Leftfield review – bone-quaking revival of a dance music revolution

Barrowland, Glasgow
The electronic mavericks prove they can still bring down the house for a performance of their genre-shattering 1995 debut album, Leftism – even if no longer quite so literally

Leftfield performing their epochal and monumentally banging debut album, Leftism, in full at a sold-out show might once have meant a bonanza night’s trade for drug dealers, but it is probably childminders reaping the benefits at Glasgow’s Barrowland tonight. It is 22 years since this Mercury prize-nominated house and techno album was released, refracting the energy and idealism of the rave era through a wantonly eclectic prism of dub, jungle, reggae and world music sounds. Arguably the first classic British record of electronic dance music, it eased the way for the titans of big beat.

A lot of audience members at this sold-out show of the album’s anniversary tour probably haven’t seen the inside of a nightclub in many years. But while everyone has got older since 1995 – including the band’s sole original member, Neil Barnes, who has a secondary-school physics teacher vibe about him these days, cooking up sounds centre stage in his kitchen of synths – Leftism still sounds fresh.

As classic-album-in-full shows go, this one is about as pure as they come: just the 11 original tracks performed in order. But there is a sense of each song having been stripped down, tuned up and put back together with love and purpose, their edges and focus sharpened. A considerable retinue of guest vocalists spearhead the party, even if only for one song apiece. There are several original contributors among them, including rasta MC Earl Sixteen, whose cosmic request for “peace and unity” during the introductory opening swirl of Release the Pressure is greeted like an old friend – especially after a bone-quaking donk lands.

Leftfield deploy a more measured sound system these days than the one that once caused plaster to crumble from a venue ceiling, but you still feel its pulsing low-end in your very bones. It is impressively supplemented by a light and visual display, which at one point sees Barnes slapping conga drums silhouetted against a full moon with cartoon cheetahs running through it while vocalist Djum Djum chants during Afro-Left, one of the most madly infectious pieces of progressive house music. Hips-twisting vocalist Tarantina deputises for Toni Halliday on the trip-hoppy Original, before the screaming beat drops of Space Shanty take things big-room techno.

John Lydon isn’t here in the flesh to reprise his menacing guest vocal on probably Leftism’s most important track Open Up, but the Sex Pistols and PiL frontman’s disembodied voice howling from the speakers along to chopped-up and looped footage from the 1993 video only adds to the track’s sense of scowling disquiet. Beatific comedown-closer 21st Century Poem prompts one group of men to throw their arms around each others shoulders in nostalgic reverie. Surprisingly, Leftism isn’t scheduled to be performed at more festivals this summer – it would surely grace any dance tent. But it is great to see this ageless masterpiece get the anniversary celebration it deserves.

• Leftfield perform at Camp Bestival, Dorset, 26-30 July. Box office: 0844-888 4410.

  • This article was amended on 30 May. A picture caption misidentified Neil Barnes and incorrectly spelled the name Djum Djum.


Malcolm Jack

The GuardianTramp

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