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The Leftfield interview

Leftfield have a chat ahead of their UK tour

Leftfield’s impact on dance music can only be described as seismic, applying to anything from demolishing musical barriers to the plaster-stripping effect they had on the ceiling of Brixton Academy in 1996, resulting on the sound system itself being banned.

Leftfield trailblazed their unique sound in the early ‘90s and took John Lydon back to the top of the charts.  The band whose debut album ‘Leftism’ became a modern classic, was also voted one of the greatest albums of all time by Q magazine. A band whose follow-up album ‘Rhythm & Stealth’ went to number 1, spawned the techno anthem ‘Phat Planet’, and that Guinness advert with the horses.

Revealed as the loudest band EVER to play Brixton Academy, Leftfield’s show made such a seismic impact that it remains the benchmark for live electronic music to this day. Leftfield can take recognition for inspiring some of the world’s biggest dance acts, including The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Underworld, and also Sasha, who acclaims Leftfield as “writing the commandments on electronic music”. Now Leftfield are back…

After a series of stunning headline performances at some of this year’s hottest festivals including Rockness, L.E.D and Creamfields, Neil Barnes returns with a new live show that’s set to reverberate the length of the UK this autumn. Barnes will be joined by original vocalists Djum Djum, Earl 16 and Cheshire Cat for a tour that will demonstrate once again why Leftfield Live is one of the must-see live music experiences on the planet.

This has been a massive year for Leftfield, how have you found performing live now to when you toured a decade ago?

Neil Barnes: It’s just as much fun as it ever was before, obviously it’s different because I’m not doing it with Paul and he was an integral part of the band but it’s been going great and has been a great experience for me. I think the audience are now more used to live shows like this so you can do more and get away with more.

Have you brought out any tricks from your original tours to keep your energy levels high?

Neil Barnes: Experience! As soon as you’re up on stage, you get it all back, as soon as you’re there the adrenalin hits you and you forget about being tired and you power through because it’s so exciting. I’ve never had worries with tiredness, I’ve got a great group of people around me that are excited about doing the show and the energy of the show keeps us going. As long as everyone’s happy you don’t worry about energy levels.

Are there any plans confirmed yet for next year’s festivals?

Neil Barnes: Well we’re going to Australia in March to do the Future Music Festival which is a massive festival over there and we’re also going to do some of our own gigs which we’re looking forward to. There seems to be a lot of young people into electronic music so it’s exciting to take the show over there.

This is your first UK tour in over a decade, what can we expect from the show?

Neil Barnes: The shows will be similar to the festival ones but extended with a little bit more in there. It’s the same band and rendition of Leftfield songs and will hopefully take you on an experimental journey and make a real right racket!

You’re taking part in Liverpool Music Week, the UK’s biggest indoor festivals. Are you excited to be playing in Liverpool?

Neil Barnes: I can’t wait to play in Liverpool. I’ve always had a love for the city and found the audience to be very intelligent and understanding. I’ve always had good memories of the scene there from years ago, so yes I’m very excited.

Any plans to do some sightseeing whilst in the city?

Neil Barnes: Well I’m a massive Beatles fan, especially of their production and later work so I would like to visit the Beatles Museum as I’ve never been down there before. I’ve always admired their music and I think what they did changed the world. We’re still trying to catch up with them if you ask me! 

Can we expect some new music from Leftfield to be released in the future?

Neil Barnes: No not at the moment my full concentration has been on taking Leftfield’s tracks on tour and performing them well.

You performed at Brixton Academy in 1996, and famously broke the venue's decibel level record, as well as causing the ceiling to disintegrate with the bass frequency. Do you have any plans to improve on that record when you play there in December?!

Neil Barnes: No no no no no, I can’t improve on that. I can honestly say that we will never improve on that again. We will be loud but we can’t get to that level again, it was illegal then and we got away with it but now people know our reputation they’re watching us as we speak to make sure we keep within the levels. Whereas other bands no one turns up, for us people will turn up! It will be really pumping but there’s no way we will be doing that. I don’t want to bring the plaster down anyway it’s a beautiful building!

That’s a great quote, ‘I don’t want to damage the building any more’

Neil Barnes: You can quote me on it! I don’t want to damage there or any of the other great building we’re playing in but don’t worry it’s going to be loud, in fact the system that we’ve got now has the capability to be a lot louder than what we had in 96, if we did lose the plot we could bring the building down, it would be like the final scene in Carrie when she finally brings the whole school down from within.

Are there any venues/cities you are particularly looking forward to playing?

Neil Barnes: I’m looking forward to all of them but its going to be great to get back to Barrowlands because I love Glasgow. I’m also really excited about Plymouth, Leeds, all of them. They’re all equal to each other though, they’re all going to get 100% from us and I just want to go out there and give them a really good show.

On the tour you will be joined by original leftfield vocalists Djum Djum, Earl 16 and Cheshire Cat, how has it been back on tour with the original crew?

Neil Barnes: It’s been lovely, they’re a great bunch of people. Djum Djum, Earl 16 and Cheshire Cat are very genuine hardworking people, they’re great and the shows much better for having them on it. We’ve also got a new vocalist Jess Mills who I think you will be hearing a lot from in the next couple of years with her own solo stuff, she’s brilliant. It’s great to have the mixture of the old crew and new people, that’s what makes it exciting.

Earlier this year, Sasha said that your album Leftism “wrote the commandments on what an electronic music album should be”, when you began creating your music did you have any idea that it would get the reaction and the accolades that it has?

Neil Barnes: Wow! Well the big answer to that is no, we definitely never expected the response to the albums that we received and to respond to Sasha, in my eyes Sasha is a DJ that has always kept a considerably high standard, he’s always been an absolutely brilliant DJ and even though it can be easy for a DJ to get lazy Sasha has never done that and it’s nice for him to say what he did about Leftism.

Why do you feel your albums received such amazing feedback?

Neil Barnes: We were real perfectionists when we made our albums and we worked ridiculously hard and spent far too long on them which I think helped. As far as them being timeless and all the relevance that they still seem to hold, I don’t know what the explanation is for that, maybe we just got it right. We just made a record that we would want to listen to and we were very hard on ourselves and wouldn’t let anything out that we weren’t 100% happy with.  It was exhausting but also very satisfying. It’s very difficult to describe how to make records but our interests were so very wide we were always looking for the next thing and we never sat back and wallowed in anything and maybe when you put that together it works. It was also an exciting time for electronic music; I think it’s hard these days to do that because so much has now been accomplished.

What do you think it is about your music that makes it sound fresh even in 2010?

Neil Barnes: Well we spent quite a lot of time making the tracks relevant and bringing them up to date on the drum side which has appealed to a younger audience. I think our determination in to making something exciting and new can still be heard in our music and that has rubbed off on the listeners. Having a young crowd is one of the reasons I decided to do this again, I would get people coming up to me much younger than I am who had just got into the two albums and I could feel that they were into it and it was still relevant. It’s great having that young audience out there and I can tell that some songs may not be recognisable to them but they will still follow it on stage, that’s great to see.

How do you think dance music has changed over the last decade?

Neil Barnes: It’s become very familiar. When we brought out our albums it was very new, we were coming out from an indie/Blur/Oasis time and we were real alternatives to that. Now there’s quite a merge between dance music and rock which is really exciting but as a result it’s no longer a new thing it’s an established thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just times change. Someone will come along though, and make a completely new type of music, there are already people such as Soulwax who are expanding dance music and bringing out new variations of dance music.

What did you originally set out to achieve when you began making music?

Neil Barnes: When we made our first album we just wanted to make cutting edge music, we weren’t interested in being popstars or being on the front of a magazine -  although that happened, we didn’t plan for it. We always wanted to be in the background and just make real exciting music.

And finally, have you ever been tempted to discover if the theoretical infrasonic frequency referred to as the ‘brown note’ actually exists?

Neil Barnes: Yes I’ve heard of the brown note but I’m still looking!

Leftfield’s UK tour will see the band perform in Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Bristol before culminating in a homecoming show at London’s O2 Academy Brixton.

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4th November 2010
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The Leftfield interview
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