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Youth has been there, seen it and done it. He can go from the giddy heights of producing albums by the biggest superstars on the planet – from Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd on down, with records he's worked on having sold 20 million worldwide – to the deepest and weirdest underground dance scenes in dark basements and far flung corners of the planet. From the wild and combative sound barrage of Killing Joke via untold blissed-out ambient and acid house vistas and the mainstream song structures of Crowded House and The Verve (his work on Urban Hymns won him a BRIT Award for Best Producer, while the record itself won Best Album) to pure pop. From creating some of the UK's first ever hip hop beats back in the early eighties to pioneering brand new 21st century methods for sonic immersion.
He's been a member of The Orb, Brilliant, Blue Pearl and, of course, Killing Joke, played bass for Kate Bush, and remixed everyone from U2 to Siouxsie & The Banshees, De La Soul, A Guy Called Gerald, Malcolm McLaren and Marc Almond. The man born Martin Glover, and occasionally known as Orion or Pig Youth, has claim to be one of the most adaptable and diverse musical figures of the modern age. He continues to influence generations of producers and musicians, and perhaps most potently of all, he's possessed of that rare alchemy that allows a producer to bring out the inner qualities of an unlikely song and transform it into a hit.
As Paul McCartney says: “I think it’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Youth is a very easy guy to work with: he’s easy-going, and has a great attitude to life, but he’s also hard working. I like working with someone, and I don’t need full control all of the time... but you do have to admire the person you’re working with, to do that.”
Glover was born in 1960, and had an itinerant childhood. From the slums of Birmingham, still in a state of postwar dilapidation to a suburban semi outside London and on to a small flat in Paddington, West London, full of step-brothers and sisters when his parents split up and his mum remarried. He took these changes in his stride, which inspired his facility for mingling with all walks of life and adapting to whatever situations throw at him. In his early teens, Youth fell in with schoolmates Alex Paterson and Guy Pratt, who would become lifelong friends and collaborators: Paterson especially has been “like a brother” to him ever since.
He got heavily into art at school too, and his musical obsessions started. Starting with T Rex and Bowie, he'd buy seven-inch singles and “play them 20, 30 times on the trot.” He struck a bargain with a school music teacher to teach him guitar in exchange for him playing at a Christian song group, and began to play in bands with school friends. His dad got into the soul of the time, and the early-teenage Glover started to build an appreciation of the grooves and the luxuriant production of Isaac Hayes: combined with his concurrent discovery of Pink Floyd – “albums that created an entire world you could just step into” – this cemented his love of the totality of record production, and set him on his lifelong path.
Then came punk, and the realisation that he could just get stuck in and actually have a life in music. “I missed 1976,” he smiles ruefully, “because I stayed in school that year; Alex [Paterson] had already left and really got involved, but I kind of had my head in my schoolwork.” But by late '77 he realised he couldn't wait any longer and although he had a scholarship to Chelsea College of Art lined up, he instead answered an advert in Melody Maker, charmed his way through an audition despite never having picked up a bass guitar before (“to be honest I think they just liked the fact I was young,” he says), and ended up on a 35 date tour with The Rage.
The Rage never recorded. “The singer ran off with our best song, and had a hit with The Stukas” laughs Glover. “The Stukas, oddly enough, became the first band managed by Jazz Summers, who much later would take me on.” But this was the beginning of his life in music, the beginning of his life as Youth (originally “Pig Youth”, a pun on reggae toaster Big Youth), the beginning of the bass being his main instrument – and it would lead directly to the formation of Killing Joke in 1978. Youth's career as producer started at the same time: another band he briefly joined was The Four Be Twos, and during a session for a single produced by John Lydon, he waited until band and producer had got drunk and passed out, then scrounged up some time with engineer Mark Lusardi (protege of UK reggae legend Dennis Bovell) to do a dub mix. “That was my Damascene conversion,” says Youth, “that was when I decided 'this is how we are going to make music', and in fact that's where we ended up doing all our first demos for Killing Joke.”
The fusion of dub, funk, punk, electronic disco and uncategorisable weirdness that resulted would define Youth's 1980s. Indeed part of the reason for his first split from KJ in 1982 was their reversion to rather more standard rock values. His next band was Brilliant, with Jimmy Cauty – who'd been Killing Joke's sound man – and a motley team including singer June Montana, his old school friend Guy Pratt, and two drummers, and attempted to create a modern industrial funk sound. They were on the fringes of the early goth and industrial scenes, and were managed by Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe who also counted Echo & The Bunnymen and Julian Cope as their charges. Youth and Paterson (still a Killing Joke roadie) also became obsessed with New York DJ culture, and Youth made the Heavy Duty Breaks album in 1985: often cited as the first ever British instrumental hip hop album.
Brilliant's label refused to release the album they made in their first incarnation, so Glover and Cauty attempted to go all-out commercial and make a full-tilt pop record. It tanked commercially, but gave them an insight into the music industry that would be invaluable to all involved: Cauty and Drummond would go on to form the JAMMS and then The KLF, and Youth would team up with Paterson to start the Wau! Mr Modo label and The Orb. And something else would happen too, of course, which would open up the rest of the world to their desire for experimental dance/electronic music: acid house.
An early regular at the legendary Shoom club, Glover dragged Paterson down too, and in one of those beautiful moments of synchronicity, they discovered that their new favourite DJ, Shoom regular Andrew Weatherall, was their neighbour in Battersea. Weatherall was already playing Brilliant instrumentals, and his unique blend of dark industrial electronics with dancefloor euphoria as a DJ became Youth and Paterson's touchstone: “'would Andrew play this?' became our mantra, and gave us a focus that held together all the different influences we'd been bringing in,” Glover explains. Meanwhile he was also hanging out with Paterson and Cauty as they pioneered ambient DJing in the backroom of Paul Oakenfold's Land Of Oz club: sound collages that would directly lead Paterson and Glover to write the seminal “Little Fluffy Clouds”.
During this heady time, not only were The Orb born, but Weatherall and Paterson would help transform music with Primal Scream's Screamadelica, and Youth got a breakthrough gig engineering and co-producing Coldcut and Yazz's smash dance-pop single “The Only Way is Up”. This was facilitated through Jazz Summers and the Big Life label / management company, and its success spurred Summers on to get Youth untold production gigs. From underground dance tracks to big pop tracks – Zoë's “Sunshine on a Rainy Day” and Blue Pearl's “Naked in the Rain” were key chart hits – to indie bands, he put in the hours, and Youth the producer very quickly became at least as big as anything else in his history.
From there on in, it's been all about constant accumulation of work and reputation. In 1994, Glover not only rejoined Killing Joke but signed them to his Butterfly label. Remixes for the likes of Faith No More, and Björk's band The Sugarcubes, cemented him as someone for whom the boundary between rock and electronic music meant nothing. Throughout the nineties his Dragonfly imprint would define the sounds of Goa trance, and became a lynchpin for an international movement with outposts from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. In the late nineties, his working relationship with Paul McCartney began, fired by his ability to remind McCartney of his love of experimental studio techniques. A connection to Pink Floyd grew naturally through his old schoolfriend Guy Pratt, who'd joined the band in the late eighties. Youth became, very simply, one of the biggest producers in the world.
You'd expect someone at this stage of their career to be resting on their laurels: after all Glover was anointed as an elder statesman when he was awarded the PPL Outstanding Contribution to Music Award by the Music Producers Guild at the start of 2016. But somehow he seems to retain the work ethic that has seen him able to build these successes while juggling multiple roles, styles, record labels and approaches. As the new documentary DVD portrait of his life and activities, Sketch, Drugs & Rock'n'Roll, shows, Youth always has something on the go. Still in South London, just a short way from where he and Paterson first cooked up their weirdest ambient soundscapes, he's working away on new approaches to immersive sounds – pure-tone generation, gong vibrations, surround sound ambient experiences – which are leading to successful live events in London, and soon to expand into Puretone Resonate, an ambient arts festival with The Orb and Jah Wobble headlining, at Space Mountain his famed studio complex in Granada on 16th-18th September 2016.
As well as all these musical activities, he writes and paints constantly – indeed, he makes clear that “I don't really see a distinction between the different things: I make art while I listen to music, and I think up music or poetry when I'm looking at art, they all feed into each other” – with an art show opening in June, and his recent Anarchist Colouring Book a cult classic. In the studio he works with his oldest friends and the newest talents. He remains a jobbing producer, and is constantly on the lookout for young studio talent, dedicating himself to training up the next generation of studio engineers and inventors. He's been there, seen it and done it, yes: but the most important thing about Youth is that he is still doing it, with the same appetite for music and all that surrounds it as he ever had.