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Rewind: Interview with Mark Bell/LFO in 1996

by Seb Chan on October 13th, 2014

RIP Mark Bell.

I dug this interview up from my archive, done for 3D World Magazine in Sydney a couple of months before the release of LFO’s Advance LP on Warp way back in 1996. I loved Mark’s “someone falling down the stairs with a drum kit” description of jungle.

So I am standing up the back of The Site just before the Aphex Twin starts DJing, talking to David Thrussel of Snog and Black Lung. “I can always tell when someone’s new to the scene – they come up and ask what’s playing when I’m mixing something from LFO’s Frequencies album”, he tells me matter-of-factly. Back in 1991, LFO stormed the charts in England and a more than a few dancefloors here with Frequencies and its many singles, especially What Is House?. Then all fell silent until a year or so ago when a collaboration with Richie Hawtin surfaced, and in the last two months the long awaited follow-up album, Advance appeared.

Mark Bell has just woken up after a long night at a friend’s party down at the local, and now I understand why every interview with LFO always begins at the pub. Solo work as Speedjack on R&S and G-Man on Swim, a label belonging to Colin Newman from post-punkers Wire, has kept Mark busy between LFO records. “We’ve worked with a lot of people, we did some stuff with Kraftwerk, Radiohead, Bjork, Art Of Noise, Yellow Magic Orchestra . . . . I’ve always listen to all sorts of music really – I do like electronic stuff, but I also really like indie music . . . . you see I live in Leeds and there are lots of clubs catering to students – there’s jazz, funk, 70s, disco, techno, hip hop”.

Advance, explains Mark, is made up of “some stuff from three years ago and some are more recent . . . we recorded literally millions of bits and pieces and picked the one’s that we thought fitted best together as an album so you could listen to it all the way through . . . . when I was last on holidays with my friends I grabbed a whole lot of tapes and listened to them all and most were really boring – just one theme. It’d be really nice if you could have one album with lots of different styles and moods and that’s what we’ve tried to do . . . . the tracks on Advance, I wouldn’t say are the best tracks we’ve done, but they fitted well and reflected a range of moods . . . . some of the others may be released but I’m not sure how”.

Preceded by the industrial S&M nightmare of the first single, Tied Up, Mark enthuses on the making of the video, “David Slade, the director, really liked the music, and ended up doing the video for free after we’d had a bit too much to drink one night. That’s why it turned out the way it did . . . . I haven’t shown my mum – I keep telling her we never got around to making it”. A collage of Gez and Mark tied to chairs with face masks being hurled around a padded cell, the Tied Up clip is not one you’d be likely to see much on the telly, except for perhaps Rage at 3am, “it got screened a lot in Germany but only a few times in England. Interestingly it was the heavy metal shows that played it in Germany, not the techno ones . . . . and a mate, David, who I’ve known since I was fifteen has always been into heavy metal and so I’ve always been listening to that sort of music as well”.

LFO will, with any luck, be touring Australia sometime around May possibly with stablemates Autechre. Things are yet to be fully confirmed but mark seems quite relaxed about it all enjoying his easy life; “neither Gez nor I have to go to work, we can survive off doing the odd live performance, and a spot of DJing. When we play live we done it three main ways, once with real analogue gear – keyboards, synthesisers, the lot – which ended up being a total nightmare to patch together; then we’ve also done it with just samplers which ended up being more of mixdown-type situation; and lastly we’ve also done it off reel-to-reel tape decks . . . as for bouncing around, it depends”.

“There’s a lot of rubbish out at present, simply because people see what is going on and then try to copy it . . . . I don’t really like a lot of jungle and there are only a few tracks that are any good. Everybody uses that same noise that sounds like someone falling down the stairs with a drumkit, and they tend to all have the same feelings in them. Forget what instruments you use and work out what feeling you are creating – sad, or happy, or dancing. A lot of what’s going on now is created by the media – jungle, trip hop, electro – its all the same sort of thing . . . . I think its the music industry as well as the DJs themselves – they don’t play other music, they just play one style, and they think that if they don’t just do that the crowd will think it is rubbish and walk out. So they just end up playing almost the one record label all through the night and its really boring . . . . my favourite club would be one that played the best of hip hop the best of the new techno, the best of old house, not just playing things because they’re new. In Leeds we have this club called the Orbit where they have all the best DJs in all the different styles every Saturday and recently they’ve had Robert Armani, Richie Hawtin and Joey Beltram as guests, and so it comes pretty close I suppose”.

Seb Chan, 1996.

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