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Loud and proud: Leftfield are back

90s electronic genuis Neil Barnes of Leftfield reintroduces the sound


Leftfield are loud.

Not just in a wind-up-the-neighbours way, but more like music with ceiling-crumbling results.

During their reign in the ’90s, the electronic duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley had their sound system banned from the Brixton Academy after it caused the roof to crack and sprinkle plaster over the crowd. Twice. The first time they played in Amsterdam, the Dutch police were close to arresting the soundman due to the sound system reaching illegal volumes. Months later in Belgium, 30 people were given refunds after complaining the sound level was too high.

Well, bring on the noise because Dubai is ready. At the outdoor Sandance festival this weekend, there is no ceiling.

“It’s going to be powerful,” said Barnes, now spilt from Daley and joined instead by a full electronic band.

“It’s going to be full live experience and will surprise a few people I’m sure.”

Barnes rose to fame in the ’90s with album Leftism which changed the lay of the land in terms of electronic music, shattering perceptions of British dance music and introducing dub and rock concepts in a more expansive format.

Leftfield’s first major career break came when Leftism was shortlisted for the 1995 Mercury Music Prize, losing out narrowly to Portishead’s Dummy.

Their second album, Rhythm and Stealth, maintained a similar style, and featured Roots Manuva, Afrika Bambaataa, and MC Cheshire Cat from Birmingham. In a déjà vu moment, this album too was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000 but lost out to Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast.

“All of that is great but I don’t live too much in the past,” said Barnes. The ’90s may be experiencing a bit of a revival but Barnes isn’t getting involved. “I’m not into all that revival stuff,” he said from a cold and rainy UK. “It’s better to live in the future. I like to move forward. In fact Dubai will be one of the last concerts I will play any of the older stuff. I’m going to call it a day and look to the future now. It’s been really fun playing it but that’s it now. Time to move on.”

Rhythm and Stealth is most likely the reason you’ve heard of Leftfield. It reached No1 in the UK album chart and featured the song Phat Planet which was the sound track for the more-than-famous 1999 Guinness advert, Surfer.

Going on a hiatus in 2000, and eventually going their separate ways two years later, Barnes announced Leftfield’s return in 2010 — minus Daley, who has decided to focus on his own projects — sparking rumours of a rift which he isn’t willing to talk about. “That’s just that,” he says.

“It’s not just going to sound like old Leftfield. It doesn’t sound like ‘progressive house,’ or anything like that,” he continues, changing the subject. “I’m in a different space now. It’s just my take on electronic music. I can’t really describe it,” said a proud Barnes of the ground-breaking electronic act’s first attempt at new material in 14 long years.

A decade and a half is a lifetime in electronic music but he is adamant the new sound will be recognisable without being predictable and influenced by current music trends.

“There’s no point going away for ten years and then coming back without something that doesn’t live up to my own standards,” he said. Leftfield’s music has been used in commercial after commercial from Volkswagen ads to computer games.

“I’ve stopped writing for specific things,” he said. “Apart for myself. Creatively it’s very hard because 99 per cent of the time they actually don’t know what they want. You can also find yourself working on a project which you haven’t even won yet and other people are also fighting for the job. That’s not cool. So I don’t bother with that anymore. It’s outgrown.”

Since Barnes relaunched Leftfield in 2010, he has been booked around the world.

As far as the future is concerned, Barnes is full of energy and enthusiasm: “A year from now, it’d be nice to see Leftfield back in there making current music. I plan to tour in the UK next year and want new things for us. The band is two keyboards — one being me — and drums and two vocalists. It’s going to be a great show.”