Leif Knowles has experimented with music from an early age. Starting out playing in bands, to exploring downtempo, trip hop as well as recording John Peel sessions to tape he then discovered Techno at free parties in North Wales. His involvement in producing for several record labels, as well as creating his own imprint with best friend Joe Ellis only came naturally.
An accomplished producer, with years of experience within the scene at the moment, Leif has a lot to say. Although he always keeps a low profile, his music expresses his brilliant persona perfectly. Here’s what Leif discusses with us, ahead of Freerotation this weekend, where less than a 1000 lucky people will be able to enjoy his set, amongst other brilliant artists.
Leif, you’re one of the most talented but also humblest artists I know. I remember your first recordings for Textone and Mindtours. What’s the story behind your first musical steps?
Haha, that’s nice – thank you. The Mindtours release was my first; a V/A vinyl EP with Steevio and Tom Ellis on the flip. That was 10 years ago now which seems crazy! The Textone thing followed shortly after, in 2004 which was a digital release For Jay Haze‘s netlabel. It was an exciting time for me as I’d been DJing and producing music for a few years but hadn’t made the leap to committing anything to a release until then.
What were the first sounds that really intrigued you and led you into wanting to make music?
It depends really. I’ve been making music of sorts from a very early age, playing guitar in bands etc… but in terms of my interest in electronic music, I was really into some of the more abstract downtempo / ambient / trip-hop in the mid to late nineties. The Mo-Wax label, DJ Shadow, Tricky, The Orb, that kind of thing. I remember staying up late when I was about 15 years old and taping John Peel radio sessions. What really blew my mind however was discovering Techno and house music in some of the free parties in North Wales, and watching the kind of vibe and community that music could create on a dancefloor.
Musically trained or computer lover?
A bit of both really. I have no formal musical training as such but my Dad is a musician and taught me to play guitar when I was around 8 years old. I still play a bit of guitar / bass / percussion and use them in my tracks quite regularly too… I immerse myself in technology most of the time but it’s nice to have a bit of a balance.
Do you think that the concept of netlabels that you were massively involved succeeded or not? Were you a big supporter back then, ditching your vinyl or was there always a balance?
It’s always been a balance for me. I’ve always bought dance music on vinyl, and my DJ sets are generally all-vinyl. That’s just my preferred format, I love working with it. The netlabel thing was promising at the time – there was something exciting and liberating about the concept, and some amazing music was released over some great labels, like Textone / Thinner / Archipel / etc. I do however feel that the scene got over-saturated with mediocrity quite quickly… perhaps the simplicity and accessibility of the format was it’s own undoing? I do buy music digitally too, but it’s usually ‘non-dancefloor’ stuff I listen to when I’m travelling etc.
How do you feel about the popularity of vinyl? Do you think that there’s a lot of pretentious vinyl lovers out there, or music is for everybody and we shouldn’t be selfish about it?
It’s really comforting for me to see vinyl enjoying so much of a resurgence at the moment. I’m by no means a vinyl snob, I respect music on all formats – but to see such an interest in vinyl at the moment makes me happy. The fact that there are new independent record shops opening again is great… Personally, I find that visiting my local record shop is a much more rewarding experience than endless clicking on internet pages.
Is there something that annoys you or makes you feel uncomfortable in today’s electronic scene?
Not really – I enjoy it immensely still, although some events are definitely more enjoyable than others. Some of the over-the-top marketing and advertising I see makes me feel a little uncomfortable I guess. The over-commercial approach doesn’t suit underground dance music in my opinion. But for the most part I love it, I’ve met most of my best friends through this scene and made some amazing connections so it would feel wrong to complain about it!
What makes you really excited for the future of music? What about the future of humanity?
The future of humanity? Well… we’re a bit lost at the moment aren’t we? I feel like we’ve been tangled up in a great deal of irrelevant stuff in the last 100 years or so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an insanely exciting time – we’ve made some incredible leaps and bounds in recent years and I feel like we could be on the brink of a huge change, socially. But we’ve also ended up with a ludicrously distorted economic system, a detached food industry, achingly wasteful processes, a pitiful reliance on the oil industry, ‘no claims bonus protection’ insurance, sour cream and onion flavoured Pringles, and an iPhone app that simulates the noise of an airport. Not to mention those little glade plug-in chemical air freshener things…
I feel that music is something more pure though. Perhaps it gives us a glimpse of something more grounded, even if it’s just a moment of enlightenment and connection shared on the dancefloor or in whatever situation… I think it’s a very important thing, and I feel blessed and humbled to be able to be involved in helping to create those moments in some way.
You’re releasing quite a few records this year. Ornate music was shared on Larry Heard’s mix and for BBC Radio One from Mosca, you also have a new release on Sudden drop. A few words on both releases please?
The Ornate release (Each Day Made New) was my first one in over a year; and it was great to see it get such an overwhelming response. The Sudden Drop record (Cloud Hidden) came out last month and is a bit more of a stripped-down dubby affair. One of the tracks (Effervescent) was actually featured on my Textone release in 2004 so it’s really nice to see it finally on wax. The title ‘Cloud Hidden‘ comes from a book by Alan Watts.
Both Joe and myself have both been collecting records for a long time… UMHS is a chance for us to release music that we feel passionate about, and that we feel deserves to see a wider audience regardless of how well known the artists are. It’s a labour of love really – we’re not in a rush to keep a particular release schedule, we’d rather wait for the right material to come along and let it happen organically. So far we’re really happy with the results.
You’re good friends with Tom Ellis and both residents at Freerotation. How did you guys meet? What happened to Trimsound? Any thoughts of releases on Trimsound, or are you 100% focused on UntilMyHeartStops?
Tom is one of my oldest and closest mates. Those two are basically like my brothers. Tom’s also one of the most talented producers I know. I met him when I was in school, we both played lead guitar in rival bands at the time! We started making electronic music together in the late nineties and our first few releases were as split EPs on Mindtours, Morris Audio Citysport and our own label Trimsound. The Trimsound label is on the back-burner for the time being, but we still make music together and in fact we’re working on a new liveset at the moment, which we’ll unveil at Plan B in Brixton this August – can’t wait!
It’s also fantastic that Mindtours is back on track and you’re preparing a new release with them. Could you tell us a few words about Steevios’s label for the ones that don’t know how it started?
Mindtours is the brainchild of Steevio and Suzybee, the couple behind Freerotation festival. Both are dedicated to creating truly unique audio and visual stuff. For anyone interested in Steevio’s music I would highly recommend checking out this feature for Juno Plus – the guy’s a genius!
Could you also share your involvement with Freerotation? I know you’re not only one of the residents, your connection with both Steevio and Suzybee is way deeper.
Suzy and Steevio have been close friends of mine for years, and have always been a big inspiration. What they have created with Freerotation is just next level. I guess the festival has essentially grown out of the smaller parties we used to organise years ago, so I’ve been there since the start helping out with various aspects of the event. It’s the highlight of the year for me by a long way!
What are your next plans after Freerotation festival? More music? Touring?
Always more music… I have a few UK bookings lined up for August and September, and in Paris early October. The next UMHS release is due out soon too, which is a 4-track V/A EP featuring tracks from Joey Anderson, October, Arnaldo and myself. Following that, I’ve got another track on a V/A Mindtours EP to celebrate 10 years since our first one, and a few other projects in the pipeline too…
Anything you’d like to add to conclude this interview?
Thanks for having me, hope you enjoy the mix!LeifUntilMyHeartStopsDeep House