Album Review: Leftfield / ‘Tourism’ (Field Note)


In 1996 Leftfield played an infamous show at Brixton Academy, one that legend has it got them banned from the venue because their booming din caused dust to rain down from the legendary Academy’s ceiling. I was there, but all I remember is the warm sensation of bass cutting through my chest with the precision of a scalpel for the entire show. Leftfield’s debut, Leftism, had been on my Discman for over a year, and my attraction to Neil Barnes and Paul Daley’s post-everything sound which, like the handful of releases issued on their Hard Hands imprint, was immediate. Leftfield’s sound system ethos soaked up elements of so many styles of world music: African rhythms, ragga flavors and synth melodies that ran from cold to hot. Combined with their punk attitude and DJ mindset, they were the foremost selectors of the moment.

After the electronica gold rush of the ’90s came and went so did Leftfield, disbanding in 2001 so that Barnes and Daley could pursue solo projects. After a successful reunion show in 2010, the following year Barnes decided to carry on by himself, touring the world with a collective including original vocalists Cheshire Cat, Earl 16 and Djum Djum and new singer Jess Mills.

Tourism, a live document of Leftfield’s Australian tour, is a triumph on many levels. The riddims that form “Song of Life” and “Release the Pressure” (your heart will skip a beat when Mills’ soaring, angelic voice enters the mix) are thoroughly captivating. The extended version of “Black Flute” is darker, more brooding and embellishes the original version heard on Leftism, while “Afro-Left,” featuring Djum Djum scatting in African over a tough, percussive backdrop sounds as innovative now as it did when it was first realized.

Only a handful of electronic acts since Leftfield’s heyday in the ’90s have succeeded in the blurry area between live concert and DJ set, but Leftfield re-enter the fray a decade later without losing a beat. Leave it to Leftfield to bring everything perfectly into focus.
File under: Underworld, Spooky, The Prodigy