Layo & Bushwacka! were a popular tech house duo before Millennium time, but after they released ‘Love Story’ in 2002 they totally went supernova. They met at the legendary central London nightclub The End, where Bushwacka!, aka Matthew Benjamin, was a resident DJ and Layo Paskin was co-owner (with Mr C).
Both Layo and Matthew B had been involved in London acid house parties from a young age — Bushwacka! had sneaked into Shoom! in the late ‘80s while still at school, while Layo became a resident DJ at those infamous Clink Street parties near London Bridge — and by the time they teamed up, they were both well-established in their own right. The London duo released their first album, ‘Low Life’, on End Recordings in 1998, and their lugubrious, bluesy tribal house cut ‘Deep South’ was a significant club hit in the late ‘90s before the inception of ‘Love Story’.
“Layo did most of the sample sourcing back in those days,” remembers Matthew B, who now records as Just Be. “The samples were from home, from second-hand record shops or whatever. It was stuff he was familiar with, and he was a big Devo fan when he was younger.”
Devo were an arty American synth-punk band whose 1977 debut single, ‘Mongoloid’, made a big impression on the punk and new wave scenes in the UK and US. The fast-picked bassline intro to the song was unaccompanied, making it easy to use as a sample when Layo bought a pile of records in to Bushwacka’s Ladbroke Grove studio one afternoon. They did some sampling using an E-MU E64, and while Layo popped out, Matthew topped and tailed the samples they’d just recorded and got them all at the same tempo. “One of the most interesting things that came from that process was the Devo bassline, and a blues piano chord that sounded slightly out of tune,” Matthew recalls. “It was one chord off a record, and I sampled and played a copy of the bassline with a sample of this piano stab on top — that’s where the whole hook came from.
” When Layo returned and the guys started to assemble the track, they threw in a Nina Simone sample that they’d also acquired earlier that day. “The funniest thing about that was that nobody could work out what she was saying, for such a long time,” Matthew chuckles. “Even I didn’t know that she was saying ‘Rags and old iron, rags and old iron, all she was buying was rags and old iron’.”
The mournful piano chords and the earthy, soulful Nina Simone snippet made ‘Love Story’ instantly memorable, especially stood up against a load of fluffy commercial house and cold neon-clad electroclash of the time. Layo didn’t want to release it at first, reports Bushwacka, and they first of all just pressed up 500 copies on black vinyl before repressing several times.
“People in Argentina and places started calling it ‘Love Song’, and we ended up calling it ‘Love Story’ after a famous after-hours in Sao Paulo that we hung out in a little bit in our rock & roll days, shall we say. I’ll never forget the first time I went there — in fact, there’s a few times I went there I’ll never forget, but that’s another story!"
The true magic of ‘Love Story’ is the way it crossed over so many genres — a fact borne out by Bushwacka’s anecdote from hearing it at festivals that year. “I remember walking around the Homelands festival — and Skolbeats in Brazil — and at one of the two (it’s a bit of a blur) Pete Tong was playing it in one tent, in another tent Laurent Garnier was playing it, in another tent Jeff Mills was playing it, and in another Judge Jules was playing it. I remember thinking, ‘Who’s ever made a tune that’s being played by Judge Jules and Jeff Mills at the same time?’ That was the magic of the scene back then.”
The track ended up in a lot of end-of-year (2002) DJ charts and was a big underground hit, but L&B’s new record label — cool indie XL — wanted a vocal to go on top of it. “We tried various things which weren’t happening, but I’d done a DJ set with Layo at the first Creamfields in Argentina in 2002 or 2001 where I was DJing on three decks,” Bushwacka recalls. “On deck one I had ‘Love Story’ and on deck two an acapella of Kings Of Tomorrow ‘Finally’. Deck three I had a techno loop record, and when I put these three things together, I’ve never seen a crowd go so crazy in my entire life! I was literally almost crying, thinking ‘Oh my god, this is so amazing’.” “‘Love Story’ and Kings Of Tomorrow ‘Finally’ were my girlfriend-at-the-time's two favourite tunes ever,” adds Matthew. “So I went in my studio, re-recorded ‘Love Story’ with the acapella over the top, and said to her ‘Here you go, happy birthday!’ Then I said to XL that this was the only thing that was working, and the track came out and went Top 10.”
So, asks DJ Mag, what percentage did Devo get of the original? Matthew takes a deep breath. “Devo got 50% of the publishing, and Nina Simone’s estate got the other 50%. Which left a grand total of… well, you can do the maths. If we’d played the bassline instead of sampling it, we might be rich by now.” Despite being a huge international hit, then, the record made L&B no money at all. But what it did do was launch their international DJ career for the next decade or so. “It was all incredibly exciting,” remembers Matthew, “with the DJ schedule it was all about touring around and playing and making the music. I was kind of rock & roll back then, I didn’t really take in what it meant, but a lot of people booked us because we made that tune. You’d go to clubs and all you’d get all night was people asking you to play ‘Love Story’. So you’d play it, and then they’d ask you to play it again. It’s been amazing, it had a big part to play in our touring success.”
Although they’re still gigging together, the duo are winding down the Layo & Bushwacka project but still retain an immense fondness for ‘Love Story’. “Now I’m very proud of it and what we did, but I’m more about the now and the tomorrow,” Matthew says. “There will be times when I’ll still play it. It’s made so many people so very happy, and is something that I’ll always be very proud of.”