Sauna Youth; new youth
Sauna Youth are a wild and conflicting bunch, a gang of feral children exploring the jungle of their mad minds. Like Dr Livingstone tracking the source of the Nile, or Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon, or indeed imagine the boys sailing with the wind in their backs, landing on the Arabian Coast before trekking the Silk Route to see the Great Khan at the seat of his Empire in Karakorum. All this in the search of adventure, knowledge, riches. In one way or another it has been man’s destiny manifest to reach the furthest extremes of our knowledge, to play with the known facts and to unsettle the status quo. Of course such connection with these great men of history is merely facetious, a poetic ploy to put you in the mind-set of explorers unearthing long-lost gems. I want to get you back in the jungle, revealing the sticky folds and prodding the nerve-endings to release the gloopy insects and syrupy animals within. I think it comes having recently read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and the resulting visceral reaction I had to it, with all manner of things appearing like tentacles or Planarian worms, as if everything is coming alive around me. Rather interestingly though, Swamp Thing is a rather on-topic read when writing about Sauna Youth, the point at which both Sauna and Youth meet becomingly a likely sweltering breeding ground for new life, in simulacrum to Swamp Thing’s bayou home. Where mutant-like Planarian worms sexually reproduce through sperm and egg so too does human flesh seek young worms within soggy layers of man-made fibre for further advancement of the species. And so the Sauna Youth finds experimentation within this humid biome.
Referring more literally to the band and their music itself however and we see a developed multi-organism with distinct processes seeking out nourishment from various sources. Even on their earliest demo brash and caustic punk rock finds itself rubbing up against distinct psychic atmospheres. Take Mild Horses (which would later feature on Planet Sounds in a revised version) and you find tripped out hypnagogic phrases lumped in with the furious beats that make up the verses. Yet this is only the creeping vine of experimentalism, the mould that grows within the Petri dish. More is to come. Throughout this early demo we are subjected to that same monotonous beat often heard most in The Ramones or The Undertones, that same 1/8th note pattern on the hi-hat, the same driving snare drum on every other quarter note with the BOOM BOOM of the bass drum emphasising the notes preceding it. It is this driving influence that has a similar effect to the motorik beat of Krautrock, it lends itself well to Sauna Youth’s vital aggression as it occasionally slips in and out of more psychedelic movements. However let us move on to more recent work where the attempts to weld such styles together work so much more effectively.
Sauna Youth – Mild Horses (Demo)
Youth, their first 7″, listlessly bobbles between thrashing guitars and moments of bizarre transcendental backing vocals. This is of course suppose to be the doo-wop female backing vocals spoken of in their Collective Zine interview, but instead comes off as either an angelic choir reaching out towards God, or the psychedelic screechings of Jefferson Airplane, regularly the two manage to entwine fantastically. Just check out E2 Bang Bang for a perfect example of what I mean. Most tellingly Sauna Youth set themselves apart by employing moments of ambient noise as breathing space, lifting the songs apart for a brief few seconds before another two minutes of noise rumbles through. If each song tells it’s own epigrammatic tale then these moments allow the full appreciation of the narrative, or of understanding the word-play hidden within the growling depths of such tracks as Weird Friction (a sort of polemic on Nationalism and youth) or Des Animaux (understanding the importance of vitality in youth).
Sauna Youth – E2 Bang Bang
Back in August of 2010 Sauna Youth released what is in my mind the best of their work so far, the EP Mad Mind. Featured among these 4 tracks is an interesting collection of sounds, both warped and furious, that seems to harmonise the marriage between the two alternative paths they have trodden, that of punk rock and psychedelia. Negative Obsessions is a 3:22 blast of driving, acerbic punk, as lead singer Rich Pheonix pours over inward forces hindering or steering oneself in ways that will inevitably lead to harm. Negative Obsessions is truly a peak of their talent, the apex of their short band narrative, reaching that great congruity between melody and attack. Whilst on track two My Gold’s Bangla reaches back to Youth and the hypnotic effect of harmonised backing singing which juxtaposes against the great walls of guitar noise and pounding floor tom to maximum impact. This leaves only one track left on side one, the brilliantly titled Mild Mild Horses. Lyrically it borrows from the previously released Mild Horses, however here the music is transplanted into an ambient synth noise in repetition, emphasised elegantly with pockets of backing singing cut-up and implanted succinctly. This is also where Rich Pheonix’s loud and bellowing voice seems to find itself shaded in a beautiful light. Even though they mix this clamorous voice with subtle synths it never appears awkward or heavy-handed, its sits just right, perhaps leaning on the previous two tracks for support. At the end of side-one it comes across as a skilful piece of manoeuvring allowing the tape to flow from abrasive to meditative in one smooth motion.
Sauna Youth – Mild Mild Horses
Addressing side-two on the tape however and I must bring in an earlier example from the original demo to flesh out this most intriguing side of the band. On the original demo Sauna Youth collaborated with Cold Puma‘s Patrick Fisher to create a bizarre Alan Bennett meets awkward-modern-humour tale of swimming pool woe, all wonderfully accented by a ten minute ambient synth work that seems to loll like the gentle splashes in this swimming costume drama. Of course the boys in the band cry “why wouldn’t you want to put a good story on there?”, and indeed why not. It seems fitting for a band who dabble in the chlorine-filled sloshing waters of the experimental, whether it be within punk rock or other, to trace the thin line between story-telling and song-writing and remark coolly that there’s nothing odd about that. Well there isn’t at all, why should there be? If you read the literature and find enjoyment in the understanding of songs, or indeed whether you even listen to the lyrics at all and find more enjoyment in the understanding of the actual music, then you are complying to the basics of narrative, whether condensed or elongated.
Back to Mad Mind then, and we get an even more absurd tale, this time centred around the little known affliction called Satyriasis. Written by Jen Calleja with Jonny Hill creating the sound, List of Power Stations is a story told in ejaculation, from masturbatory beginnings to the fluid, spewing ending that sticks like hard matter to your mind. The story involves a professor who has quite a large degree of hypersexuality, causing him to need to masturbate at moments when his mind isn’t clouded by other distractions. The result is an unbearable list of hide-aways, closets, locked-doors and other fleeting moments of escape, and similarly to Swimming involves a heavy use of ambient music to provide the backing. As a b-side to the brilliant Mad Mind it adds that story-telling element of which Sauna Youth naturally seek out and reify in spurts of two minute punk.
Sauna Youth – List of Power Stations
The whole entwined glory of Sauna Youth is the complete and undeniable song-writing that manages to encapsulate histories and ideas and experimentalism into the two tape releases, the single 7″ release and the early demo. Tracks like Negative Obsession, Mild Horses, Teenage Summer, Weird Friction et al have a very visceral energy to them, as if immersed in limited bursts of narrative. All of which give a vital energy to them, of new life born out of dying elements of the past – the drum beat, the riff, the DIY attitude – and of experimentalism breathed into to rigid genre definitions.