Steve Young, a founding member of influential acid-house trendsetters M/A/R/R/S and electro-pop group Colourbox, has died. Record label 4AD, which put out recordings by both groups, confirmed the news. “One of the label’s true pioneers, Steven leaves behind an incredible legacy and will forever be in our hearts,” the announcement reads. “Our thoughts go to his brother Martyn, their family and his friends.” The label did not specify a cause of death or his age.
Young co-founded Colourbox in London with his brother and vocalist Lorita Grahame in 1982, and they issued their debut singles, “Say You” and “Punch,” in 1984. The former song blended soul, reggae and electro-dub sensibilities, while the latter was a more mainstream pop song. They put out an eponymous EP in 1985, which found them blending hip-hop, scratch and reggae and dub, but it was met with a critical reception. A follow-up LP, also named Colourbox, received more praise, thanks in part to its punchy Supremes cover and metal-guitar-centric “Manic.” The record made it to Number 67 on the British chart.
Young also participated in 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell’s ethereal This Mortal Coil project, a fluid supergroup of sorts that featured some of the label’s most acclaimed artists – including members of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, among others – putting dreamy spins on other artists’ songs and a few originals. Steven played piano on the project’s rendition of Big Star’s “Holocaust” and the original “A Single Wish” on its debut It’ll End in Tears. He’d also go on to play on the follow-up Filigree & Shadow.
A couple of years later, Steven and Martyn would make their biggest impact on pop culture by becoming the “S” and “M” in one-hit wonders M/A/R/R/S, the influential electro-funk group that also featured A.R. Kane’s Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala and mixers CJ Mackintosh and DJ Dave Dorrell. Their sole single, 1987’s upbeat, scratch-heavy “Pump Up the Volume” – a collage of samples of tracks by James Brown, Kool & the Gang, Public Enemy and Trouble Funk, among others – became a worldwide hit. It spent 18 weeks on the U.K. charts and reached Number One there, while it made it to Number 13 in the U.S. in a version without some of the samples on its U.K. counterpart. The Young brothers shared writing credits on both “Pump Up the Volume” and its flipside, the noisier, guitar-laden “Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance).”
“We knew what we didn’t want to end up with but we didn’t know what we would end up with,” Martyn told Spin of “Pump Up the Volume” in 1988. “We didn’t want it to end up sounding polished; we wanted it to sound … primitive.”
The song would later be nominated for the Best Pop Instrumental Performance Grammy award and feature on the soundtracks to Bright Lights, Big City and American Psycho. Despite the success, though, the group broke up citing “disputes over money” and creative differences, according to the book 99 Red Balloons: And 100 All-Time One-Hit Wonders.
In the years that followed the success of “Pump Up the Volume,” Steven would become less active in music, making appearances on releases by Moose and Kid Congo Powers.