Youth – Interview 2017

I hadn’t heard Youth (real name Martin Glover) speak until I saw him on the amazing Killing Joke documentary, where he imparted gentle homespun wisdom, and anecdotes aplenty in that archetypal 70s/80s cosmic-punk drawl. He sounded stoned. I loved it. Especially when married to his career as a musician and producer. For he is no slacker, but a veritable workaholic it seems. Ever since he answered an ad to be the bassist in Killing Joke back in the late 70s, he’s been beavering away at building blocks of music and production with a high level of artistic commitment and commensurate success. As a bassist with Killing Joke (with whom he now plays with again). As a performer/producer with the hit-making Brilliant (with Jimmy Cauty, who later formed The KLF with Bill Drummond). And again with the dance act Blue Pearl. He also set up, with Alex Patterson, Wau! Mr Modo Recordings, and with The Orb co-wrote the ambient house classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

Since then he’s been heavily active as a producer, including collaborations with The Verve, U2, Yazoo, Pink Floyd, The Charlatans, Depeche Mode, Primal Scream, Kate Bush, and Guns N’ Roses, to name but a few. He even works regularly with Sir Paul McCartney, under the name The Fireman, which remains obscure to this day despite having released three albums of experimental rock and pop!

Musically, Youth is a polymath. But his real loves are psychedelic trance and dub. In fact, he is credited with setting up the first psychedelic trance label, Dragonfly Records, which later spawned both the Kamaflage and LSD – Liquid Sound Design – labels, the latter still very much active as an outlet for the likes of Italian dub-trance heavyweight Gaudi. More recently, he has set up a little festival at his Andalucian production base, Space Mountain, which features all sorts of renowned artists and producers coming together for a weekend of music making, talks and dancing. Youth is truly a heavyweight amongst heavyweights, a man with an incredibly varied and interesting career. But it’s dub we are here to mostly chat about, as Youth is about to perform at the UK’s biggest reggae festival, One Love, in early September. After all, he initially called himself Pig Youth after the reggae chanter in the band Big Youth.

Tell me about Space Mountain. It’s the second year, right? “This is the first official year. I did a launch party last year. Yeah, It’s quite exciting We’ve got Shpongle, Hallucinogen, Suns of Arqa, The Orb, Gaudi. A few of these will be at One Love, too. Nik Turner from Hawkwind, Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke. And then we do these producer sessions. I’ve got Matt Black form Ninja, John Leckie, Alex Paterson. They all cherry pick the musicians and put them in a studio with an audience. It’s pretty cool.” What’s Jaz going to do? “A talk on spiritualism and creativity,” he laughs. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to get him on the piano and play a bit of his symphony. It’s his other side. It’s a lot of work! Never ending. You keep thinking you’ve forgotten something, and you have!” He laughs again. “But, it has been fun, and I’ve got a good team of people. So, it’s coming together.”

What about production work, what have you been up to recently? “I’m just wrapping up a couple of albums. I’ve finished Hollie Cook’s album, which is exciting. And Shed Seven, the Brit-pop band. It’s their first album for 16 years.”

How’s Hollie’s album coming along? “It’s sounding supreme. The first single dropped a few weeks ago, and it’s on the Radio 2 playlist. Sounding sublime, really beautiful, and I’m happy with the production on it.”

With Hollie (who is the daughter of one Paul Cook, drummer with the Sex Pistols) being one of the few reggae artists to venture into the mainstream, I ask Youth about his enduring love of reggae and dub, and how it has informed his own work as a musician and producer. “I discovered dub and reggae when I was about 13, 14. It was a prime mover, that’s for sure. By the time I got to my 20s it was the music I listened most to.”

 

What were your early influences? What were you listening to back in the 70s? “My early influences? Lee Perry, of course. I’ve got Lee Perry coming out to the studio before the festival. I’m halfway through an album with him. The things that really grabbed me were Scientist, King Tubby, Joe Gibbs. Any of those. Prince Jammy. The crazier the better, I thought at the time. Scientist was my favourite. He was just beyond. I loved the singers as well. Johnny Osborne, Marley.

“I would go to Dub Vendor, in Ladbroke Grove. Rough Trade used to sell a lot of dub as well. You’d get the album sleeve, and it would be the reverse side they’d print on. You’d open it up and inside was a cornflake box, y’know!”

An early form of recycling, I say. “Yeah!”

So, what is it about dub that attracts you so much? “Dub is like abstract paintings. It’s deconstructing ideas of form and structure. I suppose, it was spearheaded in its early days by Lee Perry and King Tubby. It really was a deconstruction of the song or recording, and the re-invention of it through effects. They were the first people to use a recording studio as an instrument. Well, maybe not. Joe Meek had already done that, and some of The Beatles’ stuff. Effects in the studio certainly came in with dub, on the back of Sgt Pepper‘s and psychedelia, I would say. I suppose Lee Perry is my Picasso from our generation. He just completely rewrote the vocabulary of music by deconstructing it.

“It was huge influence for me as a producer. My first record I did was a dub remix of Killing Joke’s ‘Turn To Red’, in 1979. That came out on 10″ with two dub mixes. At that time I was only interested in working with dub engineers. Initially, I brought dub into rock, with Killing Joke, and then later on with remix culture, The Orb, and sampling culture. In the mid-80s I was using a lot of dub influences in my dance mixes; industrial bands like Portion Control, 400 Blows, Alien Sex Fiend. They all had 12” with extended dub mixes on them. Then I started doing a lot of remixing; Erasure, and so many different things. Again, I would always do a dub mix. It became part of my practice. Once I had done an album mix or a radio mix, I deconstructed a dub mix to the point where people would just ask me to do ‘dub’. Which is around the same time when (Andy) Weatherall came out with ‘Loaded’. Weatherall was a neighbour of mine. And, of course, the acid house thing was very influential; Weatherall and Alex Paterson (of The Orb), who was my flatmate at the time (he and Glover shared a room back in their boarding school days) We were all doing dub sets at raves.

 

“Around that time, or before that, I started a label, Wau! Mr Modo Recordings, with Alex Paterson. And we had a sub-label of that, Youth Sounds. We put out the first Manasseh Productions, Sound Iration and Lidj Incorporated. All very rare records now. It was the beginning of British digi-dub of the late 80s.

“Then I got to the point of mashing up of dub, working with The Orb, and mixing it up with Andy’s music, and dance music in general. And now, of course, dub is everywhere. It’s as much a part of remix culture. I mean it’s the DNA of remix culture, which is the predominant culture we live in. You hear it in pop music, in rock music. You hear the influence of it everywhere. Especially in underground music, like dubstep.

So, you think dub is currently enjoying a renaissance? “There’s a massive renaisssance of dub, and One Love is an example of that. There’s dub festivals around Europe. It’s great to see people enjoying it again, and keeping it alive. When you look at the electronic scene and the chill out scene, all those artists are dub-orientated. And then there’s another scene where people are making roots-dub that is more niche specific, and that’s huge as well. And there’s a new wave of young dub producers such as Prince Fatty, who are making a more rootsy sounding dub. There’s a huge spectrum, hundreds of sub-genres,” he laughs.

“There’s still a great love and appreciation for traditional Jamaican reggae. It’s tragic what’s happened in Jamaica though; the demise of the industry that was so prolific and exciting in the 70s and early 80s has almost vanished completely now. And there’s a much bigger Jamaican influence now than there was then. Although there are some young emerging artists coming out of Jamaica. I find it exciting what producers such as Diplo and Major Lazer are doing with reggae, and even Congo Natty.”

 

You just came back from the Boomtown festival. How was that? “The Lion’s Den stage was massive! And that was predominantly live reggae. It’s good, the kids love it. It can get a bit McDonalds at times, but it’s not easy putting on a festival, particularly a big one. They’ve done well.”

I mention seeing Jah Shaka as a young man, and how that made a huge impression on me. Especially the way he put on one record after the other (just the one deck) and fired off a lot of sound effects during the course of a set… “I remember Glastonbury in the early 80s. The only thing you had going on all night were two sound systems; one would be Shaka’s, the other Saxon. And that was it, there was nothing else. That went on for about ten years. Dub in the 80s was the glue that held a lot of it together.”

So what will you be doing at One Love? “I’ll be doing three sets. One will be a straight-forward dub set, which will probably be quite dancehall, 90s, feel good Saturday night style. And I’m also doing a ‘ping-pong’ selector thing with Alex Patterson and Gaudi, and a few others. Which I did at Glastonbury, at Shrangri-La, and I was doing the selecting and DJing with Matt Black (of Coldcut), Gaudi, someone from The Egg, Nik Turner, all jamming on top of the decks. Another gig I did recently was with Jah Wobble, a dancehall-dub set, and I had Wobble in the booth with me playing bass. I was cutting the bass, and bringing him in and out. That’s quite exciting as a performance, so I’m looking forward to that. Gaudi and I will be doing a set together as well. I’m halfway through an album with Gaudi, and we did an EP earlier this year on my Liquid Sound Design label, on 10” vinyl, which sold out really fast. Gaudi was involved with the playing the songwriting a little bit on Hollie’s new album too.

All Youth has ever really wanted to do is make music. As he says about his Space Mountain festival, which is subtitled ‘International Cosmic Arts Lab’. “I wanted to create a space that can express the collective need for beautiful music.” It’s what he has always wanted to do.

Jeff Hemmings

www.youth.me.uk
onelovefestival.co.uk
spacemountainfestival.com