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In many ways, it couldn’t be a better time for Leftfield to return to the live arena. After all, if you trace dubstep’s bloodline back through a family tree more twisted and incestuous than the Windsors’, somewhere near the roots you’ll find the 1995 album Leftism. It’s not just for its crossbreeding of techno and dub that Leftism has proven so influential 15 years on, either, since Leftfield were also one of the first groups to really start taking guest vocalists from outside their comfort zone on their tunes, a template the Chemical Brothers would take and run with and which the likes of Chase and Status and Magnetic Man have now applied to their new albums. OK, you won’t normally find many parallels between the Johns Legend and Lydon, but the smooth soulboy’s appearance on Magnetic Man’s new LP is probably less surprising now than hearing the snotty punk sneering "Burn! Hollywood burn!" over the pounding techno of Leftfield’s 1993 hit ‘Open Up’.
Whether Magnetic Man will end up being a permanent fixture in the ‘Greatest Album Ever’ lists like its ancestor is open to debate. But you suspect that the real reason Neil Barnes chose to resurrect Leftfield sans Paul Daley had less to do with looking for respect from the dubstep whippersnappers than it did looking at the reception his Nineties contemporaries Orbital received when they reformed last year. Because if we’re being strictly honest, what really makes a Leftfield revival oh-so-2010 isn’t the widespread popularity of dubstep, but the fact that they’re now following the likes of Suede and Blur – the very Britpoppers Leftfield’s bass-heavy beats were such an important corrective to in the mid-Nineties – in serving up the nostalgic sounds of their teenage years to thirtysomethings.
The crowd in Brixton Academy certainly isn’t youngsters seeking a history lesson, but Leftfield’s original fans seeking to relive their own history. Indeed, you suspect a fair few of them were in this same venue 14 years ago when Leftfield’s notoriously powerful sound rig began shaking the plaster from the ceiling, an incident which allegedly resulted in Brixton Academy banning them from using the same system here again. But aside from the replacement of that rig with something less tinnitus-inducing and Daley’s replacement on the drums, nothing else has really changed since 1996. Particularly since, with the exception of ‘Afrika Shox’ and the closing ‘Phat Planet’, Leftfield’s 1999 second and final LP Rhythm and Stealth is almost entirely ignored. This isn’t a Don’t Look Back show but it might as well be – the setlist essentially being Leftism stuck on shuffle.
Which is exactly what everyone came to hear, and which would be more of a problem if tunes like ‘Song Of Life’ and ‘Space Shanty’ weren’t still amongst dance music’s best. They no longer sound futuristic, but those armour-plated beats and expansive synths lines don’t feel as dated as most Nineties dance music does today either, and still sound even more awesome roaring through enormous speaker stacks after the ten years we’ve had to make do hearing them through our laptops or home stereos. The lines from ‘Afrika Shox’ about the "year 2000" have wisely been edited out – since they’d now sound like something Kate Thornton would say on an ‘I Love The Noughties’ list show than the original portentous prophecy delivered by Afrika Bambataa – but you’d still never guess the track came from the days when the only box Skream! had any interest in getting anything out of was in his toy cupboard, that skeletal rhythm as jerky as the crowd folding out their dancing limbs for the first time in aeons. Bambaataa himself hasn’t made it – replaced instead by a video projection of an enormous mouth – and nor has Toni Halliday, her vocals on ‘Original’ gamely attempted by a woman whose all-over gold Lycra makes her look like she should be sitting on top of a Christmas tree, rather than a frosty electro chanteuse. Djum Djum and Earl 16 are present and correct for ‘Afro Left’ and ‘Release The Pressure’ respectively – the latter also featuring daft reggae toaster MC Cheshire Cat – who goes on to bellow his way through ‘Inspection (Check One)’ like a dubwise Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. The one-time ‘loudest band in the world’ no longer have it turned up to 11, but this revival has been no Spinal Tap self-parody either, and although they may be getting long in the tooth, Leftfield can still be as ferocious as the iconic shark’s teeth image of Leftism’s cover that's tonight projected over Barnes’ bobbing head.