Youth Code Revel in Public Displays of Annihilation
A note to all the couples out there thinking of starting a band together: Don't do it. Just don't.
This advice comes courtesy of Sara Taylor, one half of EBM duo Youth Code. The Los Angeles-based badass knows a thing or two about this subject; the project is a creative extension of her partnership with Ryan George, a hardcore punk with a soft spot for synths. Before meeting George in 2012, Taylor had never played in a band — or played a synthesizer — but her partner was happy to teach her, and a showcase set at Vacation Vinyl (the L.A. record store where she worked at the time) soon followed. The gig was initially planned as a one-off, and yet, following the performance, Youth Code dropped a demo. Its cover proclaims "We Were Never Supposed to Be a Band." But fate had bigger plans: Taylor and George were destined to make sweet, sweet music together.
And what a band they've become. In just four years, Youth Code have gone from playing packed dives in their native Los Angeles to performing for a crowd of 5,000 at Germany's Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival (otherwise known as Europe's biggest celebration of all things goth), steadily expanding their brutal discography all the while. Just this past April, they released their sophomore album, Commitment to Complications, via lauded experimental label Dais. It's one of the year's strongest, heaviest electronic efforts, both sonically and thematically. Aside from assaulting your eardrums, the duo takes on a host of grievances, both personal and political: litanies of love and loss from the streets of Ferguson to the back alleys of West Hollywood. The album's theme couldn't be clearer: No matter what live throws at you, you better buck the fuck up and carry on, because you don't have any other option.
And that's the beautiful thing about Youth Code: These two just don't give up, even as they painstakingly translate their love into aggressive onstage theatrics, night after night. The couple leaves no conflict unaddressed, no argument unresolved; not just between the artists themselves, but also in regards to their audience, demonstrating a sense of transparency rarely seen among other musical partnerships.
Shortly before their violent, vigorous set at this year's Basilica Soundscape in upstate New York, Taylor sat down with one of the festival's organizers, Creative Independent editor-in-chief Brandon Stosuy, to detail her experiences with love, creativity and the difficult (but immensely rewarding) union therein. (Full Disclosure: Stosuy and I worked together at Pitchfork from 2013-2016.) George sat quietly across from her in a sterile, industrial space plastered with artwork and equipped with a whiskey bar — not to mention a car — with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye, breaking into a knowing laugh every so often. (Talk about #relationshipgoals.)
It was at the start of this conversation, surrounded by attendees and artists alike, that Taylor issued the previously referenced disclaimer, advising against premature commitments of the musical sense. Just like moving in together or adopting a puppy, it's a huge step that, however thrilling, can kill the relationship.
"At the end of the day, I know that through every test, Ryan is the person I want to spend the rest of my existence with," Taylor said. "There's no one like him, but I think to everyone else in a relationship, you maybe don't know these sorts of things. Like, you might, but it also might be the worst thing that ever happened, and you might think about throwing your partner off a train."
She locked eyes with George and laughed, prompting further qualification: "Which I'm sure that Ryan and I have both thought about with each other multiple times." (During the same conversation, she also noted that the two have gone through at least one break-up since forming Youth Code.)
Youth Code might fantasize about tossing each other off a train sometimes, but they always kiss and make up, even if they're amidst a tiff five minutes from showtime. It's well-established that effective conflict resolution is necessary to a lasting relationship — and while the confrontational catharsis of the duo's stage shows suggests live performances as a means of therapy, Taylor and George never go to bed (or rather, take the stage) angry.
"I have to be absolutely on par with Ryan, and we have to cheerlead each other in order for anything to work with us," Taylor revealed, "Because it's literally the straw on the camel's back if there's any sort of disagreement between us. It's so not into the zone, which is this union of us, and this creativity." If an argument arises, she explains, "We have to merge back into our zone and pump each other out, or else it won't work." It's for the audience's benefit, as well as their own.
Taylor and George don't have any youngsters running around the house yet, but they definitely consider themselves parents in the artistic sense, framing their music as an offshoot of their relationship, something that's every bit as significant as a living, breathing bundle of joy.
"If you could take what you think of what you want your genes to be in each child, and you can pick certain things," she mused, "you can actually draw out this child, which is your creativity, and you get to nourish it fully, and create this absolutely beautiful work between the two of you. It's an amazing thing." Here, she inserted another disclaimer: "I don't recommend [music] to anybody that doesn't know and have the true security that that's going to be the person you're with."
At one point during the 15-minute chat, Stosuy asked Taylor if she and George have considered opening up their musical relationship to include a third member; but however tempting an expanded creative pool may be, musical non-monogamy isn't very attractive to Youth Code. "I think that the magic and the splendor between Ryan and I through the creative process is really what makes it what it is," she contended, adding, "I've never been in another band besides this band, so my experience is this deeper connection with Ryan. I think if someone else was to be creative and have their say in anything, like, I would lose my shit." She glanced over at her partner with a furrowed brow, and at his knowing nod, her lips curled into a smile.
After wrapping up her chat with Stosuy, Taylor and George shared a quick hug: the pure, simple embrace shared by two people who — having spent years tumultuously proving the strength of their union to record labels, audiences and, indeed, themselves — can now illustrate their unconditional love beautifully, wordlessly. They headed off to the back of the interview space for some photos, and then hit the Basilica's cramped anteroom to unleash a torrent of noise, no less a duo than a sterling EBM machine. While Taylor stormed about the stage with unmistakable blood lust, brandishing her mic like a bullhorn and screaming into her bandmate's glitched-out din, George remained stooped over his kit, plunking out the grim synth melodies and militant drum beats — some gravity to ground her furious ascent.
And so, faced with the sheer sonic wallop of Youth Code's set, the crowd watched passion play out at its most fiery and ephemeral in a quaint room in Hudson — a celebration of intimacy by way of aggression, lust by way of rage. However awe-inspiring, though, the duo's visceral approach was just a façade. This is the sound of a power couple at its most stable and enduring, of a love built to last loudly, as well as eternally. And they say that true love is dead.
Youth Code released their Commitment to Complications LP earlier this year via Dais Records.