youth - a potted history
As Bass player in Killing Joke, part of the Orb, creator of the Butterfly Studios, inspirer of the psy-trance scene and Dragonfly Records and award-winning producer, Youth could be said to have achieved everything he set out to do. Now about to release his first artist album, Nigel Photon found out what makes the rock and dancemusic legend tick

For those who don't know about your musical history, please give an overview of what u have been involved in?

Butterfly was even the home of Spiral Tribe, their first record we put out. We got very involved in that post-acid house scene, we were the purveyors of the free outdoor goa trance parties that followed through after the M25 acid-house rave thing. I set up Butterfly studios for myself as a facility for all my different types of music and lived there. Then I started going to India and started working with a lot of the early trance movers and groovers and that was their home and label was well. Ben Watkins was there who'd I known for a while we did two records together in 1985. I was writing and producing the Orb's first album and spent a lot of time working with Alex and Jimmy Cauty (from the KLF). The Infinity Project were signed to Dragonfly at one point, Blue Room Ben, Green Oms, Nick Doof all those guys were working together in 1991 and music came out in 1992. There was one label called Beautiful run by Mauru and they released the first psychedelic trance record I can think of and then a lot of that early stuff came out on Dragonfly. I did a record with the Orb and Jimmy Cauty from the KLF as Zodiac Youth called "Fast Forward The Future" and then I did one with Ben Watkins. I also had a label with Alex Patterson called Wow Modo we put out about 50 12"s it was an acid house label, home of the Orb and Blue Pearl and a lot of those records were played in Goa. I went out in 1989 and when I came back this friend of mine Stephan Holwecz ?) aka Total Eclipse, he had done this record with Ben Watkins called Electrotete, Anjuna Dawn and we put that out on Wow. Those were the first two goa trance records.

What did you make of Goa when u first went there?

I thought Goa was amazing and a big inspiration. It inspired me to set up Dragonfly records which was a label dedicated to that style of music and party. The problem was that at that time the DJs were great, the main one was this guy called Lauren and the music was a broader spectrum of music, with even Italian progressive house music. Lauren would mix from cassette decks and change the music take bits out edit . You'd see them under a cloud of dust mixing from two cassette decks. I've never had anyone blow my mind like that guy. What was great was that the music was coming from everywhere, very little of it was designed or made for there, as it became more and more popular and the sound followed this evolutionary curve into high-octane trance suddenly the bandwidth of expression became narrow. But in some ways that was good it did cut out a lot of chaff from the wheat, it had to be really good to fit into that bandwidth and some artists really redefined it because of that and took it even further like Simon Posford and X-Dream.

Many people don't know that you were in the Orb and younger trancers won't know that u and others kick-started the scene with the Butterfly Studios. Funniest Orb memory? And why did u set up butterfly and then Dragonfly records, tell us a bit about that time, who was around?

Butterfly I started after Wow Modo it was the home of System 7, Killing Joke and the Drum Club. I wanted to put this music out really for DJs in Goa and other DJs like Oakie (Paul Oakenfold) and Danny Rampling who were into it. This other guy Ian St Paul, who was our manager, he started Spectrum and Land Of Oz, the early acid house clubs and Concept in Dance who also put out the first album I think. Paul Jackson was around, T.I.P Raja Ram and Simon Posford was the studio engineer. He was a genius and without him those records wouldn't have been as good, he really raised the bar and was a major part of defining that genre.
My funniest memory of the Orb was a record we did as a pseudonym called 'Jam on the Mother' which was a cover of 'Hotel California' an amazing record really psychedelic which was almost a hit it was getting Radio One play and stuff, A lot of people really hated it it was a bit edgy for the time and we had to do a German TV show a live gig. There was Chris, Thrash, Alex Patterson, me, Nick the drummer we had all these people on stage at Brixton Academy in 10 in the morning with this weird audience and two of us fell off the stage. We had a lot of laughs with the Orb and at the time me and Alex shared a flat in Battersea and above us two floors up was Andy Weatherall and around the corner Danny Rampling. We were just heads we'd just hang out play records, DJ, 100% music all day long. The records were just everything we liked, we'd grown up with slammed in. Making it was a real joy. Alex, Jimmy and me were DJing at the 'Land Of Oz' in the first chill-out room the White Room and that was where the ambient soundtrack came from which was the blueprint of the first KLF album. There was the KLF 'White Room' album, a bootleg 'The Black Room' and of course the Orb did 'The Blue Room'. We'd all do mixes for each other at home at Transcentral and there was a studio around the corner from me and Alex called Blue Moon and we had Greg Hunter and Chris Western from Trash who were both incredibly intelligent programmers, engineers that I've ever worked with. Jimmy's genius "Chill-out" album still sounds supreme - utter timeless beauty and the Orb's first album the same, (The Huge Growing Brain At The Centre Of The Universe' stunning up there with Pink Floyd as far as I'm concerned. There was a bit of competition between Alex and Jimmy as to who was going to do the first amibent album, but they're still working together and now doing the Transient Kings project and tracks for the Orb. I wrote and produced some of the Orb tracks, mixed a lot of the tracks and played live bass with them.

It's been a long time between the Killing Joke remixes and a Youth dancefloor-focused trance album. Why now?

I've never really done a Youth album apart from my dub albums and a lot of them are colloborations, I've never even done a solo album I've always preferred to be in the shadows of projects and am very happy in that space but I thought after DJing trance and dub it was about time to reflect what I do as hard dance music on record. I don't really want to be typecast and wanted to express that as Youth under this name. I've always colloborated with Dragonfly artists and played bass on Ben Watkins' Juno Reactor's last album.

 

With so many musical influences in your past to draw on, what would u say has most influenced the sound of the album? Is it a departure from the acidy progressive melodies you've written as Transparent?

The album starts out early morning James Munro driving progressive music and then it gets more and more full-on with a lot of guitars. They are a theme I suppose pulling together some of the Killing Joke remix stuff. It gets harder and harder kind of reflecting the DJ set I've been doing in Japan recently but not much in the UK. There is a Transparent track on there but it's much harder than that. I was interested a lot by the festivals last Summer and by Jez Laughing Buddha's sound and Vatos Locus. A lot of the Dragonfly stuff and Astrix and I'm quite influenced by a lot of the Japanese progressive stuff BPM and Freeform Pura and I like the Spiral Trax stuff Thomas Atmos, Son Kite and Anti. He did an amazing set at the Zambia eclipse party two and a half hours of utter bliss. James Munro did the best set for me at Glastonbury this year three or four hours.

I know you have written one track with Serge Souque, any other colloborations and how did that connection come about?

There's an Abacus remix and a colloboration with Jamie Pogo (Wingmakers).

Your Transparent project and The Kumba Mela Experiment has seen you write both progressive melodies and chill-out how easy is it to write so many different styles or does this keep it fresh?

I find it a challenge to write anything worthwhile. I'm always writing but throw a lot away, it's the same as being a DJ or a producer selecting what you really like. It's a bit hard to be objective of your own writing which is why it's good to colloborate with people who'll give you a firm honest opinion. But I do experiment and go into my lab-like studio and play and try different things all the time. I have far more visions of what I want to do and say through the music than I have possibilites to record. I'm never short of ideas but am limited by what I can do with technology. I'm a very good programmer in some areas and engineer in others but I do like to work with people who are really good with what they do and put a team together. The problem with trance is because some people are in Ibiza and all over and getting all of you in the same room at the same time is not so easy.

You're a world-renowned producer give us a few names you've worked with?

From the early days I worked with Killing Joke, Kate Bush, 23 Skidoo, Crowded House, The Verve, Embrace, Kylie, Kub

How does your work as a producer of different types of music sit with being a writer. And what's the next step for you musically?

I write and produce other people's work for them and as music fulfills many different functions, it's hard to critique it on particular levels. It's really the same process whether producing or writing and it is the process which is so important. How I approach the work, what mood you're in, who's around you, what comes out is just a reflection of that. Every day is a challenge every day is an Everest, it's not sitting in a hammock smoking chillums all day long. Although I did go to India for 10 years, three to six months and got a lot of inspiration, energy and strength from that.

 

Being the mastermind behind Dragonfly Records along with Jaz Summers, how do u find the time to run a label alongside your other commitments and what's next for Dragonfly?

Well I've worked with some really good teams of people from Ian St Paul, to Darren, Stubbs, Humphrey Bacchus, Jaz and Tim at Big Life all the label managers have been really good and people like Mauri, now Nick. I need to do different things to keep me inspired, even if just in London. If I just come into the studio every day I burn out quick. If I'm doing this sometimes it's better. With studios you're on an international audition at this level. International labels don't ***k about anymore, artists are aware that it's their money you're spending.

Dragonfly are having to downsize and going more digital with people on the technical side like Mark Neal running things more. We've got about four or five albums lined up in production. Suns of Arqu who are real innovators in the dub-fusion arena, my album, Tripswitch, LSD, Timmy B and Laurence's LSD album and hopefully a compilation from Ricardo Castellati. Sign up artists on compilations for royalties. Many labels aren't prepared to front the profit before its been made to secure the license of the track. The artists have to put a lot more on the table than they have before, it's a lot of pressure but they get a commitment to work with the label rather than just for a few dollars more you can have the track which has made the trance scene quite shallow and superficial. There's always something to be said for developing the label which understands your work and can present it properly without your release you can't really operate properly and get gigs so there's a lot of value in that. Until more people buy CDs I can't see how labels are going to be able to give large advances. Even on the commercial dance chart you're seeing maximum sales of 2,000 vinyl records now and most sell 200-300 in this country. Whereas even two years ago we could have sold 2,000 12"s easy. It's weird because the scene's getting bigger but the sales all round are going down, once the downloading kicks in and the labels get their catalogues fully digitalised and downloadable the labels will be able to get some funding from that. The ones that are going to survive are going to have to invest a ,ot of money and not expect a return for a while or are going to have to take up cottage-industry guerilla tactics to survive which is what we're doing. But in no way will the label cease. Some of the artists we would have liked to have put out like Quadra we couldn't. Butterfly records will also be releasing Acoustic sessions Volume One with Dub sessions and Dragonfly parties.

How did you get into dub?

I grew up in South London in the 1970s, with punk rock in '76. Don Letts used to play at the Roxy and dub was the soundtrack to punk in the late 70s and a big influence on Killing Joke records and the Orb is obviously very dub-influenced and a lot of dancemusic is derived from dub and a lot of trance music owes a lot to it also. When Liquid Sounds started, it was a trancey dub label to counterpoint the hard trance at parties and I think we were the first trance label to do that. Now dub has become a steady diet on that scene which I'm really happy about. To have the Turuya dub festival is very important for me and has a spiritual resonance anyway.

In what ways do you enhance spiritually in your work?

Goa has been a big inspiration on many levels for me and the scene. It's not just a place, it's a state of mind and it's an old tradition which goes back to the Stonehenge free parties, the beatniks of the early 60s, the poets, the first acid technicolour parties of the 60s, the poets and artists of 20s Paris, it's an ancient timeless tradition back to the Elysium mysteries and magick and all that. Goa is just part of that stream which you tap into, it's not just Goa that's the dimension level you're into when you're in that space and that is very inspiring. You see it in the 60s as a reflection of that state of consciousness within society and I think you can see it now with the trance scene becoming a culture. And when you take psychoactive substances collectively outside special things happen and life-changing things happen and that creates culture. Culture operates on three specific levels with trance or the Goa spirit, there's the spiritual level, the social and a political level. On a spiritual level it incorporates Eastern mysticism, yoga, new age paganism and especially universal native traditions. On a social level it can be very hedonistic and escapist and there's a lot of people just interested in the drugs and not the spiritual side, although people on a spiritual tip take drugs as well. There's also a social function to it, the gathering an exchange of information, the passing of knowledge and an osmosis of experience inner and outer. Political you see a lot of inspiration behind the anti-globalisation, the humanist movements, the native tradition movements and folk movements. The Turuya festival is a good example of how the scene is pushing out in different ways. The music we do is a vehicle for that, a vocabulary for people to communicate through.

What do you think is important for this scene to therefore remember when it comes to future commercial success?

Well, one good point to remember is that the scene is so still very strong because it hasn't had mainstream commerical success. When it comes to within dancemusic, there are artists who have managed to sell a lot of records and then that's just an expression of how people value it and that's good. For the artists it's a devotional gig, it's not about how many euros you get for your track or your set even though you have to make a living out of it. You have to diversify, make other types of music which appeals to a broader group of people without compromising who you are. As an artist you have to do all those things to make a living, not treat it just as a hobby and that's part of the challenge and that's a long tradition anyway. It's no different to the poet troubadours or the Greek mystics it's the same dynamic that the techno DJ or trance artist has to go through, they have to face those challenges and find their way through the forest as we all do. The whole business, music scene, music industry everything is changing with downloads. These days it's not labels that control the scene, functioning the music in that way, it's the promoters putting on the parties who really decide what people listen to and that's changed things a lot in the last four years. Prior to that the labels did their own parties and found promoters to put them on for them. Now promoters are doing their own parties and the labels are almost insignificant now and that's changing things a lot. I think it will expand and seep through into the public mainstream consciousness when it gets to a saturation point and when that happens the social implications of what the scene provides is far more important than the entertainment factor the disco-like dance thing. Not to undermine the positive aspects of people dancing and communication that brings with that. The sharing of knowledge of alternative ways of living and bringing the magic and soul back into life into the music that's what's going to be of real value and that's what it's really about. For me, that's my inspiration and that's a devotional gig. What money you get it's your duty to use it to assist you in what you want to do and do more of it I think.