Interview: How LFO made ‘LFO’ – 909originals catches up with Gez Varley on the 30th anniversary of a techno classic
There are techno masterpieces, and then there’s LFO – LFO, which was released on this day 30 years ago (26 July 1990*), and arguably sounds unlike anything recorded before or since.
The track (symbolised by the iconic Leeds Warehouse Mix) was one of the first releases on the then-fledgling Warp Records – when the purple label alone was enough to make it an essential purchase – and was the debut release from the Leeds based duo Gez Varley (aka G-Man) and Mark Bell (RIP), with a little assistance from local DJ Martin Williams.
To mark LFO‘s 30th anniversary, 909originals caught up with Gez Varley to discuss how the track came together.
“I met up with Mark in late 1988 at a ‘Photography and Graphics’ course in Leeds,” Varley explains. “I was already making music, and so was Mark, with another Leeds lad, Richard Brook – who later went on to do Wild Planet on Warp Records.
“After hearing some of their stuff, I asked Mark to start doing some music with me, and soon after Mark joined LFO, our mate Martin Williams got involved. He was a resident at the Leeds Warehouse club, and a tutor on our course.”
While Varley admits that the newly-formed group “didn’t know much about Warp” at the time, a happy accident led to the track being signed to the fledgling Sheffield label.
“We used to hang out at the Leeds Warehouse club all the time, as Martin was DJing there a lot,” he says. “The club was a huge influence for us as we played out our demos there, and heard all the early import records from Detroit and Chicago being played out.
“One night, Martin was playing our demo and a guy came up to the DJ both and asked ‘what’s that track, we want to sign it for our label?’ This turned out to be Rob Gordon, who started Warp with Rob Mitchell and Steve Beckett. Anyway, we went out to his car and gave him a demo tape with around 30 tracks on it, he was totally blown away. Warp was the first label to be interested.”
By that stage, he admits, LFO had a “lot of demos done”, and were busy trying to formulate their sound.
“We were always in the studio jamming, and recording stuff five days a week,” he says. “We wanted to do our own thing as LFO, but for sure we were influenced by Detroit techno, Kraftwerk and Chicago Trax, for example.”
As for the equipment used to make techno history? “I had an FZ10 sampler, Kawai K1 keyboard, Jen SX1000 keyboard, and a Speak and Spell kids’ toy, for the voice. Martin had an Atari ST computer and a small Fostex mixer and a couple of small Yamaha FX units. That was about it. It was really amazing to think what we came up with using only that gear. Sometimes less is more, more or less…”
While Martin Williams left the group shortly before LFO‘s release – “he continued to work with Basic Records in Leeds, on some very cool releases” – Varley cites him as playing a key role in the track’s composition.
“Martin was a big part of the track on the arrangement side,” he says. “He really knew what the crowd would like and where stuff should drop in and out.”
Thirty years since the release of LFO’s self-titled anthem ‘LFO’ (WAP5).
“That was the one that turned us into a “real label”. We just weren’t really prepared for what would happen with that record” – Steve Beckett, 2007
→ https://t.co/OLQV36cLBh pic.twitter.com/0a6DWjAbsz— Warp Records (@WarpRecords) July 26, 2020
And, as they say, the rest was history, with LFO becoming an unlikely commercial success, reaching as high as number 12 in the pop charts, and setting the duo on the road to legendary status.
“Yeah, the chart success was a surprise,” says Varley. “After all, it was truly an underground record which crossed over.”
Varley is currently working on a new album, scheduled to be released next year – “it’s half done,” he says – and also has a number of releases coming out soon, a G-Man and Rob Strobe collaboration on Lucid Flow Records, and a vinyl release (as Gez Varley) on German label Millegram.
There’s also a scheduled re-release of some classic G-Man tracks on Back To Life Records, and “I’m doing a techno label with my old school pal Ed’sy from Unique 3 called Tan Ta Ra Records”.
[Thanks to Gez for talking to us. *Note that the release date of 26 July 1990 is as indicated on Discogs – the trainspotter in us thinks it might have been earlier though…]