"It felt like the right time"

Leftfield are loud.

Not just 'scare the neighbours' loud but smash-down-the-walls-and-burst-your-ear-drums LOUD. In their prime, Leftfield had their sound system banned from the Brixton Academy after it literally caused the ceiling to crumble.

Going on hiatus in 2000, the band slim output amounts to just two albums. It's just as well then that those albums shattered perceptions of British dance music, introducing dub and rock concepts in an expansive format.

Announcing their return earlier this year, Leftfield have been left in the capable hands of Neil Barnes. Partner in crime Paul Daley is not involved, sparking rumours of a rift.

With excitement mounting over their first live appearance in a decade at this weekend's RockNess festival ClashMusic tracked down Neil Barnes in order to find out just why he decided to take Leftfield out of retirement.

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What made you bring Leftfield back this summer?
It’s interesting. It felt like the right time, is the short answer to that. It felt like the time to do it. There was an enormous amount of good will towards the whole Leftfield project, really, and it’s been that way right the way through it. I talked to a lot of people, I listened to the music, I looked at what else was out there, I chatted to my engineer about technology – all these things came together. I think the biggest thing was just the love of music - suddenly, falling back in love with the music that we made. It was a stormy night, and I hadn’t listened to our music in about five years so I sat and analysed it and listened to it and it gave me a real buzz. Suddenly I got back the buzz that we used to have and I thought “definitely, let’s do it!”

Has the esteem that the group are still held in surprised you at all?
It has completely and utterly blown me away. It makes me feel really nervous, but it has also energised me. I absolutely can’t wait to get up there to RockNess. It’s sort of a nervous energy, like I can’t wait to get it out of the way, but in a good way. It feels like it’s worked so smoothly, it’s been worth all the hard work – believe you me it’s been a lot of hard work.

Were there any plans to get Paul involved?
Yeah, absolutely. There were always plans. I didn’t just take this on myself, I asked Paul. There were plans to get Paul on board but the time has never been right for either of us. It had never worked out. Sometimes it just wasn’t right for me, when there were offers on the table. Right now feels like the right time to do it, but unfortunately Paul’s just got other things on. He has every confidence that I can do a good job on my own. It’s not like either of us are out there singing, we’re technicians. We’re just writers, we make sounds. I’ve replaced that side of things to make it feel right. I’ve spent a lot of time that the person we get to play drums now reflects what people would expect from someone making a Leftfield sound.

So it’s open for Paul to come back?
Of course. I’m always open to that. It’s not a takeover. I’m out there doing Leftfield, it’s not me doing my own music. I have a responsibility to make it sound like Leftfield on behalf of both of us, because we made the music. I’m not going it out there making it sound like me, I’m making it sound like Leftfield.

Leftfield - Afrika Shox

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How did the rehearsal process work?
It has to be very exact. Myself and the engineer went through every sound on every track, and they’ve each got a different taste to it, an overall sound. That meant finding all those sounds and somehow playing them all. That’s when technology has really helped me this time. We can do that, we can take all the different drum sounds and trigger them to play everything as it sounds on the record. It’s been a real learning curve, as this has changed over the past three months. It’s an enormous tapestry which has to be sewn together. It’s not a normal band in that sense. I can’t just get someone up here, learn the songs and it will sound like Leftfield. The sound is just so particular.

Will any of the guest singers be joining you?
You see, I’m giving it all away now! If I give it all away it sort of ruins the surprise. I don’t want to talk anymore! I don’t know what to say. I can tell you that we won’t be doing ‘Open Up’ as John Lydon is on tour with PiL. Every wants us to do ‘Open Up’ but I can’t do it unless John is there. In the initial period we won’t be able to do it, but maybe later in the year we’ll be able to do it. Maybe bring back some more guest vocalists.

Was there a temptation to incorporate some new dancefloor trends?
God we do it all the time in the rehearsal studio! It was a great temptation to do that, actually. We could have done it. We could have taken some of the tracks which do have the same pace as dubstep. I actually love dubstep, especially people like Joker and Skream. I love the sound Joker can make – ‘Psychedelic Runway’. It’s almost Leftfield in a way. The thing is, we have to stay true to the original sound. That’s one thing I had to grapple with. So what I’ve done is take some songs and make different versions of them. There are sections in there that interweave, and in these sections it becomes a bit of a jam really. Then they develop into the track which you expect to hear but in a different way. It was a big problem. Because it’s been so long and because I’m not doing it with Paul I can’t just go up there and remix it all. It would just seem fake, and that wouldn’t be fair on the history of Leftfield. People should get something which they recognise, but we also want to mess around with it.

Was there a temptation to commission some new remixes?
Absolutely. There is a big temptation to do that. We started doing remixes. There are some fantastic people out there, without a doubt. Someone did a bootleg of my very first single, it’s just really mental. It’s just happening at the moment. Timo Garcia. He’s done a remix of ‘Not Forgotten’ it’s out there at the moment and it’s really good. It’s a bootleg now I think. It’s very good and it shows you that you could very easily remix our material.

Are you planning on recording the live shows?
Every single one of them will be recorded, because we’ve got the technology to do it. We’re doing that for our own benefit. So we can listen back to each show and analyse what’s working and what isn’t. I suppose you’re going to ask me if we’re releasing a live album? Well maybe. If it sounds good it’s a possibility. The technology is there to do it, but there’s no grandiose plan to release one.

Leftfield - Phat Planet

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Will the re-union be an ongoing project?
We’ve got to wait and see. Whether people like it, see what reaction we get. It’s planned to end at the end of this year. The plan so far is to finish it at the end of this year. But we’ve already got offers in to go around the world with it.

How do you apply the exacting nature of a Leftfield show to an outdoor festival set?
This is difficult – it’s more difficult than it’s ever been. Everyone, but in particular RockNess, have been such reasonable people. They’ve worked with us as much as possible. I have a limited amount of control over this as it’s not our gig. I’ve heard it’s really pumping at Rockness and I’m hoping that it is. But there’s all these new restrictions which have come in place all over Europe which limit how loud you can go. We try and bend the rules as much as we can, to get it as loud as we can. And we will be. Believe me – I can’t say any more than that or I’ll end up in prison.

Leftfield are set to play RockNess this weekend (June 11th - 13th)

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