Monday, March 19, 2007


Don’t talk to me about simple things, there’s no such thing. All a man can build is his vision, and I love my man for trying

The Constantines: Shine a light.

The general line on the Young Gods is that they’re “Futuristic”, X number of years ahead of everybody else in the world of Rock (if indeed they belong in this or any other world), and this has been the take on them since 1987 when their self-titled debut LP was made Album of the Year by Melody Maker. In fact it’s probably only with the most recent release “Second nature” and the upcoming “Super Ready Fragmante” (about which more later) that they have finally pushed out ahead of us and begun to exist in a dimension that might rightly be called the future.



Getting out there, beyond us, in order to report back has been a twenty year odyssey, a massive, visionary undertaking. As a first step The Young God’s went as far back as it’s possible to go, back to prehistory, in order to strip rock down, purge it of its impurities and forge it again, burning off the rust, liquefying it, reducing it to its essence, tampering with its DNA. With their first two singles “Envoye” and “Pas Mal/L'amourir” ( Treichler’s binding of love and death into a single term) the rock trappings, even though deeply distorted, were still undeniably there, lighting fast, scimitar sharp samples, more like sudden arcs of electricity ripping through the tracks than anything resembling a conventional riff, Stooges and Hendrix sample pulled inside out, collapsing in on themselves and irradiating the ferocious forward momentum of the martial drumming.

The album itself, by taking a further step back, was a move forward and, with perhaps the exception of the track “Jimmy” ( whose chorus is tellingly, “Jimmy’s still hammering!”), the last traces of Metal had been scoured away. The whole album was enacted on a distant, twilight shore, waves crashing against the cliffs, the moon heavy in the sky, the elements in turmoil, the earth itself still cooling and forming. It was glacial, volcanic, a kind of rugged, shale and basalt psychedelia, Treichler’s mind blown on the emptiness and immensity of the New World, hymning the sun and moon, communing with his fellow creatures ( “A Ciel Ouvert” “Nous de la lune” “Fais le Mouette”). The overlap between the Young God’s vision of a new, unexplored world and the sets of possibilities, the great unpopulated vistas opened up by the sampler itself (their only instrument aside from the drums) is evident. The technology was the precondition for the full expression of the imagination, a previously undreamt of synthesis of man and nature through the medium of the machine could be glimpsed. If the Young Gods were exultant it was because their/our moment of apotheosis was drawing near.

Perversely the Young Gods were lumped in with the industrialists of the time, yet that first album, in all it glowering, granite glory couldn’t be further from the abjectionist, hyper-charged R and B of Harley Davidson riding, cartoon Alienation Peddlers such as post- “Land of Rape and Honey” Ministry, NIN et al who largely used the technology to beef up Tradrock. The Young Gods were arty Europeans who played sampler led music with rockish dynamics. They didn’t really fit into the industrial/new beat dance bracket (post DAF flirting-with-Fascism stuff: Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Nitzer Ebb) but weren’t part of the Wax Trax white trash axis either. And therein lay the root of the problem that exists to this day. Just where do the Young Gods stand in relation to any other music/ genres?


The answer is resolutely outside or beyond them. Certainly not with the industrial rock that was around at the time and only tangentially with an earlier wave of metal bangers ( Neubauten, SPK). Where, for example, SWANS set out to replay the master-slave relationship (as a form of critique, no doubt) in the most hypertrophied manner imaginable, the Young Gods were never punishing or gruelling, never about endurance or machismo. Mystical, hippy tree-huggers to a man, wont to daub themselves in loam, Slit’s style (earth fathers?) they expressed a pre-industrial, even pre-social joyfulness, a fullness, a plenitude of being. Their genius of course was not to think that this would best be expressed by rootsy guitar strumming and a bongo, quite the reverse, that it was only through the sampler that a radical reordering of things was made possible. The “God” trope may have done it too, of course, it has, after all, figured large in industrial/rock, but crucially the difference between “the Young Gods” as opposed to say, Gira’s “Young God” records, is not just in the pantheistic pluralizing, but in where the stress falls. Young God is swaggering, super potent, worshipped and feared, every unsure adolescent male’s default rock fantasy, “The Young Gods” carries a different emphasis, is a different assertion of selfhood, the emphasis is on the “young”, the tenderness of it, the power still in its emergent phase, still flushed with the thrill of discovery, all expectation, what more might we become? If these were gods, they were gods who frolicked in the first dawn, not Sadean emperors presiding over debauches in a ruined kingdom. Where Industrial sought liberation through fatal strategies of consumption, derangement and submission the Young Gods were a distinctly Utopian proposition and if Triechler’s voice was deep, guttural, rasping, “commanding” (attributes which have slowly been eschewed) this was less drill sergeant’s bark than a consequence of the power of whatever almost uncontrollable force came surging through him. That line of Rilke’s “I am a string stretched tightly over wide, raging resonances” seems to capture Triechler’s relationship to the music best. What the Young Gods said simply, better still what they showed, was that it hadn’t all been done. There were still possibilities in becoming, a future man was waiting to be realised and they were plotting their trajectory toward him.

The Young Gods had lost none of their exploratory elementalism when they next touched down with an album even more extraordinary than the first. From the pre-modern world of ice and rock their next album, and largely ignored absolute masterpiece “L’eu Rouge” ( The Red Water), not only created but then took the listener on a careering journey through some Baudelarian Fin de Siecle European city of the imagination, built up from samples of classical music, metal guitars, barrel organs and a cathedral’s worth of musique concrete. Again though, despite the opportunity for Grand Guignol, or showy Decadence the album never feels anything other than celebratory, immensely life affirming, overflowing with energy, ending with “Les Enfants” a triumphant military parade through the streets, seemingly heralding another new dawn. After the prodigious leap from prehistory to the late Nineteenth century Treichler and co began to take smaller steps. Their next album was a brilliant reworking of songs by Kurt Weil, including an extraordinary version of “Mackie Messer” and, for me at least, the definitive version of “Alabahma Song” a great charabanc clanking its way across the dustbowl as the clouds gather overhead, Treichler howling his insatiable appetites out into the teeth of the storm.

“TV Sky”, the next release, was the God's first and so far only direct engagement with Metal, Treichler shifting over to singing in English and following the progress of whatever Geist they had in their sites, to the new world of post war America, the age of affluence. In some ways it’s their least rewarding album. Though it does contain moments of extraordinary power it’s marred by the inclusion of the over-literal Steppenwolfisms of “Gasoline Man” and anthemic Goth singalong number “Skinflowers”, their two biggest “hits” to date. “TV Sky” was their most conventional gesture toward American Industrial and its peculiarly simple minded take on Cyber-punk (even the title is reminiscent of Nueromancer’s famous opening line “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel….") and certainly the singles were nowhere near as bold and condensed as the phenomenal “ Night Dance”, the beautiful proto-ambient “ She rains” or the epic, Doors-alike title track

1996’s “Only Heaven” by contrast emerged into the world of flows, weightless economies, demateraliazation, the sound taking a much closer step toward Ambient, but still loosing none of its cathartic force. Intriugingly it was only here that the Young Gods began to reference the future at all. “Someday we’ll be on our way, say goodbye to yesterday,” Franz sang on the magnificently titled “ Kissing the Sun” (not so much anti-Oedipus as anti-Icarus, these boys (“someday we’ll be in the light/swimming in the open skies”)). By now the sounds had become as unsourceable as they were on the first LP, when it rocked there were blasts of multicoloured light, sheets and washes of fizzing and humming power, a white-water ride through great eddies and cataracts of uninflected sound, but increasingly the music was becoming more mantric and meditative too, a kind of cosmic drift shot through with gaseous billows and the twinkling of distant constellations. Treichler actually sang here, purred at times, whispered, there was a lulling, inacantatory quality. Where the covers of previous work had seen the Young Gods primitivist logo scoured onto a variety of surfaces, ice, rock, metal, with “Only Heaven” the three stick figures simply floated in a great, white void.

By the time “Second Nature” arrived they had disappeared altogether. “Second Nature” was preceded by an album of radical minimal techno remixes “Heaven deconstruction” and found the band at last where they had always aimed to be , though it had, perforce, taken a mighty detour for them to get there, to the future they had always craved, the momentum they had created by swinging so far back finally allowing them to break through. The cover of “Second Nature” was a roiling, vegetative miasma, nature seen up closer than human eyes can manage, the sound itself a virtually indescribable hybrid of textures, at once brittle and permeable, more like a series of swarming, multi-coloured fragments solidifying into planes and then scattering, kaleidoscopic, multi cellular, oddly organic. “Astronomic” throbbed and scintillated as it pulled glowing shards of anti-matter and slivers of space rock into its super dense, black heart, Treichler promising over and over “ I’ve got a present for you….the future, the future…” The ferocious single “Lucidogen” (an imaginary drug that would render the user hyper-alert, super-connected, post-human) cried out “ Calling all the animals, help me wash my eyes, the future is in sight.” But they were already there. If their work bore a resemblance to anything within music it was Trance and Techno, the presiding sentiments were joy, peace and exhilaration. There was no posturing, no bad boy-ism (there never has been) no anger, no sneering, no transgression, no sex or violence, yet it was undeniably rock. Perhaps the Young Gods were simply the ultimate Prog band, the most successful attempt to elevate rock from its roots in low Dionysian revelry, to civilize it, to Westernise it. In fact, if there is such a thing as an apollonian frenzy or Dionysian serenity then the Young Gods have it. They don’t tread a cautious middle ground, they seek instead to synthesise the unsynthesisable. Seeing no conflict between a love of nature and a love of technology, that man can be reconciled to and shaped by both in an endless, joyful dialogue “Second nature” seemed beamed back from some post-human future dreamed of by Stelarc or Houellbeque .

And with “Super ready: Fragmante” they’ve gone even further forward. It’s a tremendous work, expanding even on “Second Nature” and where there were fears that their momentum couldn’t be sustained it’s probably their best work yet, a kind of hyper-amalgam of all that’s preceded it. There’s so much going on at any given time that its impossible to unpick the sheer immensity and multi-textured complexity of the sound. Noises burst, rotate, race past each other in opposite directions, throb, fade, shatter . Stand out tracks at this stage are “Cest quoi cest ca” in which great slabs of rusting iron are repeatedly dropped into the middle of track and ground up by the drums, “El magnifico” with its super-attenuated, backwards, forked-lighting guitar solo, the title track, a magnificently controlled nine minute building and release of tension. (There is no melancholy in the Young Gods, no sense of exhaustion, possibly because the momemt of climax is so often deferred, energy is hoarded in order to prolong the bliss, to be kept just always at the point of rapture without hitting the downward slope). By “The Colour Code” Treichler’s so blissed-out himself he can only manage to gasp a dubbed out, transported “every, every, every” as the track lifts him and carries him along in its silvered slipstream.

And bear in mind I’m listening to this on a computer.


The cover of “Envoye” the first single, back in 1986, was a photo of Treichler’s torso (no men without chests here!) with the band's name carved rather messily into it. Long before Ritchie tried to convince postmodernism he was 4 Real and simply couldn’t, no matter how much he hacked up his wrists, Franz Treichler was passionately inscribing his absolute commitment to his own vision in his flesh. It’s a commitment that has never waned. To say that they’re simply the most important band in the world trivializes them. The Young Gods are an event.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely stunning, an epic document...By no means flawless but I could hardly fault such a labour of love...And I would not contest a single word regarding The Young Gods transcendental ouvre...

Biggie Samuels said...

Your best post ever, Carl. Made me feel quite humble, which is appropriate because what has always stopped the Young Gods from turning into a ludicrous cock-prog act is the fact that their forceful delivery expresses a sincere, humble sense of being overwhelmed by the massiveness of the universe and all it contains, not some lame crypto-survivalist will-to-power. Good work.

Anonymous said...

thanks Sam and Anon! actually now i'm not torturing myself with "other works" anymore i've decided to try and write a few longer things on records i like..

GTTRBRKZ said...

Yes, very good post. Must admit i lost interest in t'Gods after TV Sky (def some magic lost when singing in english) but they were a massive part of my life before that. L'eau Rouge def a stone cold classic.

Luciano said...

Carl, I daren't say anything about The Young Gods... you've done it all. But The way you did it... well, that's state-of-the-art in writing about music!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Thank you.

Loki said...

excellent stuff... i've been ranting about these guys for ages to anyone who'll listen (i.e. no one)... still hope they play their version of Did You Miss Me from huge multi-story windpowered speakers when Gary Glitter returns...

mark said...

Yes, superb post.

The Young Gods/ Swans connection, though, is Roli Mosimann... he was in Swans before producing most of the Young Gods' LPs (I think). I remember buying Envoye because it was produced by Mosimann (this was before any of the MM frothing over the Gods, or at least before I'd read any of it). I agree that they are always better when Franz sings in French.

mark k-p

valter said...

A beautiful post. The Young Gods were The Doors of the Doom Generation.

Anonymous said...

Just randomly reading through your archives, Carl. This post is brilliant! Ripsnorter!