“We’re these shitty punk kids making industrial, I think that kind of threw people…”
It’s been quite the year for Ryan William George and Sara Taylor. Since forming as Youth Code just twelve months ago, the LA couple have played a handful of incendiary shows, released a demo tape, a 7″, and now an LP. Moreover, they’ve found themselves (for better or worse) at the center of a host of new questions concerning industrial music’s audience, legacy, and meaning. We spoke with Ryan and Sara about the creation of Youth Code, their workflow, the reactions the band has provoked, and the connection between Seinfeld and EBM.
ID:UD: On the inside cover of your demo tape there’s the sentence “We Were Never Supposed to be a Band”. Can you expand on that a bit? How did Youth Code come to be?
Ryan: Sarah kind of kicked us off by saying we had a band. She works at a record store, and they were setting up a show and she was like “We have a band, we’re gonna play!” *laughter*
Sara: What happened was I was out on tour with this metal band, and Ryan had been telling me about this piece of gear that he really wanted to fuck with, this sampler. I was like, if I see it on Craigslist, I’ll get it. I was in San Francisco, I was pre-Craigslisting each city to see if this piece of gear was gonna turn up, and I found it for a really reasonable price. I got home and Ryan was teaching me about drum machines and samplers, but I didn’t know how to play a damn thing. When I heard about the employee showcase [at Vacation Vinyl], I don’t know if I got a hair up me, but something about how everybody was participating, I just inflated myself like “My band is playing bro. Book it, we’re opening.”
Ryan: When me and Sara first started dating, we were both into punk, hardcore, and metal, but when we found out that we both like EBM and industrial it was pretty rad. I’d been messing with hardware for a good five or six years by myself but just wasn’t doing anything with it. I was shy, I don’t know a lot of people who make electronic music. The show came around and it seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone was doing minimal synth. That’s cool but it’s really mellow.
Sara: We’re not really mellow people. *laughter*
Ryan: We were going to shows and there was no release, so we decided to do a hard-ass electronic band. We played our first show, and made up all the lyrics at the show. We had a lot of fun and decided, let’s really do this. Hone it in, make some recordings and play shows. It just never really stopped. It’s been awesome.
ID:UD: Yeah, it definitely seems like it’s been happening for you really quickly. It’s only been a year since the band’s first show and far less since the first tracks were released, but the response to Youth Code has been pretty vociferous, within and without of the established industrial community? What do you think is prompting that?
Sara: I think that there’s a multitude of things to be honest. I’ve been going to [Los Angeles’] Das Bunker since before I was legal allowed to get in. Futurepop was my shit: I used to go to metal shows, and secretly in my headphones I’d be blaring Assemblage 23. With our music I think the response has been so insane because people relate to the anger, there hasn’t been anyone who seemed super pissed in a long time.
Ryan: We can only really speak locally. We’re aware of other bands, there was //TENSE//, Bobby is our friend, we’ve been made aware of stuff through our friend Gray’s label Chondritic Sound, he releases a lot of underground industrial and power electronics. We know other stuff, but we come from a different world. We’re these shitty punk kids making industrial, I think that kind of threw people in the traditional industrial scene. You’ve seen what people have written online. That’s fine good or bad, we just want to make music.
ID:UD: So it’s the ‘otherness’, being something different from what people expect?
Ryan: I think so, but it’s pretty unintentional. People who started industrial, they weren’t “scene” people, they were artsy and had angst and were trying to do something different. That’s where we’re coming from. I think about it every now and then, but it’s nothing to obsess over. I just want to keep pushing forward. We play house shows with punk bands, we can play clubs like Complex and Bunker, it doesn’t matter. It’s challenging and cool to just do what we do. We don’t feel like we need a scene behind us.
Sara: I’m stoked we get as much support as we do. But if no one noticed this project, we’d still be doing the same shit.
ID:UD: There’s the “go vegan, hold onto your friends, 80s hardcore, when in doubt – Front 242” slogan on the demo tape. The Front 242 connection to the music feels pretty obvious, can you maybe speak a bit about the other three elements? Obviously they’re kind of a statement of personal interest and values, but do they connect to the band?
Sara: I saw Ryan post it on Facebook and thought it was the most genius thing I’d ever seen. *laughter* “Hold onto your friends” is a Morrissey reference…
Ryan: It’s basically us. We’re both vegan, we both love hardcore. I tend to drink a lot of coffee throughout the day, and shit flies out of my mouth. I said that, and we thought it was funny, and summed us up. Putting that in the tape, that’s just us.
ID:UD: Sara, you’ve worked on loads of tours as a tour manager, and Ryan, you were in a couple of punk and hardcore bands, one of which was on V2. That’s a lot of history not just with music but with the music business between the two of you. What lessons or strategies from your pasts are you bringing to Youth Code? What are you doing the same or different from previous experiences?
Ryan: I’m trying to do most things different. It’s not so much experience as it is just caution. I didn’t like being on a big label, it was one of the worst experiences of my life honestly. When things started happening for Youth Code, we never really talked about it, but we got approached by labels and people based on that first video. We thought it was a joke, like what is going on? We hadn’t done anything yet. We just told everyone fuck you, in a nice way. *laughter*
Sara: *laughing* “We’re glad you like our band. Fuck you!”
Ryan: We just want to do everything ourselves. We did the 7″ with Angry Love, because Sara has a relationship with them…
Sara: I had asked Edley [Edward ODowd of PTV and Angry Love Productions] “Hey if this band turns into something we continue with, do you think Angry Love would release a 7 inch?” I didn’t think he’d say yes before we played our second show. He said yeah because he believed in me. The only advice I can give to people who start a band is, just be cool. I’m just Sara when I meet people, I work hard. I think that a lot of people, I see this a lot in Los Angeles, feel like they need to make connections and schmooze.
Ryan: I don’t know how far I should go into this….we’ve gotten shit from some of the bands around here. We’re friends with our friends and people that are good people, we’re not going out of our way to so the whole schmoozing thing. I’ve gotten in some trouble myself, just because if I think someone is shitty I’m not gonna communicate with them, I’ve gotten flak for that. I keep my friends close and everyone else at arm’s length. That’s how working with Dais [Records] came about. We wanted to do everything on our own, we were gonna put out our own records and do it all out of our bedroom. Dais offered, and like, we know Gibby [Miller of Dais], he’s someone we look up to, we grew up in the same scene. We’ve been friends for a long time. I trust him. Dais would be the only label that we wanted to work with.
Sara: This band wasn’t meant to be anything. There wasn’t a plan. I didn’t think anyone would like it.
Ryan: When we recorded that tape, we thought we were gonna lose all our friends. *laughter* As far as we knew we were the only ones in the circles we run in who were jamming Skinny Puppy and stuff. Suddenly people came out of the woodwork like “I love all that stuff! I’ve been listening to it since I was a kid!”
“You don’t let other people in to tell you what to do creatively. It’s like, ‘get fucked, we’re trying to raise our kid.'”
ID:UD: Going back to what you were saying about hard work and the labels you’ve chose to work with, there’s a super DIY aspect to what you guys do, from the demo tape to the 7″ which came with a zine and a patch you guys put together yourselves…we’re curious about how important that sort of thing is to Youth Code, and also how much of that are you bringing over to the LP with Dais?
Sara: With the LP it’s not like we can hand screen everything, well, we could’ve, but that would be a thousand different covers and inserts…
Ryan: We did all the graphic design, we shot and edited a video. It goes back to what I was saying about being cautious. I wanted this band to have a lot of us in it and feel special, because it is to us. This is a thing we share. It’s really important to have our hands in everything.
Sara: If Youth Code wasn’t DIY I don’t think it would be the thing it is. It’s like Ryan and I had a techno child; it’s a real consummation of us. We view it as raising a child in a way. We’re cautious, being good parents you make sure you do the best you can and don’t let other people have too much of an influence. You don’t let other people in to tell you what to do creatively. It’s like, “get fucked, we’re trying to raise our kid.”
Ryan: We’re not trying to be this huge band, we’re just trying to do what we do, and if we let other people do artwork it’s not us. There’s no reason to do it any other way.
ID:UD: In keeping with the DIY thing, one of the words I know we and other sites have used in relation to Youth Code is raw. On the other hand, electronic music is often (but not always) more production-oriented than any other genre. As far as process goes, how do you reconcile that raw aspect with the production side of things? Is there an onus to keep a certain amount of grit in the recordings?
Ryan: I think that a lot of people who make electronic music nowadays make it for the club. They make it for the dancefloor, so subwoofers are going off, so there’s that, what do you call it, oontz? We’re not making club music. Of course I want the kick drum to hit hard and stuff and I want it to be a little bit clearer than the demo was, but I want to track everything here. We work with this guy Jeff Swearengin [Sleep Clinic, has produced and mastered records for Squarewav, Signifier, Negative Gain Productions], he helped a lot on the LP, but we’re just trying to make music, not club bangers. If we wanted to do that we’d probably just have someone remix it if we went down that road. We keep approaching things the way we know how to do them. The industrial music we love, the early stuff isn’t overly produced, and punk music is definitely not made for the clubs. I don’t think we even really think about it. We just track it, and when it sounds good it sounds good.
Sara: I don’t think we really put too much of a thought into it. It sounds stupid, but when we record and write stuff it’s like “I just wrote this part!”, “That sounds pretty cool, why don’t I add something to it”, “Yeah, that sounds good, maybe this would be cool here”. The process of us…you live with your partner: I never get up like “Oh, this morning I would really love to write this part.” We have all our gear in our bedroom and just go towards each other: if one person is dicking with someone the other will start dicking with it and the other person will go make food.
We’re not in a band to be in a polished band. We’re two kids that like hardcore who also have a forte for electronic music and I think the raw aspect of it is the fact that we’re not producing things to be clean and for the club. We’re taking it as a punk kid approach to this kind of shit.
Ryan: We use our ears. When something sounds good to us it’s probably because it sounds fucked up. If it sounded too nice we probably wouldn’t be into it.
Sara: I love pop music but at the end of the day I know we’re not going to write a fucking pop record so it has to be raw and fucked up.
“I’d really like people that are into punk music and stuff to hear what we’re doing and be like ‘that’s fucking awesome, we should mess with electronics more.'”
ID:UD: What’s the workflow like between the two of you as you’re writing and developing songs? Is it just one of you starting to mess with something and then handing it back and forth?
Sara: That’s literally all it is.
Ryan: It happens really, really quick. For every song we have we have twenty thousand thrown out basslines. We sample a lot and we’re starting to sample even more. The more I get into sampling the more I can hear that early Wax Trax sound and it’s fucking rad. You can even tell if you sample an analog synth instead of playing a synthline on an analog synth; if you take it and sample it and chop it it gets all chunky sounding. We’ve been messing with that a lot. Whenever we have something we just lay other samples on top of it and start sequencing it until we have a song. If we didn’t we would just forget about it.
Sara: The workflow is basically get up, drink a pot of coffee each and just fucking lose our goddamn minds.
Ryan: Towels on…
Sara: Yeah, I’ll be in the shower and hear “Hey, get in here, I found something.” It’s just sporadic and weird. There’s literally nothing planned about anything pertaining to this band at all.
Ryan: We read interviews with other people about the way they work and we’re like “Fuck man, we don’t relate to that at all.” We just jam shit out really fast. We get something going and then finish it.
Sara: I’ll record a melody line of something I’m thinking about at work then go home and try to apply it to a synthesizer and if Ryan likes it he’ll be like “Okay, we can make it work like this” and then I’ll press a bunch of buttons that I don’t even know what the fuck they do. *laughter* I mean, I’m such a novice when it comes to this. Ryan’s like my fucking Obi-Wan. When I play with drum machines Ryan will be like “how the fuck did you do that” because he has it learned in his way whereas I come in like “ooh, this thing has a light and it looks pretty cool, I’m gonna turn this knob” and it’ll sound completely different. I think that adds to the beauty of things.
Ryan: I think that’s one of my favourite things of this band: how our writing styles kind of clash. We’re both going for the same thing, but Sara just gets fucking wild with shit. Like “Sick Skinned” from our demo which we re-recorded for the LP, that bassline is the fucking weirdest thing ever and I don’t even know where it came from. I think it was a drum pattern which sequenced some weird ass sample and it turned it into a bassline somehow. I think the pattern got fucked up, like she pushed something that rearranged the notes, and it was like “What the fuck is that, let’s use that!”
ID:UD: Happy accidents.
Ryan: Yeah. Sometimes things are down to a science. I’ll spend a long time programming basslines and sequences for the drums and sometimes I’ll just pull up different sequences for different songs and they’ll work really well together. I don’t know, electronics fucking rule. They’ve been around for a while but compared to guitars it’s uncharted territory. If anything, with Youth Code I’d really like people that are into punk music and stuff to hear what we’re doing and be like “that’s fucking awesome, we should mess with electronics more.” It’s a really cool thing, you don’t really have to learn chords. It’s really artistic.
“Techno Seinfeld is so cool.”
ID:UD: Taking into account the idea of Youth Code being a learning experience for you guys working together with the equipment you have, what kind of evolution do you think we’re going to hear from the demo to the LP?
Sara: With the demo it was five days of trying to beat out a bunch of songs for a one-off show. With the LP I think it’s the same sort of stuff in a sense but we have a little bit more time. When we were told “hey we want you to do this LP” we were like “yeah, we’ll do a record” but in typical us fashion we spent a lot of time dicking around. “I like this sound, this is cool…”
Ryan: Both of our computers crashed when we were doing it…
Sara: Fuck, I’d totally forgotten about that.
Ryan: We had stuff demoed and Dais was like “We need the fucking record, what’s going on?” and we were all “Oh yeah, everything’s under control,” but we were down, we had nothing.
Sara: I think we okayed doing stuff with Dais in Februrary and both of our computers crashed…
Ryan: Like, broke crashed.
Sara: Ryan’s hard drive is like 404 error forever, dude, it’s done. Ben from Chelsea Wolf randomly told me he had a copy of Ableton….
Ryan: We scraped money together to get a new Macbook…
Sara: I was like “please give me a copy of Ableton, bro, our record is fried if you don’t.” So he brought over some super hacker-ass copy of Ableton and installed it, and we were like “alright, GO!”
Ryan: Some of it is faster, it’s a little harder vocally. There are traces of Twitch Ministry if it was lifting weights or something.
Sara: I really wanted to do a power electronics song for the record. There’s a PE song on there, full-blown. I was really listening to that G.R. record by Deathpile. I’m an angry person, man, I just want to scream about some shit over a bunch of noise, sounds cool to me! It’s all over the place, there’s poppiness to it, there’s your typical funky EBM bassline that I sort of objected to…
Ryan: It has some funk in there…
Sara: It’s kind of funky and slappy from time to time…
Ryan: Whatever, I like that shit! There’s some early Noise Unit funk points, but it’s hard though…
Sara: It’s like techno Seinfeld almost! *laughter* Techno Seinfeld is so cool. “Baow, bam-da-baow, duh-duh-duh-dum.” Who’s gonna remix the Seinfeld song?
Ryan: No one, shut up! I’m gonna scratch that part of the record on every copy. *laughter* I like that song! You’re a dick! No, it’s cool. Dais wanted us to re-record some of the demo songs. I would have personally liked to have put some other new ones on, but it was cool to actually re-record them, they sound clearer.
Sara: There are seven new songs and then three from the demo: “Sick Skinned”, “Destroy, Said She” and “What Is The Answer?” got re-recorded.
Ryan: The second song on the album is something that Sara wrote completely on her own and I’m really proud of her for it.
Ryan: It’s fucking awesome, it kills.
Sara: It’s really not that different. I think there’s a lot of weird misconceptions about our band. One of them is that we’re big. We’re not. *laughter* Ryan and I still have jobs, we’re still the same struggling assholes we were when we recorded the demo tape, we just have a little bit more time.
ID:UD: It’s the weird echo chamber of the Internet, where if someone hears your name more than three times in one day, clearly you must be in the back of a limo somewhere doing lines. Obviously that’s what’s happening if they’ve heard your name more than once.
Ryan: When I haven’t seen someone in a while they’re like “Duuuuude, your band’s blowing up!” Like, okay, I’m working the door at a bar every night.
Sara: I’ll be ringing someone up for their record and they’ll say “Man, you still work here? Your band’s crazy!” I haven’t even toured with this band, what are you talking about?
ID:UD: It’s funny that however many years after file-sharing and the “death of the record industry” that myth continues with some people.
Ryan: Fuck, man, living in LA it’s so weird because everywhere you go you still have old rocker dudes living the dream. You see that shit everywhere. It’s like, why don’t you get a fucking job? Get off your boot-cut jeans and feathered hair…
ID:UD: Speaking of touring, you guys are going out with Night Sins who are pretty different from you guys in terms of instrumentation and mood. How’d that come about, are you trying to get some contrast going?
Sara: I’d met Sean from Cult of Youth a couple of times in passing and I struck up this Internet friendship with Mike Berdan and when I went to New York…
Ryan: They have a band called Believer/Law…
Sara: They’re the sweetest, raddest fucking dudes. I was super jet-lagged and met up with Berdan for coffee, this place around the corner from where we were staying, Babycakes, this vegan, gluten-free bakery…
ID:UD: I think I was there the one time I was in New York.
Sara: It’s so good. Those cookie sandwiches, I would become morbidly obese if I lived closer to that place. But I met up with him, y’know, real life meeting: “what’s up, uh, I like your band,” “yeah, I like your band too”, just being buds, talking about how we were all gonna see Judge and how we share a love for Front Line Assembly and stuff like that. He was telling me he was gonna move to LA and Believer/Law was gonna do a tour from New York to Los Angeles. I was like “Do you think you’d wanna do a tour with Youth Code?” And they were like “yeah, that’ll work out swimmingly”. Sean has a van for Cult of Youth, we’ll just fly out to New York and then work our way back. What happened was he didn’t end up moving to LA, and Sean got the call for Cult of Youth to open up for Death in June. I totally understand it man, if we were doing a tour for a side-project and Skinny Puppy was like “Hey bros, do you wanna do some dates” I’d be like yeah, I gotta bail on the side-project tour. We thought about it, and the tour was booked, we gotta scramble and figure something out.
Ryan: Night Sins came up because we got a lot of mutual friends. We’re used to playing with different bands, I like their stuff and they seem like cool guys. When Believer/Law dropped off they saved our ass.
ID:UD: A huge part of what drew our attention to you was the video of your first live show, which coincided with the release of your demo tape on Bandcamp. What role do you think those live vids has had in building interest in Youth Code?
Sara: I can’t thank our friend Chad enough. He was just being a bro and filming our first show. It changed the game up for us. We’ve said it before, we wouldn’t have been a band otherwise, people were asking us to play because of it.
Ryan: It just kind of happened. The ongoing thing with this band is doing things at the last minute and then going from there. We wing it.
Sara: I look at those videos and I can’t believe it. We were moving apartments right when that show was happening. So when I look at that video I’m like, it’s crazy we managed to do anything at all.
Ryan: When I moved here, I didn’t have any work, there’s a long story, but I had to move here, I sold so much gear so all I had was a sequencer, Sara bought that sampler and we borrowed a synth and wrote some songs real quick.
Sara: We’re the definition of a budget-wave band. You know what’s weird about that first video? I watched it not that long ago and realized that I’ve been playing “Keep Falling Apart” differently since the first show. I was using a pitch bend and now I actually play the notes. Look at me, I’m a musician, mom! *laughter*
ID:UD: It seems like one of the key elements in the project has been live performance, and emphasis on crowd interaction. Do you write with that in mind? How important is it for you to capture the feeling of the show aspect of Youth Code on record?
Sara: That’s just how we are man. We write live for live with our gear. We’re more of a punk band than an electronic band in that sense.
Ryan: We write on gear and track it after. It’s always gonna be like that. The more comfortable we get, it’s gonna get crazier. I think we’ve gotten a little bit gnarlier.
Sara: Now we know what kind of gear would be beneficial. We had the curse of trying to build a vocal rig out of twenty pedals. When we first did the show I had Ryan’s old guitar pedal from K-Mart or something. It was 7 octaves lower and you couldn’t hear anything, it just fed back. And the second show that was still going on. By the third show, my dad was like “Oh you guys have a band? Check out this stuff!” He had a stockpile of rack gear.
Ryan: He hooked us up. He had a storage space of cables and drum machine shit.
Sara: We take the band seriously, so we got some better gear.
Ryan: We aren’t glued over our stuff making sure our gear isn’t breaking. We’re more comfortable, we know our songs better. Our gear doesn’t break every time we play. We’ve been trying to invest in stuff that’s more stable. Good things are happening and we’re enjoying ourselves so there’s no reason not to.
Sara: It’s definitely all work to get there. Between the two of us we have three jobs, and I take on odd jobs if possible to get a little scratch. I design all the merch. It’s fuckin’ super hard work. If we ever had a real kid and they were like “I want to be in a band” I would put my head in my hands. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s definitely not been easy.