September 2013 has seen two debut albums released from bands on opposite sides of the Atlantic, that perhaps have more in common than might first be thought. Both are industrial-influenced bands, that have come from outside the “scene”, or at least that’s the way it appears (and, not to mention, both albums are self-titled, oddly enough). However, both have had very different trajectories to get to the release of their first album. Factory Floor’s album has been a long, long time in coming – formed seven or eight years ago, they’ve released a small number of extraordinary singles, and only now has their first full-length release arrived.
Youth Code, on the other hand, have been an active band for little more than a year, blasting out of a fertile Los Angeles industrial scene with a demo tape and live debut that went viral (I lost count of people telling me “you *must* hear this”), was released digitally and now, after a single or two, already we’re at an album.
So, I’m going to cover both albums together. Both albums are important in different ways, both are absolutely worthy of your time, and not to mention I thought it might be an interesting way to cover them.
First up, Factory Floor. I wasn’t exactly quick to the party with this one – a friend put me onto them a couple of years back, and to start with I wasn’t really that taken with the sound. But after some perseverence – and finding the right entry points, it was either Wooden Box or (R E A L L O V E), I can’t recall – I was hooked, and patiently awaiting the next release, whatever it was to be. I wasn’t expecting to have to wait as long, but in the meantime I’ve seen them live a few times (with decidedly mixed results – I simply couldn’t get into their ICA show with Simon Fisher Turner, for example, while their support to Mark Stewart last year was breathlessly brilliant), which piqued my interest even further.
Soundwise Factory Floor evoke both the dancefloor and the titular environment. Their usually lengthy tracks – the album has just seven full-length tracks, all well beyond six minutes in length, with three short interludes – frequently feature metronomic, jackhammer rhythms at their heart, heavy electronic-assisted beats assisted by analogue synths and ultra-treated vocals that are mainly part of the texture rather than a dominant feature.
For me, though, it is their use of live drums – and the crazy fills and apparent improvisation that pepper the album – that make the rhythms really thrilling. It adds a frisson of unpredictability, but it also helps to break what could otherwise be moments of monotony, and on tracks like Fall Back – all kinds of electronic chaos sweeping and jabbing out of the speakers around the live drums that provide the bedrock, and Nic Void’s vocals floating around the effects. Seven minutes and twenty-two seconds could become seventeen minutes and I’d still be complaining it was too short. Pick of the album for me, though, is first single (released quite a while ago now) Two Different Ways, whose burbling synths and incessant rhythm remind me, more than anything else, of Dubnobasswithmyheadman-era Underworld, as the synths spiral upward into the sky, and it settles into a trance-like groove that is fucking glorious.
What’s weird, though, is that despite the club-friendly tempos of just about everything here (aside those interludes, which in any case have their own lengthy reworkings on the bonus CD I obtained), it doesn’t feel so much like a dancefloor album. There is no feeling of euphoria here, instead one of darkness and isolation, of vocals delivered in the shadows and synths that are jagged and menacing. As well, it isn’t only the rhythms that bring to mind industry – the specific sound the band have gone for invokes industrial music of the eighties, and particularly those industrial bands who went on to dabble in the fringes of dance music (so brilliantly documented on Trevor Jackson’s Metal Dance comp last year – a sequel of sorts comes next week). Where cold, harsh electronics – and early industrial music had lots of that – met the newly emerging dance culture, with a more ordered rhythmic sound, and artists like Factory Floor are finding enthralling ways to take up the baton and take this sound further. But going on their sedate pace so far, don’t expect a follow-up quickly, I guess!
A sense of urgency is definitely something Youth Code are not lacking in. Their take on 80s(ish) industrial and EBM is one infused with a burning, seething punk energy, where songs are short, sharp and to the point and don’t repeat themselves – much like the influences they discussed in intriguing detail recently.
Opener Let The Sky Burn ratchets up the tension gradually, adding synths, then beats, then a primal roar of vocals that tears out of the speakers to unleash a jagged, four minutes of electronically-charged hate and fury. That punk-edge is reflected in the sound and production, too – something that has apparently turned off a few people. This isn’t meant to the clean, sleek electronics. It is meant to be raw, angry and hard-hitting, and First & Last takes that further, even allowing a little melody in amongst the sonic rage (not to mention the distinct feeling of a sample of Douglas McCarthy vocal in the intro).
What follows, though, is the best evidence yet of why Youth Code are being treated as such a hot prospect. Carried Mask was the track released ahead of the album, and it’s easy to see why – it is easily the punchiest, catchiest track on the album, despite not really having a chorus (it has a pulsating breakdown instead), layering multiple synths and multitracked vocals for a claustrophobic, chaotic sound that could perhaps be an alternate vision of what Skinny Puppy could have become, had they taken other influences. Equally thrilling is “Destroy” said, She – one of the tracks originally released on that demo tape – and here it has been reworked, tidied up and kicks like a mule.
Even after that, the savage kick drums and distorted noise of Rest In Piss (there is little else to it’s short length) comes as a shock to the system (and doesn’t half remind me of the must-missed torrent of hate-filled punk-industrial-noise that was Panic DHH), while What Is The Answer? bring us back to the more familiar, synth-led EBM stylings. Another song that deviates from the expected here is No Animal Escapes, a freakish synth attack where different effects hit you from different directions, the vocals are phased all over the place, not to mention the vocals being distorted into a evil hiss: the overall effect is deeply unsettling and if the industrial career doesn’t work out, a career in soundtracking psychological horror films surely awaits on the evidence of this.
Distorted Views is the first track where I felt a little disappointed. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of ideas, that never really goes anywhere, so I’ll file it as filler. Much better is another of the demo tape tracks, Sick Skinned, which gains absolutely thunderous, echoing drums and another of those vintage, stabbing synth lines that kicks ass, and drags the heavy beat forward with it, the snarled vocals buried deep in the mix.
Closer Wear The Wounds hardly lets things go with a whimper, either, more pounding rhythms and screeching electronics closing out what amounts to little more than a half-hour album (about half the length of the Factory Floor album, in fact). But then, length of an album is by no means a barometer of quality, and here the short, sharp shock of what is heard is a pretty amazing introduction to the band for those who haven’t heard them before.
Industrial music – no matter how broad you want the definition to be – has always had something of a habit of shifting stylistically every few years, and it seems that 2012 and 2013 has seen a shift back towards a “purer” form of industrial than we’ve seen in a while. And this appears to have ruffled a few feathers in certain corners of the “scene”, suggesting that the look backwards is bad. Well, it couldn’t be any worse than the macho bullshit infesting parts of industrial music (and the clubs) in recent years, with glorification of violence and sex in every corner, and all to the same 4/4 beats and synth presets.
But let’s look at it another way – discourse is a Good Thing, in my view, and Youth Code have tripped off the biggest debates about one single *new* band than I’ve seen in years. If they are pushing buttons, getting coverage and getting people talking about them, all power to them. And even more impressively, both bands featured here have been covered outside the usual four walls of the industrial scene, and perhaps that is why some don’t like what they are doing – because they dared not to get the “approval” of the tastemakers first, instead looking that bit wider, and likely as a result getting greater success and attention than they ever would otherwise.
Despite what some might think, Industrial music is not in a terminal state. It is, as ever, evolving and mutating into yet more sub-strands, and it is becoming clear that there is a wider audience for this kind of music, if only bands open themselves up to it. So, there’s the gauntlet laid down, will anyone choose to take it up and run with it?
In the meantime, both of these albums are well worth your time, and are out now.