"Twin hands working the infinite decks, mixing the dreams with real-time stories, forcing sweat out of hard-packed bodies. I can make a dead man dance. Fuck that, I can make a robot dance, a shadow dance. I was looking through the booth glass, watching the sub-masses moving groin to groin, or just on their own. Men, women, real or Vurt. Robo or smok. I'm moving them all, at last, the whole congregation."
These lines from Jeff Noon's galvanic UK cyberpunk novel Vurt freezeframe the protagonist rocking a massive warehouse party with the latest in underground white labels. The book's distorted vision of a future Manchester crackles with energy, imagination and dark irony. If it had a soundtrack it would be Leftfield's triumphant debut, an LP that mirrors the book's strengths and its bold sweep.
Leftfield - Neil Barnes and former A Man Called Adam contributor Paul Daley - were the pairing who crossed over with 'Open Up', John Lydon's bile-flecked presentiment of Hollywood's incineration. It was the single of 1993 but contractual problems with label Outer Rhythm smothered the outfit's progress till now. That track is included here in its original form but Leftism offers ten other reasons why they figure on the UK dance scene's leading edge along with Orbital, Massive Attack and Bomb The Bass. It's an album that will tear up dancefloors (and already has on the pre-release vinyl triplepack to be found on their own Hard Hands imprint) or fizzle incandescently in your head.
It divides fairly evenly between instrumental and vocal tracks, opening with a remix of their debut single 'Release The Pressure', which adds wild vocal toasts from Papa Dee to the dry-roasted, roots-flavoured vocals of reggae veteran Earl Sixteen. African rapper Djum Djum then transports the album to another solar system entirely with cantos of hallucinogenic verse that attack the nervous system, aided by the nagging buzz of a berimbou. From there, anything is possible as the duo explore fresh directions, from the pumping Progressive House of 'Black Flute', to the chiaroscuro strains of 'Original', which employs the voice of Curve's Toni Halliday to unexpectedly impressive effect. 'Song Of Life ('95 Remix)' channels in a Sabres-like clank, snatches of radio signal, and a plaintive, dismembered female voice before transforming into a muscular trancer. 'Inspection (Check One)' returns to the dub House dimension with Danny Red's gurgling roots vocal while 'Storm 3000' sweeps across you like the rippling textures of a solar weather front. Manchester poet Lemn Sissay climaxes the affair to the mesmeric wash of album closer '21st Century Poem'. His barely suppressed anger hints at the dystopia of urban collapse and racial conflict that's similarly set out in Vurt: "How many dreams tell lies till we rise? How many homes set alight till we fight?".
Leftism is right out there, where all intelligent dance music should be.
9 (out of 10)
review by Mike Pattenden (nicked from 'Vox', dated 1996)