Interview: Youth

Some of the best albums I’ve done haven’t been the most successful but I’ve had a very rich and varied spectrum of music to work on and most of it has stood the test of time.

Youth has had a long and rich musical career that has encompassed many musical styles. As the bassist and founding member for the legendary Killing Joke, he was a key figure in the success of the band that have influenced so many others with hypnotic basslines playing a big part of Killing Joke’s sound. He has also had a long career with his own musical projects and as a celebrated producer. Youth released the Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse album with Jah Wobble earlier in the year and we had the privilege to talk to him about it as well as the next Killing Joke album, his production skills, working with Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Big Youth and his adventures in acid house, punk and dub in a very informative chat.

E&D: You released the Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse album with Jah Wobble early in the year. How did the album come about and how did the recording and the creation of it go?

Youth: It’s A crazy story, really! I mean, at one point, we were talking about reforming the original lineup of PIL and having different singers because clearly John wouldn’t have done it, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen, but I did manage to get Keith and Richard Dudanski and Wobble together and they’re on 70% of the tracks, although Keith’s uncredited due to legal obligation with his ex girlfriend and A Very British Coup, he was going to go on that album as well, but because of that legal complication, it didn’t. There were other sessions where I’ve been doing so much work with Wobble over the last few years, Dub Trees and Suns Of Arqa , Wobble’s own project. I had other rhythm tracks and I had these sessions I’d done when Andrew Weatherall, a couple of years ago moved into my garden summer house and used it as a studio while he was moving studios. That was wonderful because I got to hang out with him again, cause I used to live underneath him in Battersea in the eighties and we always used to hang out then, it was great hanging out with him in the mornings. He would come in, have a smoke and talk and play the harmonium. I said, look, I’m doing a lot of work with Wobble, he’s a big Wobble fan, I said, give me some rhythms for Wobble and we can try a collaboration, so there’s three or four tracks on Acid Punk Dub that Weatherall put these loops together and then we kind of build the tracks around them. Then there’s also, Tony Allen on two or three tracks. It’s an incredible roll call of heroes of mine. Finally, we weren’t going to do the PIL thing. It was going to be this other thing and then the label, said just do it as Youth meets Jah Wobble and then the title came and we sort of hung out around that. It’s weird really because there should be a dub version of that album. I’d like to do it, that version of it at some point.

E&D: What’s the reaction to the album been like so far.

Youth: Oh, really great. Yeah, fantastic, people are really taking to it.

E&D: With the punk and acid house and dub was it an instant love when you first heard the music and was it the culture as well that got you hooked?

Youth: Not really, with punk, I was a soul boy before I was into punk, I was into disco and funk but then some of the people going to the clubs, I started going to clubs at 14, and some of those people were starting to look in a punk way so I saw punk before I heard it. They said to come down to this club in Covent Garden called The Roxy.

E&D: Was that in 1976?

Youth: Yeah. The St Martins art school brigade were all down there. And I was of more interested in the fashion. The idea of a rock band playing badly, when I first heard about that, it didn’t seem right to me. Before I was a soul boy, I was into Zeppelin and hard rock, AC/DC but then, the first records I heard, The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat particularly, as soon as I heard that and New Rose, I thought fucking hell, this is amazing!


E&D: Was it the energy of it?

Youth: Yeah, and then Spiral Scratch and then, of course, the Pistols. I was much more into the Pistols than I was The Clash, possibly because the Pistols were a bit younger and they haven’t done the sort of hard rock scene like The Clash had. Funnily enough I had Richard Dudanski here last night, who plays drums on a few of the Acid Punk Dub tracks as well and he was one of the early drummers in PIL, he did most of Metal Box. He was in The Raincoats and he was in the 101ers with Joe Strummer and we were talking about Joe and Richard was from that generation, they were all punk rockers and they’re now in their late sixties. I’m ten years younger and what I liked about the Pistols when they were younger was the production was so much better than The Clash, the record sounded so much bigger, amazing I thought. I think also at that point, punk had become a uniform and some people that were into punk were into all sorts of other things, predominantly Bowie. I didn’t stop listening to Zeppelin or disco or funk or any of that stuff, it all made sense to me. Dub of course was massive. Everybody liked dub. With Acid House, I already been making it before it was called Acid House on our label WAU! Mr. Modo Recordings which we were doing from like 86, 87. A lot of those tracks became early anthems for those proto Acid House DJs like Weatherall and Rampling. It was called Acid House but it was a mixture of Chicago House, Detroit Techno and European Industrial. I was already making it so I was down with it straightaway.

E&D: You use to go to Shoom and all the clubs in London?

Youth: Yeah. Even before then. I think that must have been 1987, something like that. It  must’ve been here earlier actually, because I was doing an album with Jimmy Cauty, brilliant with Stock, Aitken & Waterman! Their receptionist was this young 17 year old girl called Nancy Noise who became a very well known acid DJ, but at that point she was just a receptionist at PWL studios. She kept saying to us, You’ve got to come down to Shoom, it’s amazing, people take ecstasy and dance all night. I said I’ve not taken ecstasy, this was before Acid House, I said have to lie down on a magic carpet and have beautiful women body paint me, that’s not something you can dance to but she said no, no it is! So we went down to Shoom and got pat Jenny Rampling on the door and it was incredible. Very quickly me and Jimmy started going to some of the Boys Own events because Weatherall was living above me in a Battersea council flat. We all got on it basically and started having these big parties at Trancentral which became the KLF HQ and all the early explorations and a lot of stuff we were doing with the label came from that time, so I was down with that straight away.

E&D: Going back to dub, how was the experience of working with Big Youth and U-Roy in Jamaica a couple of years ago?

Youth: Oh, mindblowing! A career high! Big Youth has got a big heart and just a great mind, and U-Roy is the originator of MC culture, the first rapper really so it was a big honour and a big privilege.

E&D: Did you tell Big Youth about the origin of your Youth name?

Youth: He’d heard about that and we laughed about it! It was great. Big Youth and Little Youth he called us! Then, last August we did the Toots album which has just come out now, Rodigan been playing tracks. It’s been a big, big deal for me going back to Jamaica and recording my heroes. It’s been incredible.

E&D: Are you working on any new music at the moment? You mentioned the dub album earlier?

Youth: Oh yeah, I’ve got about six albums on the go!

E&D: Can you tell us about any of them?

Youth: Some of them I can, some of them I can’t. I’m essentially a writer/producer so I’m writing song backing tracks for different artists and they’ll write their lyrics and vocals over the top of them. I’m doing more collaborative projects, I’m sending ideas to different artists and they’re collaborating on them. Manika Kaur, the devotional Sikh singer. I’ve been doing some ambient remixes and reworkings of her devotional music. Band Of Holy Joy, I’m doing a mix for them. I’ve been doing some mixes. Union Of Eyes, a Manchester band.

E&D: Alex Patterson from the Orb, your longtime friend and collaborator features on Acid Punk Dub. How was it working with him again?

Youth: Well, it’s nonstop with Alex, on and off all the time. It’s just like normal!

E&D: Are there plans for any new Killing Joke material?

Youth: I’m already writing some new ideas for the next album. It’ll probably be shot down by the rest of the band but I’m starting to get my head round it, yeah.

E&D: Will you be looking at doing it when all this craziness is over?

Youth: No, I can’t see why we can’t do in isolation, but it generally works best when we’re all in the room together.

E&D: It’s almost forty years since Killing Joke released your debut album. Does it seem that long ago when you first got together and were recording the album?

Youth: It does and it doesn’t doesn’t, you know. In some ways I still feel like I’m 27. Sometimes it feels like centuries ago.

E&D: Did you ever think that you’d have such a long and storied career in music? Forty years is a long time!

Youth: No. I thought I’d be dead by thirty!

E&D: You’ve worked with so many people over the years. How was the experience of working with Paul McCartney on the Fireman project?

Youth: Oh, it was incredible. Another defining moment.

E&D: How did that come about?

Youth: They approached me to do a remix which then turned into an album and then became a band, and it was a great honour and a great privilege. I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles recently. I can’t believe the genius in that band. The writing quality between him and Lennon was outstanding. His own writing, of course is incredible too. When I was working with Paul, I was taking notes. I was really paying attention.

E&D: Is there a possibility you will do anything with him in the future?

Youth: Everything’s possible!

E&D: You played bass with Kate Bush as well. How was that experience?

Youth: Another amazing, incredible career high. Early on as well. I didn’t believe it was her when she rang me up, but it was! I did three or four days and played on about three or four tracks, of which one made the album and the others were b-sides, but an incredible experience and an incredible artist. She’s very innovative and very influential. It was a hugely inspiring and influential experience for me, more so looking back, I was kind of still a bit of a young punk at the time. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but seeing how she worked then, really was like a vision of how people would work in the future.

E&D: Was that completely different to how you’d worked before?

Youth: Nobody had really worked like that before really, maybe Peter Gabriel and Trevor Horn I think. Once Kate was on it, it was incredible, just amazing.

E&D: You have worked as a producer for so many artists from the Verve to Marilyn Manson. What have been some of the most memorable experience as a producer and is producing artists something you’ll continue to do?

Youth: All of them really. I love them all and I’m proud of them all. Some of the more unusual ones like the Shack album. Even the Delays album. Some of the best albums I’ve done haven’t been the most successful but I’ve had a very rich and varied spectrum of music to work on and most of it has stood the test of time. It still sounds really relevant, fresh today. Whether it’s working with Alex Patterson and The Orb, Tom Jones, Trevor Horn, Guns N’ Roses, Peter Murphy. I love em all, there is so much to learn from all of them.

E&D: Do you still find yourself, even though you’ve been doing it for a long while, still learning new stuff, when you produce and make music?

Youth: More than ever now, I can really get to chops with some of my music theory and practice piano and do different sorts of music.

E&D: With remixing, is that something you’ll still do more of on the future?

Youth: Yeah, I’m never going to stop.

E&D: Are you working on any at the moment?

Youth: I’m just doing the Gladiators one. I’ve got a couple on the go. I’ve been doing these sort of bootleg ones, adding to Curtis Mayfield records, Led Zeppelin too, some old hip hop. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them yet. I’m doing it for fun really but I’m really digging it.

E&D: What music are you listening to at the moment?

Youth: A lot of jazz. A lot of techno weirdly enough. Underground Resistance, I’ve things like that. I’ve been listening to a fair bit of trance, electronic music, ambient, chillout. It’s been very helpful in these lockdown times and things like the Stones, Zeppelin, all the classic stuff.

E&D: What have been some of your career highlights thus far?

Youth: Getting the producers guild award, working with Big Youth, McCartney, producing Pink Floyd. All those things are way up there.

E&D: That’s brilliant thanks man, lo ring the album with Wobble and looking forward to the next Killing Joke album and hopefully seeing you on the road next year.

Youth: Wicked. Thank you, yeah hopefully, we’re already talking about gigs for next year.

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