Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RIP Mark Bell

In 1990, Gez Varley and Mark Bell aka LFO released their eponymous debut single.  If they'd both retired from music after that, they'd still be spoken about in reverent tones by techno fans everywhere.  The single was an instant classic, and the creators became folk heroes renowned for their abilities make subwoofers waltz around the room or destroy them altogether.   "LFO", the single, recalls a specific time and place (the height of early 90`s British rave music) more vividly that any other record of its time.  It's like the Haight-Ashbury of 90's techno -- we get dewy-eyed and nostalgic about it much the former flower kids of the 60's do about their beloved golden age.  It's the kind of nostalgia that you always feel good about wallowing in.

LFO accomplished a lot more though.   The follow-up single, "We Are Back" was also an instant classic (and even better than "LFO", depending on the day that you ask me the question), and their debut album, "Frequencies" was yet another outstanding effort that still ranks high on many "best techno albums" lists.  After a long layoff, the second LFO album "Advance" finally appeared and easily exceeded expectations.  Whereas many of their early 90's peers (Prodigy, Utah Saints) continued releasing music as if the rave had never really stopped, LFO shifted gears entirely into a maximalist wall of sound style of techno that they virtually invented and that still sounds fresh and vital nearly 20 years later.  Quaking bass, ringing chimes, tracks that built into furious climaxes and slowly dissolved away, much of it wasn't easy to dance to but seemed like the future of club music anyhow.  "Advance", FWIW, was my third favourite album of 1996 and is easily the best thing LFO ever did as far as I'm concerned.

They weren't done though.  Varley and Bell went their separate ways shortly afterward.  Varley released a number of essential records under his own name and as G-Man and became a minimal techno godfather of sorts.  Bell released just one more album as LFO but more importantly, make the completely unprecedented leap into music production.  He worked on several of Bjork's albums beginning with "Homogenic" and was the sole producer on Depeche Mode's "Exciter".  Bell joined a very exclusive club of producers who gained legitimacy and importance outside the dance music scene.  Indeed, outside of those who have worked with Madonna at some point, it's hard to think of any others who started out as DIY club kids making techno in their bedrooms and ended up producing some of the world's most respected acts.

 Bell was like that one kid who escaped the small town for the big city and managed to make it on its own.  Except he didn't let the city transform him, he didn't survive in the jungle by learning how to play by the rules of the natives.  He didn't get swallowed up, rather, it was the opposite -- the big boys came knocking on his door because they wanted to conform to him, to sound more like him, to use his ideas to keep them on the cutting edge.  No matter how big he got, Bell always seemed like "one of us", the local boy who made good.  And now, sadly, he's gone. 

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