Youth producer


'Music is a complete mind fuck!' - Martin Glover (aka super-producer Youth) ponders his 30+ years in the business...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 5 Jan 2016
  • min read
Paul McCartney cohort, Pink Floyd producer, psychedelic doodler and Killing Joke co-founder: these are just some of the guises that have kept Youth, aka Martin Glover, busy over the years.

As a self-taught super-producer, he’s worked with scores of artists who’ve queued round the block to harness his unique musical headspace.

Over the years, he’s shaped records by the likes of The Verve, Primal Scream, Culture Club, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kate Bush and The Orb, with his latest work - the first Jesus and Mary Chain album for nearly 20 years - slated for an early 2016 release.

Far from sticking to what he knows best, Youth has jumped from punk to acid house to indie and far beyond, breaking down genre barriers and honing his craft at every turn.

Over the years, he's willfully reinforced this chameleon reputation with a clutch of stellar remixes for the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Malcolm Maclaren, A Guy Called Gerald, Fine Young Cannibals, Marc Almond and U2.

In recognition of his many accomplishments, the Music Producers’ Guild announced he would receive the Outstanding Contribution to UK Music accolade at its 2016 awards ceremony, marking more than three decades of restless creative toil and musical abandon.

We gave him a call to find out what he thought of the award, ‘a real honour’, and found him in a contemplative mood…

Below, he shares his thoughts on the legacy of acid house, the demise of musical tribes and the best ways to cook up a storm in the studio…

You’ve hopped about loads in your career. What keeps you learning new skills and redefining yourself?
I think I became aware early on that if you didn’t challenge yourself, you weren’t going to be in the game much. One of the things I love about art and music is that you never really ever stop learning and you can just go deeper and deeper.

The great thing about pop music, broadly speaking, is the ability to reinvent yourself, especially as an artist. Not that I’ve taken that role too much to the fore, because I’m more known as a producer, but even as a producer, I’m a little genre blind really. For me, doing different kinds of music that I love always seemed obvious and natural. I think we still live in a bit of a Victorian age where people think you’re a Jack of all trades, master of none, if you don’t just do one thing really well.

How do you get around that?
Well, I’ve always fought against it. In the early days, when I started doing electronic dance music, I often had to do it under pseudonyms. The labels and the artists were like, ‘We can’t put Youth on there. They’ll think it’s Killing Joke or something’.

Eventually, I started having success in other genres, to the point where I could just be known as Youth and people not associate it too strictly with something else.

What’s been a pivotal musical moment for you?
I think a big moment for me was the arrival of acid house and those DJs in the back rooms like Andrew Weatherall and Paul Oakenfold who would drop indie rock tunes in the middle of their Chicago house tracks. People would go crazy. I thought that was so great. Culturally, it was the demise of the tribes. People aren’t so loyal to bands and music in the way they were in the seventies and eighties.

How hard has it been to cross genres in your career?
Well, I do recognise it’s been a challenge, and difficult and risky, but I don’t regret it at all; I’m very glad. It’s allowed me to work on a great spectrum of different types of music which, again, keeps you fresh. If you’re just doing one genre all the time, you can become numb to it.

Do you see yourself as a musician who fell into production or a producer who got waylaid in bands?
It’s very confusing (laughter). I didn’t really see myself as a producer until I met Jazz Summers [artist manager and co-founder of Big Life Management], who said, ‘Oh, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Well, I write songs and I’m a musician, and I want to put a band together.’ He goes, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a writer/producer. Rarest cat in the jungle’ (laughter).

It took me a while to accept I was a producer and get over my insecurities of being untrained. I’ve always seen myself as an artist who does lots of different things, including playing in bands and producing other artists, and that’s the main focus.

What first attracted you to the studio?
It was always a very prolific ambition for me simply because, in the eighties, it was very hard to get into studios. It was before samplers and digital computers allowed you to do it in your bedroom. So, they were really precious moments.

So when I was able to get in the studio more in my thirties, in the nineties, I was there all the time. I felt I had a lot to catch up on so I just really went for it, hammer and tong.

Do you feel like you’re part of the band when you’re producing or do you prefer to take more of a technical role?
I think it was George Martin who said the main role of the producer is to concern himself in the art of the piece, and I agree with that. Although sometimes I’ll think, ‘If I was in The Jesus and Mary Chain, what would I want to do?’

Of course, the great thing about the job is that you do feel like you’re in the band. You’re right on the front line in the trenches with them, and you go through that journey together. That’s a very privileged place to be, and you can learn immense amounts from seeing the world from their perspective. But I’m always aware that the band’s album is the bigger picture – it’s something they’ve got to go out and work for the next two years.

Is there a particular project that still really stands out for you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success, artistically and commercially, with a lot of the records I’ve been involved with. So, the big ones that stand out for me are obviously the more well known ones, like the last Pink Floyd album - a real high water mark. Richard Ashcroft, The Verve, working with Paul McCartney. All of those things really jump out.

Also, one of the best, exciting parts is when you break a new band and they haven’t got any history. I’ve been lucky enough to do that with a few bands like Embrace, and The Verve to a certain degree, and even co-write a few hits with unknown artists and see them breaking out 20-year careers.

You mentioned acid house earlier. What do you think of its legacy today?
Well, as I was saying earlier, the demise of the tribes was precipitated by it. We’re still feeling the ripples in culture and society now: people’s awareness and tastes being broadened by music and those sorts of experiences.

I suppose it’s there in indie dance music, which is still a very, very strong choice of expression for young people. There’s electronic dance music – EDM – so much has come from those early days. It’s incredible really.

Part of the demise of the tribes is about people being able to really calibrate their preferences to a fine-tuned degree now. With the internet and the availability of information, they can really lock in on some obscure things and find their tribe in a very niche, tiny thing. Also, I believe the Dionysian spirit of celebration and dancing all night is still very strong, isn’t it?

There were a lot of people into punk that were drawn to acid house. Why was that?
Well, I thought that was a fairly natural, obvious evolution from punk and post-punk. A lot of post-punk artists were doing fairly experimental things with dance music and disco and punk and electronics. It got morphed into industrial, European dance music in the late eighties, which then informed Ibiza and acid house and trance.

Also, I think the philosophies that developed - fairly bohemian, Dionysian philosophies - of taking recreational drugs and staying up all night dancing, that goes back way before punk, doesn’t it? It goes back to the hippies and the Paris surrealists of the twenties and back to ancient Greece. So, I think they’re living traditions. They’ve come out in different ways and they’re part of our overall archetypal dynamic.

Do you still bring that punk ethic into the professional studio environment?
Well, ironically, in the nineties I remember going to Olympic Studios – a £2,000/£3,000-a-day place - and I’d bring in candles and smoke machines, and cover the walls up with my Indian hangings. I’d really make it my own space. I wasn’t shy about doing that – not at their day rate prices!

So, what are the vital ingredients for a really good record?
Ha! I’ve really thought about this over the years. I have studied my favourite records - the ones that really move me - but it’s still a mystery. There are a few basics that I try and adhere to though. I think great work has to have a certain intensity to it. Even if it’s I’m Not In Love by 10cc, which is very laid back and ambient, there’s an underlying intensity that holds it together. You get that in paintings, books, all art. It’s something you have to bring into the room with your persona. It’s in your intention and the way you make music.

Do you have tricks for drawing that out of people in the studio?
I think you’ve just got to read the room sometimes. If it’s getting too relaxed and too easy, you have to spike it up a bit. But if it’s too intense, you’ve got to chill it out. Certainly, what you record is reflected in the heads in the room. It’s not just playing music. You’ve got to get the vibe right.

So if the recording session is too laid back, how do you spice it up?
There are loads of ways to do it. You get them engaged and focused on what you’re doing at that moment. I’m often the chemical that creates the reaction in the room. So, I’ll just drop a comment and then step back and watch them kick off. Maybe that’s exactly what was needed at that moment to get everybody really looking at what it is we’re doing and why it is going to meaningful.

What do you look for in the artists you work with?
What you need are people who are really passionate about what they’re doing. They need the resilience to see it through and the courage to experiment and to try things out of the box.

It’s a funny dance. Sometimes, you’re pushing it. Sometimes, it’s pulling you; you’re following what the music tells you. Other times, you’re leading what it tells you. You just have to find that equilibrium and develop a sensibility of intuition which helps you know when to yield or when to push.

Of course, most learning is done when things don’t go right, but often those mistakes expose hidden intentions in the music anyway. So, in a way, they’re necessary. No wonder there are a lot of mental health issues with artists, because it’s a complete mindfuck at times!

Do you have any advice for people who find themselves wrapped up in knots?
I tend to try and take my intellect out of it a lot of the time. I find that intellect can often be the enemy of the creative process. Fine, afterwards, when you’re validating it, but while you’re actually in that illuminating moment, you want totally pure instinct and intuition to guide you – you need to fly on that.

People often try and validate what they’re doing while they’re doing it, and they’ll never go any further. You have to honour it a bit and allow it its own space and see where it wants to go. The things you’re really looking for are the surprises you haven’t thought of. So, you’ve got to create a space that lets that happen somehow.

What projects have you got coming up?
We’ve recently finished recording The Jesus and Mary Chain album. Their first album for 20 years almost. We’ve got about 15 tracks recorded and we’ve just been prepping those ready for mixing.

How’s it sounding?
It’s sounding absolutely amazing. I described it yesterday as a wall of feedback inside an aircraft hangar. It’s fantastic!

Youth's The Anarchist Colouring Book and accompanying ambient score are out now -