them of, Youth Code are bypassing the extraneous shit that has built up over the decades to deliver a pure blast of the old stuff cast into a young form, free of pretense and delivered with righteous fury. It’s not about who they are, where they’re from or who they know: Youth Code are drawing from a deeper well, other concerns need not apply. Highly recommended.