Northumbria University may have seemed an unlikely venue for the return of nineties techno act Leftfield to Newcastle, with ‘Alternative Light Source’ their first release in sixteen years. At thirty pounds a ticket, not many students would be shelling out for a band their parents used to like! Once inside, the angular, anonymous space formed a perfect backdrop to the precision performance, mesmeric lightshow and of course the hypnotic, thumping bass.
As Leftfield, the duo of Paul Daley and Neil Barnes defined nineties dance music and stormed the mainstream. Their unique sound made use of distinctive guest vocalists like John Lydon, fusing genres from techno and dub to afro-pop and reggae. Twenty years on and without Daley, Barnes proves he can still craft cerebral, pulsating tracks and the appetite of his audience is undiminished. “I promised myself I wouldn’t do the nostalgia gig thing”, one fan confided “but this is different.”
From their punctual appearance (at exactly ten minutes past nine, as promised on their twitter feed), this was a flawless performance, lapped up by an avid crowd. Stellar tracks from Leftfield’s remarkable back catalogue sat comfortably amongst new offerings. The pulsing ‘Storms End’, a highlight from the new album, was beautifully worked – the stage festooned with beating waves of light.
The band seemed remote at times, Barnes centre stage, flanked by a drummer and keyboard player, and all surrounded by rotating, translucent screens reflecting the hypnotic light show. Their concentration was palpable, with only the occasional head nod or fist pump in our direction acknowledging the audience. Guest vocalists, Ofei and MC Cheshire Cat, exuded colour and connection performing from our side of the screens. The classic ‘Swords’, showcasing Ofei’s soaring voice, the standout track of the night for me.
Barnes briefly emerged from his myriad keyboards and screens to thank the band and vocalists at the close of both the show and this very special UK tour. I heard few complaints as the crowd emerged, ecstatic and sweat soaked. For all the imitators and innovators of the intervening years, ‘Phat Planet’ still sounds like nothing else. “I think it’s some kind of neural pathway”, mused an enthralled raver “I just lost the plot.” The only thing missing for me from this consummate performance was a sense that our experience was unique to this time and place – individually ours. Perhaps there’s no room for spontaneity with such a well-oiled machine. Perhaps I’m just being greedy.
Editor’s note: Sadly our photographer missed the show. We’ve been given permission to reproduce photos of Leftfield at their recent 6 Music show as illustration – thanks to BBC 6 Music.