Listen: Afrika Shox (7″ Edit) / Leftfield featuring Afrika Bambaataa LeftfieldAfrikaShox.mp3
Paul Daly and Neil Barnes were, in hindsight, very sharp. Forget that they created Leftfield and made two classic albums. Forget that their musical instincts were always pretty spot on. A lot to forget, agreed.
The sharpness refers to how they read senior management at US Columbia with such clarity. You’d swear there was twenty five years of music business experience under their belts, or some such credit.
A poison had set in to the major label/radio monopoly long before Leftfield tested the waters of their UK label’s sister company, Columbia in ’99. Corruption prevented many great records from US airplay, eventually dummy-ing down music as being a big part of culture in America. Sounds heavy and political but look at what happened: endless worthy songs never got heard by the masses. Not until now, given radio’s monopoly has crumbled and their power base fizzled. Funniest bit is these programming gatekeepers and major labels think they’re still in cahoots, controlling what consumers get to hear. I honestly believe many of them don’t realize the internet and synchs have rendered their game over. Double whammy: radio drove their listeners away with stubborn musical policies, fueled mySpace, Hype Machine, Pandora…you name it, plus the rise of acts that don’t need radio at all. You’ve got to love it.
Well, back to Leftfield. They were having no part of the hollow intensions Columbia US dangled their way in an effort to keep happy the UK execs. After all, our team had to patronize the English office somewhat given their US superstars needed proper commitments in Britain to succeed. It was a typical horse and pony dance. In the end, most UK artists who bought in would get burned. Ultimately, they’d owe a lot of money in recoupable tour support, arriving here to find there was no real commitment at radio and hence….clunck. They should have stayed home. Sadly, it happened almost every last time.
Well word got back. Leftfield didn’t bite. Potential fans got cheated out of seeing them play the US, but the guys protected their business model and futures. It was a hard call.
Still, every act needed a US A&R rep, and about the only one on staff with an interest in English bands was me. Perfect. Meant I got to spend time in the UK and get involved in the recording process.
By the time Leftfield’s second album, RHYTHM AND STEALTH was being prepared, Paul invited me to his place in Camden for a playback of the roughs. Both he and Neil were totally down to earth, friendly and inclusive guys. Made it even more awkward to sit there in total awe of what was playing while trying to act casual. You ever get the feeling you’re in the best place the solar system has to offer when at a show or rehearsal or a session? Well, this was one of those times – like how the fuck did I get so lucky? Every track was, well, listen to the album.
‘Afrika Shox’ felt like a first single straight off. I think we played it three times in a row. At five-ish minutes long, how’s it possible to feel no time is passing, then the song’s suddenly over? That’s a dependable sign of greatness. Sure enough, ‘Afrika Shox’ landed at #7 in the UK singles chart and Leftfield were back.
Listen: Phat Planet / Leftfield LeftfieldPhatPlanet.mp3
Yet another entry to the double A sided lifetime achievement list results by coupling ‘Afrika Shox’ with ‘Phat Planet’. I admit, once Annie Nightingale gave this a spin on her BBC Radio 1 late night break beat show, ‘Phat Planet’ never sounded the same. It was a wake up slap in the face to it’s greatness, not the first time Annie has done that to me.