Leftism 22 by Leftfield (Sony Legacy UK)
Twenty-two years on and Leftfield‘s debut Leftism sounds just as revolutionary as it did during the burgeoning days of electronic dance music. Inspired by dub, reggae, house, sunrise chill music and more the duo of percussionists and producers/remixers Paul Daley and Neil Barnes released Leftism, a collection of reworked singles they’d created over the previous years as remixers and under different names. Some of the songs made it onto movies, such as Inspection (Check One) which was featured in a club scene in the movie Hackers. While the movie was a fantasy of its time, the song added a futuristic and dangerous vibe to the movie. Open Up was also in Hackers, featuring a certain John Lydon chanting and warbling joyfully over a driving rhythm and guitar jabs, creating a dancefloor and headphone favorite that still brings chills and thrills to this day.
Along with Mr. Lydon, Leftfield enlisted Toni Halliday of Curve to add her simmering voice to Original, a song that begins slowly on chugging drums and synth swirls, dragging you in to a slinky groover sure to mesmerize. Opening song Release The Pressure features the liquid vocals of reggae singer Earl Sexton, the music starts with light balearic winds and whistles, soothing you and inviting you into Barnes and Daley’s world, then segues into a bouncing beat and pumping bass, Sexton adding soul to the new sounds coming out of the speakers.
Daley and Barnes were thankfully not too interested in the standard 4 by 4 beats common in the dance music of the day, instead delving into African and Jamaican rhythms, the dub aesthetic and the flow of fat beats to get booty’s shaking. Afro Left contains some rubbery bass, itchy string picking and chanted foreign vocals against another bouncing beat, creating a dervish of sound. Song of Life starts with a menacing bass roll, moves to heavenly wordless vocals, a heavy drum loop, flittering synths and then into a skittering hi-hat and vinyl scratching, the bass rumbling into your skull, and a serious dance beat gets your blood racing. Storm 3000 uses breakbeats and lots of echo and wavering synths to take you to another dimension.
The Leftism 22 release includes a second disc of remixes of each track and there are a few standouts. Adrian Sherwood, a certain hero of the Leftfield duo, does his thing on Release The Pressure (Adrian Sherwood Mix), leaving it recognizable, Sherwood adding attack and decay and echo and generally having a blast reworking the original with his spare Dub production effects. The Original (Adesse Versions Mix) takes the beat and adds a funky hitch, building up expectation with the bass melody, Halliday’s vocals just a few lines at the beginning. Inspection (Check One) [Maafi Remix] takes the middle part of the song with Danny Red’s Jamaican slang chanting and makes that the focal point of the song, surrounded by more traditional reggae and dub sounds. With the source material this strong, its disappointing that there are so few audacious remixes included.
Leftfield’s love of dub, reggae, body moving percussion and soothing sounds put them in the same league as other electronic album artists Underworld, The Prodigy, Orbital and The Orb. Leftism lost the Mercury Prize in 1995 to Portishead‘s Dummy, showing you the quality of music coming out at that time. Neil Barnes, now the sole member of Leftfield will be playing Leftism live to British audience this May and will be performing a few UK festivals including Birmingham’s Beyond The Tracks in September with Orbital, Higher Intelligence Agency and a DJ set from Faithless for Day One.
(Review by Bret Miller)