It’s a Sunday evening and most of the people here are fucked. The bar is about five deep, a guy shouts across to his pal asking if he has any ‘sweeties’. People emerge from the main hall into the bar, looking sweaty and happy. I peek in and see people cutting shapes like it’s 1989. Leftfield haven’t even started their set. And I’m drinking Coca-Cola. Hit it…..
At this point in time, Leftfield are basically founder member Neil Barnes and guests. Their discography is even slimmer, three albums in 20 years. But when one of those albums is ‘Leftism’, who gives a shit? Their influence of the dance music scene, appearance on soundtracks for TV and films and, of course, the Guinness advert mean that the groups music has always been in the ether. Leftfield were one of the acts who changed how dance groups were expected to perform live, introducing a full band and guest vocalists rather than just setting up a PA system. Since then, they’ve always been a popular live draw and festival attraction. Hence their ability to get a big crowd out on a cold Sunday night in Aberdeen, paying a not inconsiderable amount for the pleasure.
It’s the bass that gets you, straight away. It throbs and churns up your insides. This venue isn’t used to this volume. Leftfield were famously ‘banned’ from London Brixton Academy for playing so loud that plaster fell from the ceiling. When I watched Belle & Sebastian here a few years ago, Stuart Murdoch commented on the ‘beautiful ceiling’. Leftfield could bring it down. They start with ‘Bad Radio’ from new album ‘Alternative Light Source’. The tracks oozes, climbs and builds before exploding into life. The crowd laps it up. The majority here look like they’ve been a round the block, like they remember all the nightclubs in the city by names they had in the past. There are dance moves you don’t really see now. There’s a lot of youth being relieved tonight. And yes, there are a few folk whose jaws are swinging like a pendulum. But it’s a great night. It’s more like a DJ set at a nightclub, rather than what I’m used to at a rcok gig, where everyone piles up at the front of the stage. The main hall is like a dancefloor, people weave in and out carrying drinks, avoiding rugs being cut, big fishes and cardboard boxes. The set is structured in sections, new stuff sprinkled liberally. A section of trancey house is followed by some of the more chilled out material, accompanied by some guest vocalists. I enjoyed ‘Chant of a Poor Man’ more than I thought I would enjoy something where a guy in a North Face jacket sings in patois. It worked. London vocalist Ofei guesting on ‘Swords’ was even better, his energetic performance leading to some frenzied dancing.
That was as close as we got to a traditional ‘frontman’. For the most part, visuals were lights and film footage projected on to rotating screens, only allowing for the occasional peeks at Barnes and his band. Wearing a black t shirt and thick prescription glasses, the middle aged Barnes was never going to be the focus of the live show. However, in between barking heavily-distorted vocals and at one point dry humping a keyboard he gave it a bloody good go. As the gig goes on and the music rarely retreats from the level of ‘pummelling’, a lot of the previous dancing turns to head nodding. The chances of punk legend and later-day butter salesman John Lydon making an appearance for ‘Open Up’ were slim to not a hope in hell. But we do get the pounding ‘Phat Planet’ to send us home, ears ringing but happy.
‘Alternative Light Source’ is out now via Infectious