GEZ VARLEY – LFO EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWMay 22, 2020
A Northern powerhouse of creativity flourished in the late 1980s early 90 ‘s that helped create and develop the UK Bleep Techno sound. Gez Varley, without doubt, is one of the greatest innovators of the British underground dance music scene through his welI recognised monikers of LFO and G-Man, whose records still influence us today 30 years later … this is his story
Mike Mannix: How are you?
Gez Varley: Good, Mike, let’s do this.
MM: What influences did you grow up with?
GV: I must have been about 6 or 7 and my Dad used to play Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon album all the time. I remember listening on quadraphonic headphones it was pretty cool and just blew my head away, he was also listening to reggae, heavy metal, and punk. I was influenced by all those genres and went through a heavy metal phase from 9 to 12. I used to buy every record I could with my spare cash as I loved the energy in those tracks. Then around age 12, I got into breakdancing on the street with my mates, etc in the shopping centers you know what I mean. My love of electronic sort of evolved from there, breakdancing, listening, and buying a lot of electronic music.
When the early House stuff came out I remember going into a record shop in London in 1987 with my mates and hearing Phuture’s Acid Trax and it just blew our minds. Nothing close to that existed.
So from the Electro sound, then Hip Hop, I got into House music. When the early House stuff came out I remember going into a record shop in London in 1987 with my mates and hearing Phuture’s Acid Trax and it just blew our minds. Nothing close to that existed, the TB 303 was used a lot in Electro in the early ’80s but it was just used for what it was designed for, basslines. So when Phuture used it in that way to create that Acid sound it was just incredible. I remember the hairs at the back of my neck standing up, such a jaw-dropping moment in my life it was game-changer.
And around then we just sort of started a group and would bring up equipment up to the house, to see what would happen. Pretty quickly we were jamming and did LFO early in 1989, and it took about a year before it was released.
MM: Did you know at the time when you were in your mates’ gaff when that track started to emerge like “fuck we’ve got something right here?’’
GV: Yes, we thought it would work, it just sort came together. We were trying to do a proper techno track as in futuristic and I remember the first bass sound was actually just a preset on Yamaha DX1 but we didn’t have that keyboard so we used to just get sound off records. A lot of people say that’s stealing but it was just being creative. We weren’t ripping off the melody. We got the totally amazing string sounds, and did a couple of simple cords and it just fit in with the track itself and then Mark did the top tune. It all came well amazingly together and if you analyze the track it is very simple. One drum pad, one set of cords, one talk tune, two sorts of basslines, and the LFO voice.
Less is more sometimes, we just didn’t know how big it was going to be. We planned to do the release ourselves selling a 1000 copies hopefully selling 5000, but this never happened as we signed to Warp records! But then with the Warehouse and DJing, we got introduced to Rob Gorden, we had a cassette tape and we played it and people said that track was amazing and that we had a single there and the rest is history, and it still sounds fresh 30 years later. I still get paid for it not a lot nowadays but Ministry of Sound just put it out on the compilation ‘Origins of Techno’ with the likes of Cybertron, Juan, Derrick May, etc.
We just didn’t know how big it was going to be.
MM: The people you are citing must think exactly the same, it’s a legacy man.
GV: Yes, I want to say “right time, right place” you know, I remember when we did the Frequencies album, we did it in a year and the next album took about 5 years. And when I start thinking about that the conclusion is that when we did the first album we had loads of ideas and energy bottled up inside us and we expressed it all in the album a good solid piece of electronic music.
MM: So from the bedroom to the studio…
GV: Yeah, we used to be in Mark’s bedroom jamming with a cup of tea and when we were finished we would go to the local pub and then come back and have a listen. So my first experience of going in a proper recording studio was kind of weird in a professional environment with a proper sound engineer, we found it a bit tedious at first because they would spend hours on just one sound and we were like “can we speed up a bit?” as it was 300 quid a day.
MM: But did you learn a lot?
GV: Yes we did learn a lot, just the techniques of the sound engineer was totally different from a musician, so we learnt along the way, I mean the LFO track we managed to pull it off and it’s quite striking because none of us had the proper experience to properly record a track but that was all part of the fun. Just learning on the go.
MM: On the fly, with no rules, only on what your ears tell you, experimenting. This is how Acid house was born. Just lads playing around and amazing sounds are created.
GV: Yes, I know a lot of sound engineers when you play a track they don’t necessarily like and they try to turn down a sound or clean it up, but it sounds good to us as it is, you know what I mean, cos when I think about it, it was really like punk just the energy you know. Get a keyboard, get drum machines, do a bit of programming and just go learn … It really was amazing! It just blew our minds, just so different than everything else at the time!
MM: It’s just creativity. If everyone sat in the box Acid House wouldn’t have existed the same for Hip Hop. Because people innovate like that and if it sounds good to your ears, just run with it do you know what I mean?
GV: Absolutely! We were just saying how good it was in the 80’s cause we would go to a club when it wasn’t strictly just House Music, and you had some Hip Hop tracks being played, Reggae or Techno, really mixing things up and it was great. I mean I love Techno and loved living and working in Germany for years but in some clubs, after 3 or 4 hours of bangers in your ears it gets too much if you know what I mean. Like headaches and “Oh god” Ahah.
it was really like punk just the energy you know. Get a keyboard, get drum machines, do a bit of programming and just go learn … It really was amazing! It just blew our minds, just so different than everything else at the time!
MM: Would Berlin interest you now?
GV: To be honest no, it’s ok if you wanna go there to party, but now there are 50 DJs in every bar trying to get a gig. It’s ridiculous.
MM: Do you think we’ve lost something?
GV: Definitely, you know that under the counter culture is gone. You know when we would go to the record shop and search for the best one, that’s gone. What you were saying earlier, when everybody is doing music, we used to put every penny in it with vinyl or drum machines or finding the latest import record. With my mates, we used to go to the club and really listen to music. But now everybody can go on a laptop download from the stores and also make a few tunes while doing normal day jobs.
I’m actually getting more money now from radio and films than from record sales before it was the exact opposite. You weren’t rich but you could make a few quid out of sales. Youtube and all kinds of streaming have really effected it because now you get it for free but even the ones that pay for rights don’t pay much, you can’t live off that.
MM: What do you see happening in the next few years, what sort of trends?
GV: It’s difficult to say. I think clubs will keep going because everyone loves to have a dance on Saturday nights. I’ve talked about it in the last few years, it’s getting trickier now to do live. Now when you want to do a band you need to be a rich kid or have a good job and work around it, so trying to be a musician is much trickier. Same for the record sales, when I sold the 300 on my last record, my mate said it was good and I said it was crap and that we used to give out that amount for promos, like 20 years ago.
MM: It’s the nature of the beast, we’re completely washed out with all the digital content now, there’s no control.
GV: Yes man, I get about 200 promos a week and listen to about 10, and the 10 I listen are established names already. There’s no quality control at all these days. Years ago, let’s say you got 5 tracks and gave them to your label, they would pick the best one, but if it wasn’t good enough they would tell you to rework it and come back but that’s really doesn’t happen anymore. The cost of putting out a record and distribution used to make a label really thought about what they were putting out. It’s gone to shit. I’m glad I lived during the golden age, to be honest.
in the 80’s cause we would go to a club when it wasn’t strictly just House Music, and you had some Hip Hop tracks being played, Reggae or Techno, really mixing things up and it was great.
MM: It’s what I was gonna say, you actually lived it, you were part of it, you have a legacy and inspired so many people like me.
GV: It’s funny these days, I think I get more nervous doing smaller gigs when you’re right up to the people, but at least the atmosphere is real. I played a gig about 3 years ago in Japan and it wasn’t super full but they were all really into it. They knew the back catalogue and it was quite amazing.
MM: What do you get coming up in the next 6 months?
GV: I just do a few gigs a year I’m getting too old for that now haha I played recently in Amsterdam and Manchester and I got an album that’s nearly finished then I got to find a label that wants it, so it will probably come out next year. It’s a bit between techno and LFO in a nutshell on a 4/4 beat but I didn’t want to do a club album if you know what I mean. It’s a bit too soft for a club, I wanted to do something a bit more intelligent.
MM: I’m dying to hear that!
GV: Thanks Mike, loved the interview