An Interview with Youth

A never-before published interview from 2004 with legendary music producer, Youth. Best known for post-punk band Killing Joke, he joined Paul McCartney in the Fireman and produced the Orb and the Verve.

You may not have heard of Youth, but you’ve probably heard some of his music. He’s produced so many artists he could be dubbed the ‘Granddaddy of psy-trance’, the ‘Godfather of dub’ or the ‘Archbishop of post-punk’. The producer and bassist simply known as Youth welcomes us into his South London home
and studio.

Youth rarely gives interviews, so when he does he has lots to say.  Sitting in his conservatory with his pet cats, overlooking a beautiful garden, it’s hard to imagine a more peaceful place. You almost forget that this married man, a father-of-two, is in fact one of the busiest producers in music.  

For years, Youth (Martin Glover) has been the brains behind some magical music, but generously gives the limelight to others. His CV reads like an A-Z of innovative styles: ex-bassist from seminal post-punk band Killing Joke, producer of The Orb’s classic Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and Brit Award winner for The Verve’s Urban Hymns. However, dub is his home. 

Youth in Dub
“I’m fully dubbed up at the moment,” he says. At present he is putting the finishing touches to the follow-up to last year’s Youth in Dub album.  This was only the second time he’d ever put a record out under the name Youth.  Instead, he’s been using names like United States of Dub, Zion Youth and The Kumba Mela Experiment.

He explains why: “What I’ve done with my dub stuff over the last 10 years is put it out under different pseudonyms. I’ve always liked having a project to work behind, suddenly I feel a bit freer.  I always felt that if I started doing music as Youth people would then type cast me with that kind of music.”

Youth in Dub opens with sitars and big beats and the pace gradually accelerates until the last track “Peace and Love”.  During the course of the album all manner of effects, delays and ethnic vocal samples are used, whilst Youth plugs in and plays bass on most of the tracks.

Most of Youth’s recent work has come out of days and nights working in his home studio at the bottom of his garden.  Conveniently, this allows Youth to work long hours and still spend time with his young family. 

From the outside the studio itself looks like an ordinary wooden hut, but inside there is an array of keyboards, guitars and a huge Mackie 24/8 mixing desk.  What is his favourite bit of gear?  His bass, of course.  He has an outstanding selection with two Hofner basses, a Bass pod, an Ampeg Bass Amp and two Gibson Les Paul basses. “This is a beautiful bass this one,” he says smiling as he holds one of the Gibsons.

On the way out you nearly trip over boxes of old gear, tablas and an Indian sitar.  All in all, it is an extraordinary Tardis jammed with everything a music maker needs to create. The various pieces of equipment are all necessary for the variety of different projects he undertakes.  

Recently, Youth has produced albums for Embrace, Howie Day, The String Cheese Incident and even Keith Flint from The Prodigy, which should be out later this year. Does he find these more commercial projects tedious?  

He answers: “With Keith, it was a big project because he’s such a big artist, but it was punk, it was raw visceral rock n’ roll and I loved it.” 

He continues: “All projects have their tedious moments. No matter how much fun they are you’ve got to sift through and edit but that’s part of the process and you have enough steel in your resolve to go to the depths you need to go sometimes. You have to find ways of bringing that renewal of yourself and one of those ways is to destroy yourself somehow, your point of view, who you are and push yourself into challenging situations. But I wouldn’t work with a rock band if I didn’t like the singer or his voice. I’d find that really difficult.” 

Producing projects for bands like The Verve, Crowded House and Embrace has sometimes required using a string orchestra for accompaniments.  This isn’t always fun, as Youth explains: “Doing classical music is really difficult. It’s lovely when you’ve got all the strings playing together, but when you have to edit individual violins and you’ve got 16 different solos that you’ve got to find and edit the best one out of them. And you’re sitting there pulling your hair out for eight hours in a dark dingy studio… that’s not fun!  I mean what’s fun is the sense of achievement you get out of doing it, but while you’re doing it, it’s really fucking hard.”

Urban Hymns
In 1998 he won the best producer award at the Brits for The Verve’s Urban Hymns.  This project along with the hit singles “Bittersweet Symphony” and “The Drugs Don’t Work” mark his biggest commercial success to date.  In the mid-nineties, The Verve were a notoriously hard band to work with, but Youth managed to assist them with their resurrection.  Chris Potter who produced a few tracks on the album said at the time, “I think Youth helped bring a bit of discipline to the recording process for them.” 

Youth went along to pick up his Brit, but what does he think of the awards now? “It’s an industry backslap. I saw a bit of the show this year (2004) and I thought it doesn’t look too bad, they’ve got tables and booze,” he says. “But because it’s very pop-oriented now it’s a bit banal, a bit puerile.  There’s a really interesting article that I read by Alex James from Blur and his angle was that the most interesting music in pop today is production-led. I like the way in Britain that the artist is the centre of attention, but also in America the public perception of that is a bit more grown up and they understand that a producer is more like a film director.”

Not content with just being a producer/remixer, Youth also writes poetry and creates the artwork for his releases on his record label LSD (Liquid Sound Design). He continually wants to branch out into new mediums, and at present he is working on a visual project called LSD TV.  This will begin by releasing a Kumba Mela DVD. The idea is to merge footage from India and live performances from around Europe with VJ graphics.  

“There’s hours and hours of footage to trawl through. The whole issue of producing DVDs is a bit of an unknown quantity for us,” he continues. “Eventually it will be on the Internet but the technology is not quite there yet.  We thought we’d just do a couple of DVDs which you can watch as a DVD film but you could also just put it on your laptop to work as a screensaver, sort of ambient TV really.”  

The Kumba Mela Experiment was an ambitious collaboration with Suns of Arqua, Timmy B from Dreadzone, Dub Judah, Brother Culture and spoon bender Uri Geller! Like Bill Laswell in New York, every Youth album is a collaboration of some sort, but would he ever collaborate with him? “He’s a really pioneering artist,” he says, “I’d really like to collaborate with Jah Wobble as well, but we’re all bass players!”

Back in the Seventies he was inspired by two related genres of music – punk and dub.  

Killing Joke
“All these weird threads of the carpet weave together for me musically,” he explains. “When I was a teenager in the early days of punk rock in 1976, roots dub really resonated with me.  The whole atmosphere of wall-to-wall PA stacks, blue smoke and the sound of this bass that just glued everyone together.  I was one of the few white men in those clubs. But I never experienced any kind of bad vibes.” 

It was in one of these clubs that Youth met Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, founders of Killing Joke, the band he joined in 1978.  His first contribution to Killing Joke, at the age of 18, was “Turn to Red” – a dub influenced track with dark spacey undertones. Their experimental bass lines and ferocious vocals inspired the likes of Nirvana, Marilyn Manson and a host of imitators.  

Youth left Killing Joke in 1983 to pursue a successful career as a remixer, but has rejoined the band for several comebacks. In a recent interview Jaz admitted he fell out with Youth after 1994’s Democracy, “It took us quite a few years to all get talking again.” 

However, last year Killing Joke returned for a self-titled album produced by Andy Gill from Gang of Four with Dave Grohl on drums. Andy was brought in because he was an impartial outsider. “The problem with Youth, Geordie and myself is we’re all producers so we’re gonna bicker anyway,” says Jaz.

Youth enjoyed the experience and thinks it was the best album yet. He reassures fans “there will always be more Killing Joke action.” 

Recently Negativland did a version of an LCD track called “Losing My Edge”, which sampled an old Killing Joke riff. Youth says that he couldn’t resist mucking around with both their versions for a laugh and “doing a bootleg of a bootleg of a bootleg version!” 

“To me it’s great to see music I was making 25 years ago still relevant on an underground edge today,” he says.  “That really inspires me to follow my intuition and gut feeling more.  That’s why I’m putting records out as Youth and they’re very dub orientated.”

London and John Lydon
Born in Nairobi in 1960, Youth left school at 15 to start touring with a punk band called Rage. He spent his teenage years living in squats in Ladbroke Grove. Was that a good experience?  

“Yeah it was,” he laughs. “It was cheap. Those were the golden days when you had the dole.  You’d get 20 quid to survive on and you’d have somewhere you could stay.  To me squatting was not only convenient but it made sense because the houses were empty. We would hang out and get stoned together, exchange stories and live a mythical life, which is really hard to get today.” 

One person Youth used to hangout with at this time was John Lydon. He recalls how one day he went with Lydon to meet Bob Marley at the Mayfair Hotel.

“All I remember really was John having an argument with Peter Tosh about an alcoholic milk drink,” he says.  “Peter Tosh said ‘that’s not for you it’s a Rasta thing’.  John rightly corrected him and said ‘that’s actually an Irish drink’.  He stood up to him.  John was such a big influence on me in terms of integrity and being honest.” 

“I almost produced a solo album with him 10 years ago,” says Youth, “It didn’t work out for one reason or another. I was playing him a lot of trance and he was really getting into that, but he wouldn’t let me get involved in the music. He wanted to do it all himself.”

India not Ibiza
A decade after punk exploded, the alternative trance scene in Goa gave Youth a new lease of life. After the initial rush of Acid House at the end of the 80s Youth was disappointed to see it suddenly being turned into what he calls “ketamine drongo music” and “high street cocktail music, which it is today.”  He says that a lot of the people involved with the scene became hedonistic, money orientated and ultimately cynical.  

“There was that whole Ibiza thing and what I found in India was the antithesis to that,” he says. “That whole scene was like the early squatters where people had the space to hang-out, connect, write and be artistic, experiment with society and how they wanted to live their lives.”  

He casually adds: “I’m writing a book about that actually, called The Gentle Revolution.  It’s like a No Logo in that it’s looking at emerging cultures and ones that are coming to the end of their life cycle.  I think the whole way we live is going to change in the next five or ten years.”

Little Fluffy Clouds
His experiences in India inspired him so much that he would come back to England and work like he was “on fire for six months”. He formed the Wau Mr Modo label with ex-Killing Joke roadie Alex Paterson to work on The Orb. The work produced by The Orb between 1989 and 1993 redefined ambient music by combining dub techniques and effects with almost progressive rock structures. He had no idea what effect this ambient dub trip would have on music.   

“I thought it might make a dent on the underground,” he says, “but once ‘the Huge Ever-growing Brain’ came out and that did really well we thought ‘wait a minute we’re on to something’.  The team was so good at that point creating the sleeves and the whole vision of it from Alex.  That really inspired me to get ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ together, to get something that was really gonna raise the bar.”

The sprawling double albums Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and UFOrb spawned two unlikely hit singles – “Little Fluffy Clouds” (which featured a sample of Rickie Lee Jones talking about her childhood) and “The Blue Room” (the longest-ever single at 39 minutes 58 seconds).

However, like all great bands, The Orb lost momentum. Alex Paterson fell out with the management when he signed to Island and from that point on it took two or three albums to come back to the standards they got in the first two albums. “I do think Alex will pull it back,” says Youth, “he’ll make another album as good as the first one again.” 

Since the early nineties production values have continually improved. Youth says that the whole sound cut-up technique of Aphex Twin and others at Warp records “makes The Orb sound like Abba.”

Dub Trees
Youth left working with The Orb to set up his own Butterfly studios, now a publishing house. At Butterfly, he enjoyed the freedom to experiment further and founded the influential trance label Dragonfly. He recruited people like Greg Hunter and Brian Eno’s former engineer Ott, who remembers his time at Butterfly as “two years of total madness.”  

In 2000, Youth put out a Dub Trees album borrowing the title from a Wordsworth poem “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” This album mixed heavy beats and guitars with an array of samples from around the world.  “I felt we were really on a little spaceship going into uncharted territories and galaxies,” he says. “But it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore, once we spent five days on a kick drum and I said ‘That’s it. I can’t go that deep.  I can’t spend five days on a kick drum.’”

For the Dub Trees album Youth teamed up with Simon Posford, the man behind Sphongle and Hallucinogen. Youth played bass on the Hallucinogen in Dub gig at Glastonbury last year with Posford and Ott.  “I got some incredible feedback about that,” he says, “The next thing I’m gonna do with Simon and Ott is another Celtic Cross album.”

Celtic Cross is a project that fuses electronic and traditional folk music, an area of music that Youth wishes to explore further.  He reveals that he is writing and recording some traditional folk music with Simon Tong (guitarist from The Verve and now Blur).

He talks passionately about his love of early Seventies psychedelic folk and how he has been studying the roots of its tradition. “The verse-chorus, verse-chorus, middle-eight-bridge arrangement is kind of Celtic in that it is a poetic tradition. It came back to us via pop and country n’ western in America and it’s such a prevalent cultural force now.  It intrigued me that its origins are so buried. Recently, I think there’s been a traditional folk revival, there’s a lot of alternative country music coming through and a lot of avante garde music using those influences.”

He continues: “I read this great interview with Joe Boyd the other day and he actually plugged Dylan into his first amp at the Newport Jazz festival when they all booed. To me that is the real tradition of folk, which is being contemporary, bringing it into the moment you’re in.  I suppose that’s the spirit of all rock n’ roll and everything.”

Throughout his career, Youth has embraced new technologies to experiment with sound, but all of his work has a firm basis of organic live musicianship.  

He says: “I like that whole sample culture of mixing it up. Paradoxically, music is a language and if you go too far from what people expect in any kind of genre they won’t get it. That’s why I like to DJ, you have to give people something they want to hear and also something they haven’t heard before.”

Youth has managed to live an almost bohemian lifestyle whether in London or India, and this ever-changing scenery resonates through his music that refuses to stick to a formula.  “I’ve never been into ‘oh that’s it for the rest of my life,’” he says, “there’s no arrivals, they’re just different chapters in the book, aren’t they?”

After the interview, which lasts an-hour-and-a-half, Youth’s wife says: “He could talk all day.”  The funny thing is, it only felt like 20 minutes had passed. Later, in his studio, he plays a snippet of his new track which features master Arabic drummer Roni Barak. The track is based on a Steve Hillage Stereo MCs remix from the Arabesque compilation.  Youth flicks between Hillage’s version and his own.  

“Listen to the hi-hat and bass,” he tells his young engineer Adam. “We’ve got to get ours sounding as phat as that.” He wastes no time in getting back to work.

I wrote this article in April 2004, when I was studying to be a journalist at Brighton. I pitched it to the Big Issue and then Sound on Sound magazine, but it never got published. I recall on the morning of the interview I had a hangover and arrived late at his home. I knocked on the door and no-one answered, so i just walked round the back to find Youth sitting in his conservatory having a cup of tea. After the interview, Youth showed me his studio in the back garden, we said bye and he watched me very slowly walk away, he probably thought I was homeless or a squatter, like he was in his twenties 🙂

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