(From the Scotsman, UK daily, 30 November 2001.)
by Fiona Shepherd
Whatís the connection between U2, David Bowie,
Texas, Stereo MCís, A Guy Called Gerald, Paul McCartney, Embrace, the Verve, the
Cult, Beth Orton, PM Dawn and Edwyn Collins?
Answer: their music has been touched by the hand of Youth, the affable 40-year-old writer/producer who shuns celebrity but has been an active force in British music since joining his first group, the dark, intense, inspirational hippie-punks Killing Joke, at the tender age of 17.
It was during his three years with the band that the bass player initially got a taste of life on both sides of the mixing desk, producing the groupís first three albums. "They were seminal albums in American rock culture because they were such a big influence on Nirvana and other bands of that time," he says, "so I still get loads of feedback, which is great after 25 years."
Tired of touring, but with no particular thoughts of a career behind the mixing desk, Youth - donít try asking his real name - left Killing Joke in the early 1980s and formed pristine techpop trio Brilliant with the KLFís Jimmy Cauty. Later he paid the bills by mixing singles, before playing a more creative role in big dance-orientated hits for Yazz and Blue Pearl and working with ambient house groups The Orb and System 7.
Although he won a Brit Award in 1998 for his work on the Verveís Urban Hymns, specifically the lush production of Bittersweet Symphony, Youth has never been the man of the moment like, say, nu-metal supremo Ross Robinson or Radiohead/Travis producer Nigel Godrich. Instead, he has been careful not to get caught up in trends or be associated with a specific production sound. The key to securing his services is, he says, simply great songs.
"Iíve worked hard to be diverse and itís not easy," he says. "Itís like if youíre an actor and you have success with one character, you get flooded with people wanting you to do exactly the same thing again."
These days his dance card is always full. He is currently producing new material for an as-yet-unnamed group featuring ex-members of the Verve, in addition to running two record labels, Dragonfly and Liquid Sound Design, collaborating with a couple of singer/songwriters, working on a dance project, writing poetry and prose and touting a couple of screenplays he has penned. Is that all?
"Itís just trying to get that creative garden going in your head," he explains. "Then you can develop a little eco-system and things feed off each other. I find if I do just one thing, I get a bit cul-de-saced after a while."
His latest creative playground is the Kumba Mela Experiment, a collaboration with the Suns Of Arqa, Tangerine Dream, his old Orb mucker Alex Patterson and Michael Jacksonís spoon-bending buddy Uri Geller. The album, East Of The River Ganges, was conceived as a soundtrack to a documentary about the holy river but took on a life of its own when recording coincided with Indiaís gigantic Kumba Mela gathering earlier this year. In order to infuse the music with greater eastern promise, Youth arranged a web link-up with musicians who were at the religious festival and recorded an extended jam session - with Geller providing psychic vibrations, or something. A couple of additional all-nighters in his home studio and Youth had the material to produce the spiritual trance dub album he wanted.
"The experiment was bringing in all these different people who in their own way are all very shamanic and spiritual," he says. "They could be a psychic or an Indian master musician or a DJ. I believe they still fulfil the same function and when you bring them together you get something really powerful out of it. And thatís what happens when youíve got a good band." You can see why he gelled so well with "Mad" Richard Ashcroft.
"These are ideas that have got me painted as a bit of a nutter, but thatís what I believe," he elaborates. "On the one hand, a Bob Marley song can be a nice sound at the beach bar when you are on holiday, but for a lot of people that was a revolution. Thatís the wonderful thing about music. It can be many different things to many different people simultaneously. Thatís my intent - to make music that has that amount of levels and possibilities to it."
East Of The River Ganges is out this week on Liquid Sound Design.