How we made Leftfield's Leftism

‘We ploughed everything into it, re-examining the whole history of pop – admittedly while on drugs’

Neil Barnes, producer

Paul Daley and I were both playing bongos in a London club called Fred’s. But Paul was also in a band and they had a record deal, so he was far ahead of me. Then I nicked my brother’s keyboard, got a loan to buy a sampler, and made a track called Not Forgotten. Paul did a remix and, before we knew it, we were in the studio together.

We wanted to make an album of songs that would work in a club environment, which nobody had done before. I’d met John Lydon and spent this amazing night at his house listening to pumping reggae. So I said to Paul: “I’ve got this mad idea.” And I badgered John to come down to the studio.

He sang Open Up, a track about burning Hollywood down. It reflected John’s anger at not being offered acting roles, but everyone thought it was a call to revolution. There had been some forest fires in LA – they’d even come close to John’s house – and the radio stopped playing it.

‘John Lydon sang on a track about burning Hollywood down. It reflected his anger at not being offered acting roles.’
‘John Lydon sang on a track about burning Hollywood down. It reflected his anger at not being offered acting roles.’ Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic Inc

Toni Halliday, the singer with Curve, liked Open Up so much she came in to work with us. We put together a dark punk backing track and she sang over it. Then we completely rebuilt the backing track and called the result Original. We did that with everybody, tricking them really. At the time, a lot of people thought dance music was this fake thing. When Original was played on Radio 1’s Round Table, they said: “It’s just two chords.” Which it was. But the album had impetus. It came out in 1995, right in the middle of Britpop, which we didn’t really understand. But Noel Gallagher came to our live show and Damon Albarn said one of our tracks was so loud, he felt it vibrating in his throat. When we played a gig in Brixton, plaster fell from the ceiling. We only found out recently that the guy who used to mix us was slightly deaf.

Paul Daley, producer

I moved to London in the early 80s and spent 10 years going out every weekend. It was the time of the Wag Club, the post-Blitz scene, acid house. By the end of the decade, I was flying: in the studio during the week, DJing at weekends. Everything I’d ever been into came together and we ploughed it into Leftism. Suddenly, you could re-examine the whole history of pop – admittedly on drugs.

All sorts of people came into the studio. One day, I was playing Inspection (Check One) and, when I turned round, there was this bloke going: “Play that again.” I had the hump because I wanted to get on. Only afterwards did I realise it was Joe Strummer of the Clash. We became good mates.

Leftism was half sampled and half live. Some of it was just sounds we made, bent up in the samplers. For Afro Left, we got a guy in to play a berimbau, a single-string percussion instrument. Everything felt underground. I was quite anti-corporate and didn’t want to do Top of the Pops. But in the end we played Original between Simple Minds and Duran Duran. I don’t think people knew what to make of us.

I love Leftism now, but the album was hard work and I didn’t really like it at the time. And all these corporate bods kept telling me: “You’ve made a great record.” It felt like a bombardment. But it’s better than people saying it’s shit.

• Leftism 22 is out now. Leftfield tour until 27 May, then play festivals.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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