We are very proud to announce the first ever Irish apearance by techno
legend LFO. u:mack have been trying to book LFO, whose live performances
are ultra rare, for more then ten years. This will be the party of the
2003 By Bill Brewster. ö
SCENE ONE: A couple of young boys have sneaked into a club in Leeds, The
Warehouse, with the help of their friend, Martin Williams, who also happens
to be the DJ there. Martin has a cassette of new music given to him by
these cheeky teen chisellers. One track in particular is causing much
dancefloor consternation. It's called "LFO" and it's also by
LFO. As luck would have it on this evening, Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell
from the fledgling Warp Records notice the dance-based kerfuffle and run
up to the booth demanding to know what the heck the tune is. Martin dutifully
points in the direction of 20 year olds Mark Bell and Gez Varley, for
it is they.
SCENE TWO: I'm stood in a gay club in London, Troll, in the early summer
of 1990. It's sticky and humid outside, while inside the sweat is dripping
off the speakers suspended above the dancefloor. A record comes on with
bass so BIG, so tangible, it feels like you could put your arms round
it and give it a cuddle. It sounds disembodied and otherwordly, and yet,
paradoxically, it's also soulful, like Kraftwerk is soulful. It's also
called "LFO" by LFO. It fits in perfectly with the mixture of
house, techno and the R&S-style new beat the DJs play.
Mark Bell's story could provide a template for every kid of a certain
age growing up in Thatcher's Britain. You could almost write the script
yourself. It's an amalgam of video games, football and music with a spot
of hi-jinks thrown in for good measure. In a way, acid house became the
physical expression of the disparate feelings of thousands of kids in
Britain: casual culture, electro, breakdancing, hip hop, football, clothes,
computer games, daft haircuts and that strange British obsession with
black American culture. Mark Bell and his mate Gez Varley were no exception,
really. They had the lino, like everyone who'd ever bought a Streetsounds
compilation, and an unquenchable passion for electronically-driven culture.
Yet there is one difference. There are very few kids from the back streets
of Leeds who get to work with Björk in Spain, produce bands like
Depeche Mode and, moreover, get to make their own records for a living.
Oh, and just for good measure working with a bunch of Germans who just
so happened to be ex-members of Kraftwerk.
Mark Bell's most significant early memories of music were threefold. There
was the teacher at school who taught art and played Jean-Michel Jarre
and Kraftwerk; there was the older sister who played disco, funk and early
electro in her bedroom. There was also, recalls Mark, "a record shop
in Leeds that had arcade games like Tempest and Defender and they'd play
loads of early hip hop like Schoolly D. I remember feeling this is mine
and my friend's place".
Mark's first foray into the world of electronic instrumentation began
when he managed to do a deal with his first girlfriend's father. "He
used to make reeaaaaallly bad 'Lady In Red' style ballads that I had to
sit through for ages so I could convince him he needed a band, not soulless
electronic crap, and I could buy his drum machine!"
When Mark left school to go do a photography and graphic design course
at college. It's here that he met both Gez Varley, his early LFO collaborator,
and Martin Williams, a West Yorkshire DJ. Thanks to a legacy of money
left by Gez's grandmother, they found themselves with a bedroom full of
equipment and a world of ideas. Those ideas mutated into cassettes full
of possibilities, and pal Martin started playing them at his gigs. LFO
(Low Frequency Oscilllation), the knob on many a vintage synth, now became
"One Saturday Rob and Steve from Warp came to the Warehouse,"
recalls Mark, "and Martin played some of our tracks and the crowd
would go mental. Rob knew his music so he asked Martin what was playing
and he pointed at me and Gez. So we sat in someone's car and played them
a tape, it was 90 minutes of fun! They couldn't believe how much there
was, Warp the label hadn't quite started yet but they offered to put out
a 12 for us. We'd never even thought about releasing stuff; it was more
than enough hearing the music on a big system."
The resultant tale has become the stuff of acid house legend. The expected
2,000 sales mutating into 130,000 and a number 12 placing in the UK Top
40. Not only that, but Radio 1's Steve Wright offered his own (w)ringing
endorsement, pronouncing 'LFO' terrible at every available opportunity.
Being harangued by Steve Wright is, of course, the sort of thing that
in saner times would merit knighthoods and the donation of small Caribbean
islands for use thereof.
The debut album Frequencies - the first great European techno LP - captured
the Detroit aesthetic perfectly, though this was hardly a surprise. The
Detroit pioneers themselves had been influenced by electronic music from
Yorkshire - early Human League and Cabaret Voltaire - as well as P-Funk
and electro. Most of the kids in Yorkshire making early house and techno
records had started out in breakdance crews. Electro was in their blood
(or, at the very least, record collections).
There was some gap between the first album and Advance, their second effort.
The press described them as "the Stone Roses of techno", somehow
missing the point that they were still actively making dance records for
indie labels like Carl Craig's Planet E. No matter. Advance managed to
combine visceral drill-sergeant beats ("Tied Up") with an almost
jazz aesthetic on "Shove Piggy Shove" (which became Björk's
"I Go Humble"): Beauty and the Bea(s)t.
After the release of Advance, Mark and Gez parted ways with Mark retaining
rights over the name. Not that he did anything with it. A mere seven years
later we have the third album, Sheath. So why the gap? "Fuck knows,"
laughs Mark. "It's not intentional... It's easy doing your first
album as you have all the first part of your life to express. The second
one is harder unless you're going to repeat yourself... and repetition
bores me a bit, it's a complete wasted opportunity to be creative."
Not that the lad's been idle or anything. There's the small matter of
Homogenic (the aforementioned trip to Spain), which included working with
legendary Brazilian producer/keyboardist Eumir Deodato. "I really
enjoy producing, as in thinking how someone's song would make me like
it, then actually putting that into practice," says Mark, simply,
of his production work. "You also meet some brilliant people like
Deodato. He'd just wear his pyjamas all day playing the stock market on
his computer, but when he was young he'd be a 'true playa' with loads
of bikini girls on his sleeves."ö
Mark also produced Bj
Selma Songs (the soundtrack to her Palme d'Or winning Dancer in the Dark
film) and Depeche Mode's Exciter. A chance to work with true heroes. "I
felt a bit odd when Depeche Mode were asking me for days off or what they
should eat," he confesses. "I used to be into them when I was
12 and now I am deciding what food theyıre going to eat? They were really
fun though." He adds, pointedly: "But doing my own thing is
more rewarding as there is no compromise, it's just me."ö
No compromise indeed. And so to Sheath by LFO. There's a lack of a vocal
presence on Sheath. Might this be a reaction to working with so many vocalists?
"It's definitely a reaction," confirms Mark. "Bj
is an amazing vocalist and I always compare other people to her range
and feeling which is a bit stupid of me, but I've been spoilt really.
Most demos that I get sent with vocals I find pretty hard work. I prefer
the synths to sing on this one." Describe your record in three words:
Mark Bell still lives for that great moment, the one that makes the hairs
stand to attention on your nape. "I remember hearing Schoolly D's
'Saturday Night' and Grandmaster Flash's 'Adventures On The Wheels Of
Steel' and just getting all moist!" says Mark. "I still get
those feelings when I hear a 'special' track. That's what I live for really,
hearing or making a 'special' track."
So has anything changed from starting out to getting here today? "Phew
... I've got some pubes. I can cook a bit and I read the Sunday papers."
Growing up? Who knows? Just don't ask him what went wrong at Leeds United...