The world of electronic music remembers LFO’s Mark Bell on the fifth anniversary of his passing
This week (8 October to be exact) marks five years since the passing of pioneering electronic musician Mark Bell, who passed away at the age of just 43, in 2014.
The Yorkshire native is best known for his work with LFO, alongside Gez Varley, with the group setting the template for British techno in the early 90s – debut album Frequencies (1991) was one of the first releases on the then-emerging Warp Records.
After 1996’s Advance, Bell went on to man the LFO project by himself, releasing final album Sheath (which included the earth-shuddering single Freak) in 2003. He also went on to become the main producer for Bjork, working on every album between Homogenic (1997) and Biophilia (2011), as well as work on Depeche Mode’s Exciter, the group’s 2001 return to form.
Bell passed away on 8 October 2014, due to complications after an operation.
In early September, techno DJ Sunil Sharpe raised the topic of commemorating the five-year anniversary of Mark’s passing, with a callout on Twitter to play out favourite LFO track ‘nice and loud’ at some point today to pay tribute to this electronic trailblazer.
This October 8th it’ll be 5 years since Mark Bell (LFO) passed away. We should commemorate him and his contribution to music that day. General idea would be to blast out “LFO” (or whatever track you love most) nice and loud wherever you are, perhaps at a certain time that day— Sunil Sharpe (@sunilsharpe) September 5, 2019
And there’s no shortage of classics to choose from. We reached out to a few familiar faces from the dance music world, with several big names sharing their experiences of working alongside Mark, as well as their favourite tracks from his devastating back catalogue.
GEZ VARLEY (LFO co-founder)
It was always great working with Mark. We used to ‘jam’ together three to four times a week, where I showed him how to program drum machines and keyboards. Also, playing live with him was great, as he just knew when to play the right melody or riff – they were really fun times indeed.
For me, our best tunes were those on the first 12″ record on Warp, alongside Martin Williams.
DAX J (Monnom Black / Klockworks)
Mark Bell – innovator, and legend. One of his most popular tracks, and still my favourite from him, is the LFO Leeds Warehouse Mix, which remains just as futuristic and stand-out now as it did back in the day.
A timeless classic that will be listened too for generations to come. I played it recently and still it gave me goosebumps after all those years I’ve had it. A truly transcending track.
DAVE CLARKE (White Noise)
LFO spearheaded a new sound in techno, along with Juno and other UK acts like Unique3. I reviewed LFO – LFO when it came out, it was so fresh. But two other tracks came out that blew me away: We Are Back, which was a true statement of intent, and What Is House, which was an updated homage to Willie Wonka’s track on Trax a decade earlier.
LFO deserved the success without a doubt; they were visionaries and a proud part of the UK side of techno.
TONY CANNON (Open House Recordings / Electric Sheep Recordings)
Five years after the passing of LFO’s Mark Bell, and my favourite LFO track; Track 4 still sounds amazing. The repetitive beauty of the track, deep bassline and haunting synth licks, plus the absence of today’s predictable 4/4 beat, make this track a speaker-blowing piece of electronic music history.
I used to hammer this track from the shores of sunny Blackburn to the rave-hungry shores of mainland Spain, in or around 1991. This, for me, is a low-frequency piece of art. When those little green men finally arrive and introduce themselves, this is the soundtrack I expect to be playing in the background.
SURGEON (Dynamic Tension Records / Counterbalance)
Mark was such a quiet, humble guy. It was always a pleasure to meet him. The first LFO album made a huge impression on me, and I’ll always be grateful to Mark and Gez for that.
DONNACHA COSTELLO (Minimise / D1 / Ursa)
I never got to meet Mark, but his work always left a big impression on me. I think of him as the king of the TR-909, from the hyperactive programming of LFO vs Fuse Loop to the strange and virtuoso application of it as an instrument in Bjork’s Hunter.
It’s Lofthouse, made under his Clark alias that sticks out in my mind, though. Just a masterful live-jam build up of 909 rhythms with a simple vocal sample. It’s timeless and thoroughly ace.
SUNIL SHARPE (Earwiggle)
I always loved the story behind the Sheath album, in that Mark Bell basically let friends pick out what tracks he should supply to Warp for it. It seemed like he didn’t always realise how exceptional his music was, or else just always had higher expectations of what it could be, which is certainly something a lot of producers can relate to.
The difference with Mark Bell though (besides his level of special talent) is that he didn’t spend his career camped in one genre, and spent a large part of it outside of the techno or club scene. He showed a really fresh musical vision throughout his years, something that can easily escape many producers, who get eaten up by the scene they’re involved in every week.
On another front (and to those who aren’t aware of it), make sure you check his old shortly-lived techno label Syncopate. I first knew it originally from an orange vinyl Cold Dust record, and more recently completed tracking down the rest of the catalogue. Although some of the records are credited to known artists, not all of them are, and I think it’s fair to assume that Mark would’ve had a hand in at least a couple of them.
I’m not sure if Blawan has ever mentioned this in an interview either, but he and Mark had talked about collaborating shortly before his untimely passing five years ago. I think that could quite possibly have been the most potent techno collaboration we would have heard in this era.
I remember playing with him at Life Festival in 2014, in what would turn out to be his second last ever gig. That set was one of the loudest I ever heard, you’re talking My Bloody Valentine levels! The visuals were on another level too. And that’s the thing with Mark Bell, he never did anything in half measures.
A pioneering, uncompromising act, who should always be an inspiration to music makers and listeners out there.
My favourite LFO tracks are Love Is The Message and You Have To Understand, off the Frequencies album. Quite simply, they make me feel good when I listen to them – a proper old school feel with a simple message. The whole album is brilliant, twisted, bleepy rawness.
LFO and Mark Bell brought something to electronic music like no others. The tunes Mark Bell put out under his techno alias Clark are also fantastic – Primus is pure distorted, warm loveliness.
NEVILLE WATSON (Clone / Don’t Be Afraid / Créme Organization)
In terms of stand-out tracks, it would be so easy to choose LFO, which goes without saying is a groundbreaking piece of music, but its legendary status too easily overshadows Mark Bell’s other output.
For me, the whole Lofthouse double 12 on Planet E, under his Clark guise, is still as peerless now as it was 24 years ago. Raw, pumping and emotive electronics that didn’t and still don’t sound like anyone/anything else.
I still can’t quite believe Mark has passed away, five years later. I never knew him, but he occupied that place that certain artists do where their work is so vital that you think they’ll go on forever. You certainly don’t think they’ll leave us so young.
EOMAC (Eotrax / Bedouin Records / Trilogy Tapes)
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but this track is always special to me: A Salute to Those People Who Say Fuck You from the Warp We Are Reasonable People compilation. It was at a time when I was just starting to DJ, and used to play this in loads of sets.
I wasn’t really into techno at the time, but this track was something different – quite alien and wild – which made it stand out from most other techno tracks I was hearing.
PERC (Perc Trax)
For me, Mark and LFO have been around for as long I’ve really been aware of dance music. The first track of theirs that I heard was my older brother playing LFO, whose opening bleeps and pad chords has to rank as one of the greatest openings to a track and recording career ever.
All their EPs and albums had highlights on them for me, but the whole Tied Up 12-inch is in my opinion one of the strongest EPs Warp has ever released. More abrasive than their previous output, all four mixes of the track grabbed me in different ways, and I still play them all from time to time in my sets. The intensity of the Sweep and Acid mixes in particular are still very inspiring to me and what I try to do in the studio.
Outside of LFO, I always tried to keep up to date with Mark’s production and remixing output, with his work with Bjork, and especially the LFO remixes of Hyperballad, being highlights for me. I’m so glad I got to see Mark play as LFO at XOYO in London in early 2013, about 18 months before he sadly left us.
POSTHUMAN (I Love Acid / Balkan Vinyl)
I originally knew Mark from the Ninja Tune and Xltronic forums, which, back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, were hubs of activity for a load of music nerds, fans, producers, and trolls.
Mark was really active on both forums, and absolutely loved winding people up, proper scathing sense of humour – he was funny as fuck – but was also really active in encouraging and helping out other musicians and producers, and privately very supportive. We eventually met up at a couple gigs and Bloc Weekend, and became friends.
For years I juggled day-jobs with music. When I decided to make the jump full time, Mark was the first person to email me, offering any help I needed. He was really supportive of everything on the label, and when I did my first charity compilation, Acid Relief, he wrote a track specially, named I Love Acid after my label and clubnight. It was the last track he ever released as LFO. I finally put it out on vinyl, like it deserved, last year.
I also have a remix of a Posthuman track that he never finished; the last time we spoke about it was two weeks before he passed away. I will never release it, I don’t think he’d like something unfinished out there.
MARK ARCHER (Altern-8)
I’ve got loads of favourite LFO tunes. All the tracks off the first single are amazing. Not just the title track; Nurture and We Are Back are also brilliant.
But Mentok 1 has always been my most favourite of their tunes. The dirtiness of that main hook noise and the heavy sub bass that always reminded me of the ship foghorns off Scooby Doo. Just a brilliant record.
NEIL LANDSTRUMM (Scandinavia)
It has to be Mentok 1, from 1991. “Sparky needed up in the DJ box. Now.” The blueprints of UK euphoric hardcore rave, born in Leeds and pressed in the Sheffield Steel factory of Warp. Enjoyed worldwide. Great its from The North, eh?
MIKE DARKFLOOR (Mantis Radio)
His production impressed before I even knew who he was. From his amazing work on those Bjork albums, to his club anthems, to one of the best sets I’ve ever witnessed, at Bloc Weekender in 2011.
I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a brutal, intense, alien of glitched rave shards that has stuck with me all these years later. A mighty and unique talent, much missed, and much adored.
Seeing the video for Freak for the first time on the Warp Vision CD was beyond liberating. I came from this clubbing scene where everyone was about the ‘good but predictable’, where even if the sounds were weird and special, the arrangement was linear and comfortable to a point of being even boring.
I was introduced to IDM before that and I viewed it as this weird thing that is ‘great, but too weird to use in the club’, as most of it were ‘songs’ to be listened in full and not ‘tools’ to be used in a DJ set. Freak was the first time I heard something that was as wild as it is while still being club-friendly and even appealing to the casual clubber.
While the break is mental as well, what comes after it is a welcome respite from the madness. While the rhythm is predictable, its structure is not. While the melody is simple enough to be catchy, its sound design and production is pure sound-porn. And that vocal. That crazy iconic vocal.
It takes a special kind of person to use a Speak-n-Spell in your track and still make it sound profoundly ‘yours’. This cocktail of friendly weirdness is what I’ve been after ever since, both when it comes to my own production, and when it comes to my record bag and those special moments when you feel your audience is ready for something special.
Thank you Mark. Thank you for helping me love the thing I love the most, and thank you for bringing this much joy to our life with all of your music.
Growing up in the Danish suburbs, it could be really hard to find quality electronic music as I was getting into it. LFO’s Freak is one of those tunes that made it into the mainstream and just pulled me in beyond return.
I really appreciate that the impact made was powerful enough to get through to my younger self.
JOHN FLYNN (Spaces)
Rather than focus on the early stuff, one of my strongest Mark Bell memories were the sets he was doing before be passed. His signature angular techno was backed by an eye-crushingly bright, pulsating LED wall.
The liveness of the always-different Freak breakdown, highlighted in neon by the wall, made for an unforgettable audio visual experience. And I’m not usually one for AV sets. This is the way I’ll remember him. At the top of his game, right to the end.
ROB BOOTH (Electronic Explorations)
Mark Bell could put his mind to any genre. He wrote incredible techno, had two top 40 hits as LFO and wrote for some of the biggest names in music.
Its obvious to mention Bjork, but for me, being a Q-Club regular from 1995 to 2003, this one track always stands out, from The Advent’s seminal release, Shaded Elementz, which features remixes from some of techno’s finest heavyweight producers in Planetary Assault Systems, Joey Beltram, Surgeon and Carl Cox amongst others. It’s one of my most treasured records.
DUSTIN ZAHN (Enemy Records)
Deciding which song to highlight from a discography as rich as Mark’s is not an easy task. In terms of popular music, I was inclined to recommend his work on Bjork’s album, Homogenic. The LP’s fusion between Bjork’s pop elements and Bell’s experimentalism remains cosmically relevant in 2019 via acts like Kelela, FKA Twigs, Fever Ray, and more.
But after 25 years, LFO vs F.U.S.E. – Loop remains a timeless classic that somehow still manages to sound futuristic. If you hear it for the first time during a blurry night out, I promise you’ll remember hearing those three simple notes the next day. For those familiar with the melody, it can only invoke hardcore nostalgia. Loop is instantly recognisable despite the core of the track being reduced to just heavy claps and three notes, which is another bad-ass testament of techno as a true art form.
This track sounds so refreshing, considering techno’s current trend towards aggression. Even Loop co-writer Richie Hawtin’s recent commercial mix is a very dark and aggressive hour of pure energy. Tracks like Loop should serve as a reminder that techno doesn’t always need to be dark nor does it need to be anchored down by the world’s biggest kick drum.
Loop is a prime example that techno can be exciting and uplifting without resorting to predictable production tactics.
JON HUSSEY (Planet Dub)
One of my earliest rave memories was in The Camden Palace, London in 1990 hearing LFO’s LFO, and I can distinctly remember stopping, stuck rigid to the spot, looking around, not sure where the sounds were coming from?
It felt like something was happening or taking over the place, or was it the alarms going off? It was totally mesmerising in a very eerie way, something I’ll never forget for as long as I live.
The following year, myself and three friends that had also got totally hooked on early techno and house, listened to the LFO Frequencies album religiously in our kitchens, bedrooms and sitting rooms. This changed the way we felt about electronic music forever. I can safely say that Mark Bell and Gez Varley’s music veered me on to a Techno path for life, one I am forever grateful for.
STEPHEN GEHTHINGS (Magnetize)
Advance and Surge in one year is a killer one-two. Surge for its more straight-ahead head down ‘bangerness’, typified on Storm; and Advance for its combo of lush Spiritualized-style sweeps and multi tempo/style electronics.
FRAN HARTNETT (User Experience)
I’m one of the many, many people who were profoundly affected by Mark’s music over the course of his prolific career. Something about his music spoke to a generation, and supplied a sincere soundtrack and sometimes transcendental emotion to the landscape of raves and underground parties through the ’90s, and into the ’00s.
The records of his productions that stayed in my record bag longest, through the early years of my own life as a DJ, were the infectious Loop, which was by LFO vs F.U.S.E, and the Detroit flavoured Lofthouse EP, which was released under his Clark alias. I also fell in love with the Advance LP, of which the noisy grunge of Tied Up was my favourite track.
I think while the first two LFO LPs involved other producers, it’s safe to say that it was Mark who lent the unique, other-worldly element to LFO. You can hear his singular voice behind Bjork’s mighty vocals on her Homogenic LP, and then most obviously on Sheath. Perhaps it’s fitting that he got to leave us one final testament to his greatness in this solo album.
It was the monstrous Freak, from this LP, that got rightly caned by me for many years – one of those tracks that at some point in time I felt I played maybe just a little too much. But now I think… maybe I didn’t play it enough.
I was lucky enough to hear him play in Ireland at Life Festival in 2014, and it sounded to me like an artist in his prime. It was an outrageously fresh performance; of course no-one knew it would be one of his last. May he rest in peace. Beyond the stars.
TOMMY HOLOHAN (Rave Selekts)
Without trying to be too niche, Speed Jack – Fission is probably one of my favourites that Mark Bell was involved in.
It’s just one of those tracks you could get away with playing out now and no one would notice it was actually released in 1990. The polyrhythm bass is what does it for me – a certified banger!
MIKE SERVITO (The Bunker)
I was obsessed from the start. I got LFO Frequencies on cassette early in my youth. But, it wasn’t til the mid nineties when I found a release on Planet E Communications in Detroit that I realised the magic. It was Clark – Lofthouse.
I was surprised to find out it was Mark Bell, clearly stating ‘LFO Studioo’ on the vinyl. The entire release was sophisticated, futuristic, and slick. It felt way ahead of its time like all of his work. I think that’s when his impact really hit me.
Jak To Basics is still one of my all time favourites. It overwhelmingly touches all of my senses. That’s the most brilliant thing about him. I was crushed to hear of his passing. Five years ago today, we are without the genius of Mark Bell. But his spirit lives on engaging, inspiring, and moving us.
GILES ARMSTRONG (First Cut)
For me, it has to be the only solo release from Mark Bell under his Clark moniker, released in 1995, on Carl Craig’s Planet E records.
The see-through vinyl double pack was the soundtrack to many a night trying to ‘jak’ at the legendary Temple of Sound club in Dublin and proved that there was so much more to his music than just LFO. May he be ‘jaking’ in peace.
SUDDI RAVAL (Together)
I was always a massive LFO fan, like most people who were partial to a bleep over their basslines, but when Bjork picked him to collaborate with her on her solo work, that has to be some of my favourite work by either of them. I’m such a massive fan of them both.
I was lucky in that I got to see him perform with her at one of her gigs in Manchester. He was such a legend in life and his music will be with me forever now that he is no longer with us.
LFO gets a blast regularly in my house and it is one tune I always carry with me in my phone. I’ll never forget what it used to do at Blackburn raves. The room would literally shake.
I remember when LFO performed at the Tribal Gathering warehouse gig in Manchester – it broke the soundsystem; the bass was that powerful. We were without music for about half an hour, but because the circumstances under which it happened were so funny no one seemed to mind that much.
I briefly met him at a gig we both performed at in London Docklands in 1990. That was my only encounter with him, so I never really knew him personally. I wish I did. He seemed like such an amazing fella and he made such original music. There were a few moments in his career where he gave the entire scene a massive jolt.
MATTHEW HERBERT (Accidental Records)
Mark was such a sweet man. It was always a shock that such brilliant fierceness leapt out from his productions. His programming was exceptional, and production impeccable – exemplary control of dynamics and energy; all without the posturing that often accompanies techno.
I wrote this track, Peak, and was about to email him to programme the beats for it as i couldn’t get it right. He died before i sent it, so the track in part became a tribute to him.
AIKEN (Timeline / Non Series / Semantica)
LFO, Freeze, Butterslut, Loop, Simon From Sydney… It’s impossible to pick just one track. Mark Bell, thanks for your art.
BLEACHING AGENT (Body Horror)
Fawn – The Stroke has long been a favourite to play early on in hardcore sets, back when I was a pup. Trippy, strobing, propulsive, with a never-ending wall of noise, it has Mark showing his ability to inject colour and excitement into any style of music he touches.
It was a buzz later in life to see him dip back into this style a bit, through his work with Bjork.
RORY ST JOHN (Voltax)
Mark and LFO managed to encapsulate the moment of a generation more than once, over multiple decades.
My first foray was with Advance, which by then had placed him alongside the other Warp records heavyweights. The UK scene really was the like a kingdom of IDM back then and LFO, (despite the now, run-of-the-mill technical reference as an artist name) had a separate stake in the game to the other heavyweights.
The ultra-clinical constructions of Squarepusher and Autechre were a considerable separation to LFOs minimalist grooves, which were pure and simple and have proved to be a more timeless approach over the years than the hard-edged glitches or heavy breaks which dominated electronica in the late 90s and 2000s.
The pinnacle of this sound for me, was my personal favourite record from Mark Bell: the Fawn EP. Without exaggeration, I play this record at nine out of ten gigs, purely because it always tears a dancefloor apart. The filtered snares that rip through the system feel like a starting point for many heavy broken beat techno records that would follow years after.
More significantly, Mark Bell perfectly represents the golden era of electronic music, which operated outside of genres and cultural limitations. Something that is missing in the current domination of techno.
SAOIRSE (BBC Radio 1)
I don’t think I can really pick a favourite track, because his work spans over so many moods and emotions. It really depends on how you’re feeling that particular day.
But one track I have been playing nearly every set is this one, under his Speed Jack moniker: With The Clouds.
SEMTEK (Don’t Be Afraid Recordings)
LFO, the track, is the bleep archetype, but it sounds much different to Mark Bell’s solo work. Speed Jack – Storm is equal parts Drexciya and Birmingham in its outlook, and you hear that same edge from time to time in LFO’s work, not least the little played, but essential remix of Nitzer Ebb’s Control I’m Here.
Something about the fierceness of those tracks translates on LFO’s original works as a brutalism and a cold, staring, intensity.
On his work with Bjork, meanwhile, he feels present in the strident emotions and the slow pulse of the drums. Techno owes more to auteurs like Mark Bell that it will ever acknowledge.
PASQUALE ASCIONE (Ascion)
Mark Bell is a pilaster of electronic music, one of those that created a really special conjugation, his own special formula. Solo, or with Gez, or Bjork and others, he could make that music that never expires and only inspires.
He is and will be part of the soundtrack of my time. One of my greatest inspirations. LFO – Blown is now playing in the background. Rest in peace Mark Bell, you are missed.
PÄR GRINDVIK (Stockholm LTD)
There are many imitators but just a few innovators, and Mark Bell was one of them. Mark’s way to weave melodies and rhythms together, how he made things move forward with tiny filter changes, or distort the hell out of a drummloop while letting a melody or bassline fly in an airy reverb, is something that inspires me a lot.
I love most all of Mark’s releases, the old LFO, but also the Lofthouse EP he did under his Clark alias, Speedjack on R&S. But if I have to pick one record it has to be Sheath, the last LFO album, I’ve got no words for that record.
MAEDBH O’CONNOR (MOTZ)
Mark Bell was known for his admirable and distinguishable releases. One track that really holds nostalgic value to me is Butterslut from LFO’s Freak EP. I remember hearing this track for the first time in a sweaty Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick back in 2012, for the infamous ‘Macronite’.
Oscar Mulero ended the night on this track and I remember absolutely losing it as I heard the fierce synth pierce through the Funktion 1 system for the first time. An exceptional encore, and one I will never forget. Rest in peace, Mark Bell.
JEROME HILL (Don’t / Super Rhythm Trax)
Mark Bell made a great deal of music that’s very special to me. If I had to pick an all time favourite it’d be the LFO remix of Aftermath by Nightmares On Wax, which has stayed in my sets since it’s release in 1990. I defy anyone not to get the tingles when listening to the opening bars, and the same is true of a lot of Mark’s stuff. His range is so huge.
On the brutal end, Butterslut and Mummy I’ve Had An Accident both make regular appearances in my techno sets, and Bjork’s Hunter has reduced me to tears with it’s potency – such a beautiful and powerful track and I urge anyone reading this to put it on right now!
Jerome has also kindly shared with us a tribute radio show he put together that was broadcast the week of Mark’s passing, on London’s Kool FM. Listen to it here
Thanks to everyone that contributed and for Sunil Sharpe’s assistance in putting this together. Main picture sourced from Discogs. RIP Mark Bell, and thanks for all the beats. 🙂