After a 16 year wait, Leftfield’s new album Alternative Light Source, released in June this year, has brought progressive house back to the forefront of electronic music. Although the last album release before this one was in 1999 with Rhythm and Stealth, with the band now functioning as a one man band – Neil Barnes – following Paul Daley’s departure, it is heartening to find upon listening that Leftfield’s music is still brilliant and exciting.
Yet it wasn’t only the musical element that got me excited for this gig; their notorious live sets encompass a wide range of visual episodes, acting as an equaliser for the Leftfield experience. Perfectly balanced and equally hypnotic, they demonstrate an awareness and understanding of performance, whilst still maintaining that trademark “sod it” mentality of the 90s.
The opening of the gig mesmerised the mix of nostalgic forty year-old Norwich locals and pumped up students scattered over the LCR floor. Rays of white light shifted from shape to shape, creating a sunrise that awoke the audience. It was fitting that they chose to warm up the crowd with one of their new songs: ‘Bad Radio’. Its emphatic drumbeat was absolitely perfect for setting the tone of the gig.
This fed straight into arguably their best song of the new album and new single: ‘Universal Everything’. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic sent half the audience into a trance-inducing state, while the other half bounced around like it was still the 90s. To be fair, there was no escaping the sounds or the flashing lights, which only served to further cement their quality.
Then came their notable ‘6/8 War’ track which, when seen live, really highlights the extent of their musical knowledge. The time signature changes depending on which element you focus on, and listening to it live in the LCR made this so much clearer. The differing signatures from the kick of the drum to the pounding of the bass meant people were finding their own grooves and completely owning it.
The introduction of Earl Sixteen towards the middle of the set allowed Leftfield to properly engage with the audience. Notorious for his reggae, Earl brought with him a sense of atmosphere and mystery. His lingering movements sent the audience straight back into hypnosis. Earl orchestrated the crowd like some kind of preacher, hovering down low to settle the tempo, then turning rapidly and jumping up to the white lit sun around him when things got intense.
‘Shaker Obsession’, a proper progressive house track, highlighted the best of what the new and improved Leftfield had to offer. Up to this point they had teased those who knew them from their early work with what was to come.
In their encore they were rewarded, with songs from their critically acclaimed Leftism. ‘Song of Life’, an original 7-minute epic encompassed everything Leftfield are about, bass heavy, jungle, trance, dub, techno; a fusion of musical genres.
Neither the crowd nor the bright lights stopped during the encore, and demonstrated to all of those who weren’t around in the 90s what they had missed. Deafening and emphatic, their final song ‘Phat Planet’ awoke a fierce ovation from the exhausted and exercised crowd. The ending of the chaos brought with it a sense of relief, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened by the fact that I might never get to witness Leftfield, in all their deafening greatness, again.