[9 October 2013]
As a genre, industrial has gone a little long in the tooth. Stuck in a creative rut and populated by-and-large by a motley lot of cringeworthy characters, there’s little reason to check in on it unless disappointment gets you off. Yet somehow, there’s been an unusual sort of clamor around the retro-gazing rivetheads known as Youth Code. Indeed, the Los Angeles duo have managed early on to capture the notoriously myopic attention of serious music types than myriad like-sounding acts currently bottom-feeding for something resembling survival.
It’s not altogether clear what motivates today’s critical tastemakers, most of whom likely haven’t heard any albums recently released by Metropolis or any like-minded contemporary label. Still, the old adage “it’s who you know” offers a likely explanation for the spotlighting of this particular act. Dais—a credibly cool underground indie with records from Cold Cave, Genesis P-Orridge and Iceage under its belt—signed Youth Code for this eponymous debut, and accordingly the band appears to have benefited by association.
Yet while Youth Code reach for the classic darkwave sounds of early Skinny Puppy or Front Line Assembly releases like Remission or Total Terror, it’s important to note that both of those still quite active seminal acts have long abandoned the techno-primitive in favor of the ultramodern. Informed by cutting-edge sound design, their latest releases (Weapon and Echogenesis, respectively) utilize a broader sonic palette informed by their pasts but bearing only a passing genetic resemblance to them. Today, Cevin Key and Nivek Ogre’s Skinny Puppy make blackened, highly political electro breaks, in contrast with the intelligent EDM of Bill Leeb’s FLA. Youth Code, by comparison, sound like child prodigies banging on an old groovebox.
This is where mining the past reaches a stumbling block, and hopefully a stopping point. The sort of industrial music Youth Code emulate was never about the past, but rather our toxic present and the utopian/dystopian dichotomies of our convoluted future. Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and other such acts were forward-thinking, progressive and aggressively experimental, coaxing the most out of limited and limiting technologies. The cheapest keyboard junk in Guitar Center today would’ve been a dream to them in 1985, and yet they manage to make futuristic sounds with far less than one gets in the latest Garageband software update.
What then, does Youth Code offer in 2013, other than a nostalgia for a time neither they nor many of their early adopters even lived through? Judging by this 10-track debut, the answer is: not much. As songwriting goes, they haven’t figured out how to move beyond mastering the scuzzy, militant feel of old EBM towards writing memorable songs. Opener “Let The Sky Burn” thumps and throbs but never varies. Where their idols understood and utilized melody, Youth Code’s monochromatic cuts like “First & Last” and “What Is The Answer” are starved for choruses or even hooks. When it does come, it comes in spurts, via the reluctant blips of “Destroy Said She” or the machinist screech of “Wear The Wounds”.
Live in concert or in a darkened club, the music of Youth Code assuredly would pack a leather-fisted wallop. But regrettably the record and the band follow a formula at the expense of song composition. When it does take a different tack, as on the Ant-Zen style power noise indulgence “Rest In Piss,” there’s little compelling reason not to skip ahead. If there’s a Nivek Ogre sort of message politics buried under the vocal effects of cuts like “No Animal Escapes,” there should be no expectation on the band’s part for anyone to bother deciphering it. After all, J.G. Thirlwell long ago commanded us thusly: “Say what you mean and say it mean.”