There are few tunes that have such an electrifying effect on a dance floor than LFO – LFO. Released on Warp in 1990, it has become redolent of a classic and seminal era of electronic music in Yorkshire, still retaining its relevance for present-day ravers. For club-goers in Leeds, listening to this anthem is a spine-tingling rite of passage; an awakening to the historic fabric of the city’s music scene. Gez Varley was one half of the legendary production duo, and a Leeds man through and through. We are excited for his to return to Yorkshire to play at Wire, especially since he will be hosted by another mythic name from our community’s lineage: The Orbit. In anticipation, we asked Gez all about his relationship with his home town, and how the bleep scene formed around it.
I want to think back to your days on the breakdancing scene in Leeds, where you first met Mark Bell. It is said that the Merrion Centre was the main spot for this, which is odd because it is just a kind of dry (and rather 1980s) shopping centre now. Can you give any insight into what it was like back then? And what was that breakdancing scene like?
Yeah, the Merrion Centre was the main meeting point for all the breakdancers, at the top end where Jumbo records was. We used to get chased out of there a lot by the security guards so it was easy to get away at the top entrance doors. Also there was a subway just over the road where we would go and continue the breakdance battles. It was an amazing time as everything was so fresh and new (the music , the dancing and fashion). A lot of the guys that were into breakdancing and hip hop got into making music in the later years: Unique 3, N.O.W., Ital rockers, Juno, Forge Masters (Sheffield) and us LFO. As for the Merrion Centre itself not much has changed there it still looks like what it did in the 1980’s (only the top end has been changed).
Do you think there was something about Yorkshire – or more specifically Leeds – that made it the place to make dance music, and nurture the Warp scene?
Yeah I think I can safely say that without this early west Yorkshire “B-Boy” scene Warp records wouldn’t be the same label that it became. I mean, growing up in Leeds there wasn’t that much else for a lot of us to do other than getting into music. Most of my mates went to the football matches and pubs.
What was the club scene like in Leeds at the time? Where did you go out? Wire would have been there, but not in its current incarnation. It may have been Think Tank.
We used to go the the Warehouse night club in Leeds.. around the time of 88-91 ..Martin Williams (the third member of LFO who left before our hit record charted) was a resident DJ there so we used to test out our early cassette demos there.mWe also did our first gig there in may 1990 (for Leeds Music week). Martin also played out at many different places in Yorkshire (such as Sheffield “Cuba” and Astoria/Roundhay road) so we always tagged along with him and his mates.
You say you and Mark were in competing breakdance crews, but then became friends. I am wondering if the wider music scene was competitive too? Did promoters have to fight, or could they work together? The current vibe in Leeds is one of collaboration.
We also used to go to a lot of “Blues clubs ” in the chapeltown road area of Leeds … I remember back then that there was quite a bit of fighting going on between rival clubs. Most of the DJs and musicians got on together though.
Do you think the ‘Leeds Warehouse Mix’ has become such a classic because of its association with the city?
I don’t think that that the “LFO leeds warehouse mix” has become famous due to its connection with Leeds. It’s simply an outstanding track that still sounds fresh today.
What is your relationship with the Orbit? What made it such a special place and party?
Yeah the Orbit was an out standing club and we used to go and hang out there as much as possible as it was our mates that ran the night. However due to the fact that we were away most weekends touring we missed a lot of cool nights and we only played there once as LFO on NYE 1995. Such a shame that it’s no longer going. Was always a great line up with top DJs and live acts. I once bumped into Daft Punk by chance at Leeds train station (we toured in France with them back in 94-95) and they were on the way to the Orbit club to play however they had no British pounds to pay the taxi driver to get to Morley, so I lent them a tenner to get there . (And yes they did pay me back later that night after their amazing gig ).
Have you got any vivid memories, any interesting stories, from that time?
Yeah I should write a book about what happened to us on tour. So much crazy stuff went on. Missing flights getting on the wrong plane and being taken off at the last minute, being banned by the one club for throwing pizza at the promotor, food fights on the tour bus. I rode a bike into a canal one time and almost drowned after a party in Gent, Belgium for R&S records. Seemed like a fun idea at the time.
Do you think there could ever be a venue or event as legendary as the Orbit anymore? Has club culture changed for the worse? At the moment we have Cosmic Slop, a 200 capacity party that attracts big DJs unannounced – this has a legendary feel to it, but we’ll see if it stands the test of time.
I think its possible to do a club like the Orbit again, however it would need heavy funding as a lot of the top DJ’s charge crazy amounts now.
Leeds is bidding to be the European Capital of Culture in 2023. What do you think about this? Do you see Leeds as a place for this kind of culture?
I wish Leeds all the best for the European city of culture bid in 2023. Leeds city centre has really come on leaps and bounds, however you only have to go to any of the council estates and you will see the same problems that were there 30 years ago. Maybe this is part of the reason we have a healthy music scene. It’s really a way to get out, making music.
The event takes place on 29th April 2017 at Wire. See the event page HERE.