Contrary to some beliefs, modern noise isn’t exclusively inhabited by rehashed S&M imagery and failed machismo – there are a few people out there making inventive, brazen sounds that resist easy categorization. Luke Younger is one of them, and he uses the guise of Helm to do it, crafting long-form narratives of desolation, intrigue, static hiss and unrelenting crunch with sound sources both obvious and highly classified. His records keep getting better and better, and while I have yet to hear his newest work, Olympic Mess (just released this month), I can’t wait to settle into it and stumble blindly through his exotic soundscapes all over again. Mr. Younger answered a few questions for me below, although to be honest I really should’ve pressed him about the obsessive Iceage fan-base a bit more…

You just finished a pretty long tour with Iceage. How did that go? I assume you were mostly playing to audiences who wanted to hear traditional rock songs, more or less…
It was amazing on many levels and I feel lucky that I got to experience that sort of tour playing the music that I do, as these kind of opportunities don’t really arise that often. It was a great to play to a completely different audience and blew apart any preconceptions I had of what it was going to be like. We did a whole month in the USA together, then two weeks in Europe and also four gigs in the UK last month. Out of all the different countries we went to, I have to say that the USA was more receptive and sympathetic to what I was doing. I would say on average you had about 40% of the crowd watching my set and taking it in, 30% watching it and fucking hating it and 30% non-plussed and talking to their mates. I would say that’s a pretty decent result for a support act, especially one like myself in a situation where you are opening for a band like Iceage who have quite an obsessive fan base and are there pretty much only to see them. At this point I think I have enough material about crazy Iceage fans that I could write a book, or at the very least a very substantial Tumblr.
I would say the best gigs for me were playing at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, a packed out Echo in Los Angeles and the gig in Denver where it sold out, the straight-edge hardcore band Civilised opened and had a massive PA. There were some midwestern towns where people came up to me and asked what the music I was playing is called because they had never heard anything like it before and wanted to hear more, which felt rewarding and made the daily nine-hour drives feel worth it somehow. A guy in Omaha also told me I was probably the first person to bring a modular synth into the city – whether that’s true I don’t know, but I’m happy to believe him nonetheless. In fact, the only gig which I thought had a bad reaction was the one which you were at in Philadelphia on the first night of the tour and an obnoxious prick in the front row heckled me about my shoes for five minutes until he got bored. The most difficult gig was on the recent UK tour in Manchester which is by far the most hostile reaction I have ever had to playing live music. Five minutes into the set people were shouting at me to “fuck off”, threatening physical violence and someone even punched the stage out of frustration. I was part shitting myself and part loving it, although I couldn’t leave the dressing room afterwards.

What would you say is more satisfying – when you get to blow someone’s mind who’s never heard ‘noise’ music before, or when someone with an established reputation in the field gushes over your work?
Both are nice for different reasons and I’m not sure I could put one above the other easily. It always feels good to be acknowledged by someone you respect but ultimately it’s good to receive positive feedback regardless of whoever the person is.

Your first releases nearly a decade ago were on CD-r. Do you miss that format as a viable thing that people would willingly buy when it came to underground experimental music? Or are you glad it’s mostly obsolete?
I have mixed feelings about CD-rs. I used to really enjoy seeing the effort that some people put into the packaging to make them feel quite personalized – you could tell there was an element of craft involved which elevated them above music into individual pieces of art. That seems to have been lost with the rise of digital and even the re-emergence of cassette and vinyl as common, almost mainstream, formats to an extent. That said, I definitely do not miss acquiring countless of these things and coming home from my travels with a bag full of shit harsh-noise and drone CD-rs by people with names like Rectal Massacre, Dog Waster, Levitating Rainbow, Goat Smoker, etc… I still have a box full of this crap at my parents’ house which I need to deal with at some point.

How faithful are your live performances to your recordings? Do they exist in two separate worlds, or is there a lot of overlap?
They are separate in the sense that the way I make music at home or in the studio is completely different to how I perform it live, ie: I use equipment to play live which I don’t use in the studio for creative purposes and vice versa. This made playing live quite difficult at first because my live sets didn’t really represent the records much, but the more I started to play gigs things gelled together and the two processes started to inform each other and became part of a bigger picture. Now I’m very keen for the live set to represent the records and see playing live as a way to present them in a different light. I think it’s nice that if people come and see me play then they can hear things that are recognisable from the records, but performed with subtle differences – maybe mixed differently and have different pieces interwoven with each other so they end up being a out of their regular sequence. I guess in a nutshell, I’m trying to abstract the recordings somewhat whilst still trying to present something that feels cohesive as a whole. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it’s all part of the ‘experiment’ for want of a better word.

Your new album, Olympic Mess – was that influenced by your live performances?
A good chunk of it was, and a few of the tracks I had been playing in my live sets for a while before I recorded them, but overall I would say that the record was more informed by the experience of being on tour as a whole and traveling – the fleeting conversations you have with random people you’ll probably never see again, visiting cities but never actually feeling like you were ever there once you leave, the monotony of traveling, etc… It’s funny how much of an unnatural way to live it is, yet a lot of musicians and artists do it without question and some even crave it. It’s funny how people on the outside seem to always think that touring is some glamorous and decadent thing. Of course there are some moments of needless excess, but generally if most people knew how mundane it was they’d probably be quite disappointed, ha.

How does the effect of long periods of touring play into your recordings? Are you actively recording bits and pieces while on the road, or just getting ideas? Or is it merely a mundane album with moments of needless excess???
When I’m touring and playing live on a regular basis I’m usually quite out of the mindset I need to be in to record so I don’t really think about it too much. If I’m playing pieces that haven’t been recorded yet, then I’ll sometimes think of ways I can develop them further and then how I ultimately want them to sound when they’re finally put down. Usually if I’m traveling to play a one off gig then there’s more chance of me bringing a digital recorder and recording some bits and pieces before the gig, but usually it’s nothing more than some tinkering around in my hotel room or whatever I can find in or around the venue that sparks my attention.
With this new album, It was recorded in pretty intensive bursts during and in-between tours which was good for giving long periods of reflection on the material afterwards. A few days were spent at Heaven Street in NYC with Sean Ragon before a US tour in May last year, then I did a couple of sessions with John Hannon from Liberez at his place in Essex before and after the Iceage tours. It was nice working with both of them as they have different approaches and techniques but equally get and understand what I’m doing to a degree so they chipped in with some good ideas. Both of them were also working on their own records at the time too so it was interesting to see some of that reflected back at me.

Do you think you’ve found a permanent home with PAN, for your records? Or is that just the label you’re working with for the time being?
Yeah, Bill is a good friend who I’ve known for years, easy to work with and I like his label so it makes sense. He’s very supportive and puts a lot of work into the releases so I’m happy to keep working with him!

Am I wrong, or does Bill / PAN handle all the artwork in-house? Is that something you don’t mind, having someone else handle the art for your records?
Yes, Bill handles most of the artwork. For Olympic Mess we worked with a Danish photographer named Kim Thue who we have known for quite a while. Kim published a book of his own photography from time spent in Sierra Leone a few years ago and also shot and directed the last Iceage video for “Against The Moon”, so it ended up being a nice three-way collaboration. I always have input into what I want the records to look like and I trust Bill’s taste so am perfectly happy for him to direct things.

I see you’ve just done a remix for Blood Music. Have you done a lot of remixing? Do you have any sort of standard approach to that, or is it more that you just take bits and pieces of the original track and play around with them?
I’ve done three so far. The first was for Lust For Youth and the most recent a techno act from Belgium called Orphan Swords. I really enjoy doing it as it’s a great retreat from working on your own stuff. I don’t really have an approach for working on other peoples material, which I think helps as you can be a bit more “reckless” with the process. All three acts I’ve remixed so far have been quite different as well so I’ve had to approach them in slightly different ways. For the Blood Music remix I hadn’t even heard the original tracks as I don’t think they’d even finished editing it properly at that point. So Simon from the band just sent me a bunch of stems which I chopped up, looped, processed etc… Built a basic structure and then mixed it with Sean in Heaven Street after fucking around with some bits and pieces on his MS20. Definitely doesn’t sound like either a Helm track or a Blood Music track, but has elements of both which I really like!

How long do you see Helm lasting? It’s just yourself, so it could conceivably go on as long as you are alive. Is Helm ‘it’ for you, or something you can see yourself terminating eventually?
I don’t think I could ever put a time frame on it really. In some ways this has now become my life’s work and as long as I feel compelled to create music and work which I feel suits and makes sense in the bigger picture of the project, I will keep going. I mean I will probably do things outside of Helm too as I always have done, but at this point I can see myself making Helm records for as long as my body and mind are able to.

We’re halfway through 2015, and while it’s weird to even think about looking back, is there any record that came out this year thus far that you insist my readers seek out immediately?
I can’t necessarily think of one specifically and I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. For electronic stuff, I liked Anthony Naples’ debut LP a lot, Proto by Mumdance & Logos has been on quite heavy rotation, as has Mind Minatures by Aquarian Foundation. For noise / industrial, the Prurient and Ke/Hil LPs are killer and the Olymphia LP on Posh Isolation is ambitious but they pull it off. Chris Goudreau’s new stuff is unreleased but awesome. Dawn of Humans, NO LPs on La Vida Es Un Mus. Jenny Hval LP and Amen Dunes EP on Sacred Bones. Hour House LP coming out soon on Penultimate Press deserves a shout out too. Probably more…