When the genre known as industrial music began to emerge in the late 1970s, it was dark, foreboding and, above all else, menacingly mechanical. Largely eschewing the traditional guitar-bass-drums format, groups like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire began reducing melodic content in favor of electronic noise and clanging percussion, giving birth to harshly textured bands like Skinny Puppy and Einstürzende Neubauten.
As Chicago’s Wax Trax! Records began providing a voice to this new genre in the early 1980s, bands like KMFDM began adding elements of gothic punk and dance-music to the metallic chaos, paving the way for groups like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.
It’s this early industrial sound that the Los Angeles duo Youth Code (Sara Taylor and Ryan George) hearken back to. On their most recent album, “Commitment to Complications,” Taylor and George combine alternately beguiling and jagged synths with relentless barrages of electronic percussion, conjuring dark but alluring soundscapes. Over those headlong jackhammer beats, Taylor’s voice moves from a fevered whisper to a demonic growl to a sneering shout, recalling the strident, strobe-light attack of KMFDM in their prime. It’s a style that Taylor says she fell in love with as a child.
“Music was something I gravitated towards at a very young age, because my dad was a musician,” she says. “And the thing my family and I always liked was electronic music. But I was also into heavy music as a way of rebelling against my mom and dad. I liked the stuff that they listened to, but ultimately kids have to rebel in some fashion. So industrial was this perfect marriage of things being abrasive and angry but retaining this electronic element I was really into.”
And rather than resisting the “throwback” tag, Taylor says that she and George are happy to be recalling a bygone era in their chosen genre. “Somewhere around the early 2000s, industrial music kind of became guitar-based, after years of being about all these synthesizers onstage,” she says. “People started listening to bands like Static X, and it just seemed really hokey to me.”
In the studio, Youth Code, which formed in 2012, typically starts with a rhythm and builds a song from there, largely because Taylor takes her vocal cues from percussion, not melody.
“The way that I sing is based on drum patterns, similar to how heavy metal is written,” she says. “It’s based on the spaces in between the drum beats.”
Since the songs rely so heavily on tightly plotted electronic percussion, there’s not a lot of room for improvisation onstage. For Taylor, Youth Code’s music is all about tone.
“There are nights when the delivery is a little more somber or angsty or aggressive, but there aren’t any songs where I’d deliver the song in a different manner than which it was recorded,” Taylor says. “There are definitely songs where I’ll get wrapped up in what I’m saying, though. I’ve cried onstage, had breakdowns in the middle of songs, and I’ll look up and realize, ‘Oh f***, I’m playing a show right now.’.”
She’s certainly right about the onstage emotion of Youth Code, who will play at the Radio Room in Greenville next Thursday. Live, the duo is miles away from the statuesque automatons that electronic music conjures the image of. Even when George is behind his wall of synthesizers, the band seems to hurl themselves around the stage, intent on making their show as big, and potentially damaging, as possible.
“It’s kind of our responsibility to be as energetic as possible, so people are thinking,
‘There’s this stack of synths, and this girl is onstage going crazy and hanging off the rafters.’
We’re constantly trying to kill ourselves onstage, and the gear takes a beating, too,” Taylor says. “We’re constantly sacrificing ourselves so that we can deliver.”
Youth Code w/ Tone & Pure Ghost
Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Hwy., Greenville
Thursday, Oct. 12, 9 p.m.
$12 adv/$15 door