In writing this I don’t want to dwell over long on the tragic death of Mark Bell earlier this week. Much has already been said of his passing following complications relating to surgery, and much has been said about his life and his music, including his production work for the likes of Bjork and Depeche Mode. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
For many of us it wasn’t Mark’s work with high-profile bands that sealed his fame and memory, but what he did with his own band, LFO, which he formed in the late 80s with friends from Leeds University. it is difficult now, perhaps, to appreciate exactly how important LFO were to us, and what debt modern electronic music owes to them. In many ways they were a product of a time that will probably never be repeated.
It will probably seems curious – unbelievable perhaps – for some younger reader to look back at the state of scene in the early nineties and see a number of acts that would nowadays be considered resolutely underground charting alongside the giants of pop and rock. In truth the number of bands who were making these big waves and playing on shows like Top Of The Pops were small, but no less important for it. Orbital, 808 State, LFO, and The Orb all enjoyed massive and mainstream critical acclaim alongside other perhaps slightly more commercial but no less ground breaking bands like The Prodigy, The Shaman and – a bit later – The Chemical Brothers.
They formed a group of artists who had been influenced by the Acid House explosion – people who cared about the same music as you or I, but were afforded the freedom of a strangely open musical world to reach an audience most modern artists can only dream of. These days, when a House or Techno act can congratulate themselves on selling a few hundred copies of a record, it is shocking to remember that LFO’s first release reached number 12 in the charts and is rumoured to have sold somewhere north of 120,000 copies. Such success nowadays might still be possible for the most commercial of EDM celebrities but you can guarantee that they will never enjoy the same critical and artistic acclaim.
There are probably many reasons why this is so. Electronic music was far less saturated than it is now. We’ve had a quarter of a century of electronic music and producers since then, and the scenes have splintered time and time again into an infinity of sub genres that barely last long enough to have a label attached to them. But that doesn’t take anything away from a simple truth: The music LFO made (and other bands from the time) remains golden because it was as authentic then as it was now. It was made by people who loved the music and understood why it was special. It was made for people like us by people like us. People who knew the stupidity and hilarity of early morning after-club hi jinx; who knew the smell of too much dry ice and the way the strobes lit it up; people who knew who Derrick May or Juan Atkins or Marshal Jefferson were. Who knew what a 303 or an 808 did to the heart, the soul and the mind.
I could have chosen any one of a dozen tunes, I suppose, but I chose this one because it reminds me of a very special time. It’s as much Richie Hawtin’s tune as LFO’s but it’s such a stone cold groove – always rising, always just pulling away at the last moment – that I don’t think I could really have found any better. Just go and listen to it. They don’t come any more classic than this.
Thank you Mark.