When Leftfield originally dropped their debut album Leftism in 1995, the landscape in terms of electronic long players was very different to now.
Dance acts transferring their ability to thrill beyond one off 12”s to the long playing format was a relatively new thing, and a trick not yet mastered by many; only Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Orbital’s Brown Album, The Prodigy’s Music For The Jilted Generation and Fluke’s Techno Rose of Blighty had really pulled it off at the time, though each now enjoys 'classic album' status. While many played up the rock-y angle of Underworld, the soundtrack geekery of Orbital and nu-punk of The Prodigy, Leftfield proved to be the most purist of these acts, and Dubnobass... aside, this is the album that has aged best out of those it was lumped in with at the time.
Leftfield's live performances from that era now hold the same legendary status as those of My Bloody Valentine - volume was key, and as such it's no surprise that it's on the more aggressive tracks that Leftism excels. A tune such as "Afro-Left" still sounds like a year zero for electronic music; fusing African rhythms with trance riffs and a pounding techno beat had probably never been done prior to Leftism, and it still bangs with punk vigour. The furious futurism of "Space Shanty" will still manage to make you frantically gurn against your will, while the jungle-influenced beats of "Storm 3000" still prove a thrill even after all this time. The dubby beats and chillonic intro of "Song For Life" could only come from the 90s, plus it remains a mystery that the more dancefloor ready "Cut For Life" - only released on the vinyl version originally - isn't promoted to this reissue, as it’s a real highlight of the record. The slow paced dub-hop of the Toni Halliday (Curve)-featuring "Original" remains deep and menacing, and of course there's "Open Up" featuring John Lydon, the track which brought Leftfield their commercial cross over. It remains one of the weirdest ever top 20 hits and is absolutely the best song either party has ever been involved with.
Of course there are tunes here that do date the record, but they remain relevant for showing a different, subtler side to the band beyond their bang bang, club-based material. The spatial ambience of "Melt" gives the LP a much needed moment of moody soundtrackism, a route many went down when wanting to show off a mellower side, while "Inspection One"'s big beats evoke memories of stoned late night sessions playing Wipeout 2097 on PlayStation One.
Being such a similarly important part of British dance music history, you would have expected Leftism 22 to beafforded a similarly deluxe reissue package to the one Dubnobass... received. That album’s comprehensive reissue in the form of an exhaustive four CD set is not replicated here, thus making the package much more precise; you get the album, then you get the album remixed by current artists. Of those remixes, Maafi impressively taps into the dancehall elements of "Inspection One", Adrian Sherwood does that Adrian Sherwood thing to "Release The Pressure", fans of harder dance music will find much to love with Ben Sims techno retouch of "Black Flute" (which proves to be much more maximal than his usual material), Bodyjack twists "Song of Life" into big room minimal-tech which utilises the euphoric breakdown of the original to great effect, and Skream continues his journey into tuff tech-house with his impressive jacking touch up of "Open Up".
Let’s be frank here, every single copy of Leftism that was bought at the time is totally wrecked for a multitude of reasons, so a reissue of it is very much welcome. Once re-acquainting yourself with the album, those hazy memories attached to it trickle back, while the reasons why you loved it in the first place will smack you in the face as soon as that glorious first note of "Release The Pressure" booms from the speaker. It’s a wonderful thing, and its standing as one of the best albums of the 90’s remains undiminished.