Review: Leftfield, Bournemouth O2 Academy, May 27th 2023

Review: Leftfield, Bournemouth O2 Academy, May 27th 2023

Leftfield in Bournemouth: Hauntology, not nostalgia

Words by Tom Williams. Image by Steve Gullick.

Leftfield are one of a handful of acts who I got into largely because their ‘Leftism’ album- with its distinctive shark’s jaws cover- appeared in the CD collections of slightly older, much cooler friends when I started clubbing as a student in the late 1990s. Soul II Soul, Depeche Mode, Leftfield. I bump into a few of these friends at Bournemouth’s O2 Academy- they’re even older now, of course, and probably not as cool (although still cooler than me), which is part of what is, among other things, a wonderful advert for 90s electronica.

Leftfield mainstay Neil Barnes is now in his early 60s and has been through a scary period of ill health and other personal problems. He was never a Norman Cook-style exhibitionist, and interactions with the crowd are sparse. This is fine; Barnes, along with a collective of vocalists and a live drummer, have created impeccable vibes with the set they play and don’t need to add any forced rabble-rousing to it. Against a red and black backdrop, they go quietly about their business, but that’s the only quiet thing about this evening. Despite the refreshing absence of toxic machismo – both from the performers and the revellers –  there’s a throbbing muscularity to Leftfield’s music. Leftfield – once banned from Brixton academy because of their deafening sound system – have still got plenty of firepower. 

Barnes et al open with the juddering ‘Pulse’, and although it takes until ‘Release The Pressure’ drops for the crowd to come unglued, by the time they recognise the intro to the Afrika Bambaata-channelling ‘Afrika Shox’ (from 1999’s ‘Rhythm and Stealth’ album), most of those in attendance have relinquished their inhibitions.

Although it’s predictably the older material that really gets Bournemouth going, it’s worth saying here that last year’s ‘This Is What We Do’ album is really good, and unlike a lot of contemporary EDM, manages to not sound like something Peep Show’s Jeremy and Super Hans might have produced. You might only know Leftfield from a Guinness ad or from the track they did with John Lydon that found its way onto various otherwise-dire indie compilation albums during the Britpop era, but their combination of progressive house, electro, afrobeat and dub still sounds fresh.

‘Nostalgia’ may be the most obvious description for the experience of hearing these tracks on a balmy night in Bournemouth, but I wonder if ‘hauntology’ might be a more accurate term. To listen to the cuts from their first two records is to recall a time when Radio 1 would still play music that sounded so futuristic that it felt jolting.

There is of course still new and innovative music being made, but it tends not get played on the BBC now. Leftfield finding their way into the mainstream or just onto the shelves of your older, cooler mate did those of us who heard them a huge kindness, in exposing us to musics we might otherwise have missed out on. It is to be hoped that we hear their like again. 


  1. Pulse
  2. Making A Difference
  3. Rapture 16
  4. Release the Pressure
  5. Afrika Shox
  6. This Is What We Do
  7. Power Of Listening
  8. Accumulator
  9. Melt
  10. Song of Life
  11. Phat Planet
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