by Stefan Wyeth | 3,8 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 4 Minutes
Sound Like Leftfield

The Electronic Resistance: How To Sound Like Leftfield  ·  Source: Leftfield

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Still revered to this day as one of the greatest electronic dance acts, the UK duo, Leftfield, broke through with their debut album, Leftism, in the mid-1990s. We discuss their production style and check out some of their key gear choices.

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Neil Barnes and Paul Daley formed Leftfield at the end of the 1980s, a time when club music was beginning to blossom on the radiowaves with the rise of remix culture, and groups like The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers crossing over into mainstream notoriety.

It took a few years, but in the mid-1990s the duo changed direction and decided to hit the studio to record their debut album Leftism, which would become one of the most groundbreaking electronic releases of all time, combining styles, like dub, acid house, breakbeat, and tribal techno.

The Leftfield sound

Apart from throbbing basslines under high-energy drum patterns, Leftfield’s distinctive style is comprised of an intricate system of call-and-response loops between multiple sounds interacting across the stereo and reverberant field.

At the time, this level of sophistication in electronic music was never heard by mainstream audiences, which is why some fans like to compare Leftism (1995) to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Soundtracs Jade

The UK console manufacturer, Soundtracs, produced some truly excellent mixing boards from the late 1980s to the 1990s, before being bought out by Digico in the early 2000s.

Rollover Studios, London, had two Soundtracs boards, including the Jade console that was used during the recording of Leftism. Although it’s not a big-league console, it still offers plenty of flexibility with 12 aux sends, as well as 4-band EQs, compressors, gates, and de-essers.

Mixing hardware-based electronic music on an analogue desk like a Dynacord CMS will give your music a different sonic edge. However, it’s more the creative freedom of the workflow that really sets it apart from using a DAW exclusively.

Soundtracs Jade

Soundtracs Jade.

Dynacord CMS2200-3

Dynacord CMS2200-3

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Roland TB-303

By the mid-1990s, the 303 was an established sound in dance as well as other forms of music. Leftfield still managed to deliver their own definitive spin on tracks like Song Of Life, where you can truly hear how articulate it is as a bassline-generating machine.

Although it’s incredibly simple and easy to use, it still relies on good melodic input to create expressive patterns with its unique approach to glide, accentuation, and its filter envelope.

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Getting a decent 303 sound isn’t hard these days with instruments like the Bass Bot, and you can quickly liven up half-time patterns with the use of a stereo delay.

Roland TB-303

Roland TB-303

Cyclone Analogic TT-303 Bass Bot V2

Cyclone Analogic TT-303 Bass Bot V2

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Roland TR-909

There are few drum programming experiences that rival the 909, and this is one of the reasons it became such an important aspect of dance music culture.

When you combine that creative immediacy with drum sounds that you know will sound good in a venue, you begin to understand what all the hype was about.

You can hear the 909 used extensively on Leftism, but more modern instruments like the Jomox Alpha Base go far beyond what the 909 will ever be capable of, without losing the thump or feel you love.

Roland TR-909

Roland TR-909

Jomox Alpha Base

Jomox Alpha Base

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AKAI S3200

The S3200 was released back in 1993 as AKAI’s flagship 16-bit 44.1 kHz sampling workstation. With 32-voice polyphony, a synthesis engine, and effects, you could deliver sounds in the most crisp, intelligent way possible.

With an Atari system running Notator as the main sequencer, a tool like the S3200 is the perfect bridge between the instruments and the master recorder. It gives you plenty of creative power and flexibility to alter sounds to fit the arrangement where needed.

Luckily these days, with instruments like the Elektron Octatrack you no longer need an additional sequencer. What’s more, you have 8 MIDI channels to sequence additional hardware too.

AKAI S3200

AKAI S3200

Elektron Octatrack MKII Black

Elektron Octatrack MKII Black

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Roland Juno-106

The Juno-106 was one of the go-to sound creation tools used on Leftism and for good reason. It’s incredibly dynamic and versatile, whilst still being quick and easy to program.

There are also digital synths like the Roland JD-800 in use on pad sounds, but you can hear the Juno distinctly on tracks like Original and Storm 3000.

Rather than being a clone, the Deepmind is inspired by the Juno, and it adds a great effects engine to bring more expression to the sound you create.

Roland Juno-106

Roland Juno-106

Behringer DeepMind 6

Behringer DeepMind 6

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Which of your favourite artists would you like to see in our sound-alike series? Please let us know in the comments below!

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Image Sources:
  • Soundtracs Jade: East Hall Recording
  • Roland TB-303: retrosynthads
  • Roland TR-909: Roland
  • AKAI S3200: Chesbay Resort
  • Roland Juno-106: Amazona
Sound Like Leftfield

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One response to “The Electronic Resistance: How To Sound Like Leftfield”

    Open up .... says:
    0

    A big partyhead in the 90s, Leftism and the KLF’s Chillout were always on at every after-party. Wherever you went in the UK, one of the two was always playing in flat full of sweaty tired people somewhere. Both Leftfield, who are still producing good stuff, and KLF, who are long defunct, are part of the ravers’ souls. But I bet Leftfield are now using different gear to make the new stuff.

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