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Leftfield: 'we weren't interested in being popstars'


United Kingdom United Kingdom | 08 July 2010

Leftfield have already booked themselves in the dusty history books of dance music. Producing just two albums in a five year period, the duo made up of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley, didn’t just bash out chart-friendly house and take their pay packet. No, instead they slaved over creating electronic masterpieces, twisting and turning the genre and dragging dub and rock into the mix.

Both ‘Leftism’ and ‘Rhythm And Sealth’ were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and now, some ten years on from their hiatus, Barnes is back with a full live band with Rock Ness already under his festival belt. Creamfields and the inaugural L.E.D. Festival are  next on the list, so what better time to find out what to expect this time around.

You are headlining the Saturday of the very first L.E.D festival, how does it feel?

Neil Barnes: “I’m really, really excited about doing L.E.D, it’s great playing in London obviously because it’s my home town and we don’t get much chance to do that plus it’s 10 years since the last time I played in London so I can’t wait!”

Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival and what about L.E.D will you be checking out Aphex Twin?
NB: “I always make sure to check out the other acts when I play at festivals, it’s one of the great things about being at a festival!

“The line up for L.E.D is really good, there’s a lot of people on the bill that I want to check out. I saw a bit of Aphex Twin at Rockness as I’ve been a fan of Richard’s forever really and it was such a fantastic show with the lasers going off everywhere and it was just really exciting.

“I’m also looking forward to Goldfrapp and Friendly Fires on the Saturday, I really like the way the acts have crossed over on the Saturday and the Friday’s also interesting with Soulwax and Calvin Harris.”


Can you tell us in five words what the show will be like at L.E.D?

NB: “An intense electronic music experience.”

Do you think a Southern crowd differs from a Northern one?

NB: “Not really, if you can get the right people to go to the festival then you can get just as good a crowd in the North as the South.

“I would say that from city to city crowds definitely differ, for example if you play in Paris you can’t expect the same crowd in Barcelona.”

What are you festival essentials?

NB: “Plenty of sleep before you go because you won’t be getting any when you get there!”

Sasha, recently 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?
NB: “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 absolute 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 that about ‘Leftism’.”

Why do you feel your albums received such amazing feedback?

NB: “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.”


How do you think dance music has changed since the release of ‘Rhythm And Stealth’?
NB: “It’s become very familiar. When we brought out our albums it was very new and 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 and that 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, but it’s just that times change.

“Someone will come along again though, and make a completely new type of music and there are already people such as 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?

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

Have you brought out any tricks from your original tours to keep your energy levels high for L.E.D?

NB: “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.”


Speaking of your band, you have some amazing artists performing on tour with you, what part do you feel they play in the show?
NB: “I’ve got some wicked people that I’m working with now that I’ve brought in and they’re great to work with and be around because they’re so enthusiastic and they push me and we push each other. Its just all about the music and I never quite know what’s going to happen when I get on stage as the band always do little things that are unexpected.”

Will there be any of the original performers from your last albums joining you? Is there a chance John Lydon will appear?
NB: “Well at the moment we’ve got original vocalists from the albums including DJUM DJUM, L16 and Cheshire Cat. As far as John goes he’s on tour himself so it’s hard to get hold of him but we will just have to wait and see.”

You had a very young crowd at RockNess as well as your original fans.  What do you think it is about your music that makes it sound fresh even in 2010?
NB: “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 the late to make 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 and that’s great to see.”

We’re already seven months into 2010, how has the year fared up for you so far? What has been your highlight? What are you looking forward to in the rest of the year?
NB: “It’s been a hard year, and I’ve put a lot of work in but it’s been a great year so far, and I’ve met some great people including my band.

“As far as the rest of the year’s concerned I’m really looking forward to my tour in the autumn and there’s a chance to go abroad again later in the year.

“This year’s already gone far beyond my expectations; I’m very pleasantly surprised that it’s going so well because I didn’t know how it was going to be perceived. I spent so much time on it because I didn’t know until we arrived on stage how people would take it and whether it would fall on its face! Luckily it’s going great.”

Listening to your two albums there are elements of drum n bass and dubstep in there, which would connect well with the dnb/dubstep scenes nowadays. Are you interested in exploring these genres more with your music?

NB: “Well there is definitely a dubstep element to the albums and it would be great to bring more dubstep elements into our tracks because we were always into that half time beat. It’s reggae basically and we were always influenced by that.”

Two of your tracks, ‘Phat Planet’ and ‘Release The Pressure’ were used in the early-00s for massive advertising campaigns for Guinness and the launch of O2 respectively. That must have had a huge impact on the people your music was reaching?
NB: “It is odd because even recently the BBC featured ‘Phat Planet’ during the coverage of one of their World Cup Games and I’ve had loads of people contacting me about that. Also ‘Africa Shocks’ seems to be getting a lot of airplay over this World Cup period so it’s amazing that it still has that relevance. It’s also exciting because I know that I can now take even more tracks from my albums and play them live and make them even more electronic.”

What do you love about the UK crowds?

NB: “The Leftfield audience has always been great and I have no worries that the UK crowd is going to be really excited.”

Leftfield will headline L.E.D. Festival 2010 on 28 August with support from Goldfrapp, Friendly Fires, Aphex Twin, Annie Mac and more while David Guetta, Soulwax and Calvin Harris are among the acts to perform on Friday 27 August.

Tickets are on sale now priced at £65 for a two-day pass or £37.50 for a day ticket.

Click here to buy LED Festival tickets.

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