Leaving behind the progressive yearnings of 1995’s Leftism, in September 1999, Leftfield’s Neil Barnes and Paul Daley were back, with a harder edged sound – encapsulated in the single Afrika Shox, released on this day (6 September) 20 years ago.
Kicking off with a slow, subtle 808 riff – a nod to the presence of the legendary Afrika Bambaataa on vocals – Afrika Shox was part paean to the electro scene of yesteryear, part doused in paranoia about the coming Millennium (remember the ‘Y2K bug’ nonsense?): “The year 2000 is on the way… some say / The year 2000 has been here since yesterday.”
As a source close to the band told NME a few months before the track’s release, “The single’s like an old-skool electro track, with a real Leftfield groove and Afrika Bambaataa going mad over the top. The video itself is just awesome, although some of the themes in it have been picked up on and used in other places.”
The track would go on to be Leftfield’s biggest chart hit, reaching a high of #7 in the UK pop charts, helped no doubt by a scintillating slice of techno-horror from Chris Cunningham, who provided the video [at the time, Cunningham was riding high on the success of Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy, released two years previously].
Commenting on the video, techno producer Pleasurekraft noted its similarities to 1984 sci-fi flick The Brother from Another Planet in an interview with Fabric London, saying “The cold colouring, the hard surfaces, and the alienating interactions all set a mood of unease in the viewer. Cunningham’s deft use of special effects makes this a gem everyone should see.
“Pay close attention to shots where the main character is in the far distance interacting with random people on the street, as Cunningham filmed many of these shots with a telephoto lens to capture the passers-by’s authentic reactions to the video’s protagonist.”
In fact, Leftfield’s return single was preceded earlier that year by the pounding beats of Phat Planet, which accompanied one of the most iconic Guinness commercials of all time.
Not missing a trick, the duo promptly placed Phat Planet on the B-side of Afrika Shox.