Scarcely six months ago, Conor Larkman and Sean Finnigan would rise with the birds and head to their respective jobs as a roofer and a petrol station attendant. One incredibly successful track and a sweltering summer later and the pair, better known as LF SYSTEM, are experiencing the kind of rapid rise to popularity that leaves heads spinning – especially for two down-to-earth lads from the countryside in West Lothian who started out in their bedrooms.
Though dance music has always been a huge part of their lives — they both dabbled in producing and DJing as teenagers, subsequently becoming regular faces on the Scottish scene — neither had any inclination that a track they made back in 2019 would propel them into the spotlight three years later.
And yet, the improbably catchy ‘Afraid To Feel’ has grown into a summer-defining tune, inescapable across radio and social media and played in clubs everywhere. After two barren years of clubbing tumbleweed, it’s the soulful, upbeat and jubilant tune that dance floors needed, and a solid example of being in the right place at the right time can be explosive.
Since the tune’s success, the duo have bounced nonstop from one European city to the next, so we inevitably catch them for a chat just before they jet off to Amsterdam for ADE. With a strangely empty Heathrow as a backdrop, they discuss the release of their new single, ‘Hungry (For Love)’, the surreality of sudden fame, and why it sometimes pays to be the sober ones at the afters.
You’ve been pals for a long time, talk us through how you first met.
Sean: We played football against each other when we were 14 or 15. My friends were in his football team. Then I heard Conor was into DJing and making music and I was too; then when we were about 17, we started going out to clubs and bumping into each other. At after parties people would be up to all sorts and we’d be sat talking about DJing and music. We kind of formed a friendship through that. We started a collective of DJs called Hybrid, and Connor and I would always play back-to-back. Then in 2019 we started LF SYSTEM.
So where did the interest in music stem from?
Conor: My mum and dad are quite musical. My dad was in an 80s rock band and he was into disco, soul and Motown. So aye, I was brought up around that and it started from there. As I got older I was into EDM, but then my sister’s husband introduced me to electronic music and that had me hooked. I left EDM pretty early, but that’s what led to meeting Sean and getting into DJing. By the time I wanted to start making music I was past EDM but Sean made a few tracks.
So we nearly had another Calvin Harris in our midst?
S: I started trying to make music when I was about 13 and there were so many tutorials for making EDM tracks on YouTube. EDM was huge and accessible but there was nothing similar for underground music. But it was a great way for me to learn, a good starting place.
You both cut your clubbing teeth in Scotland, which has some of the best clubs in the country. Where were you heading out to?
C: I think the first time I met Sean out was at the Arches in Glasgow. But to be honest the one I went to most was Fly Club when it was first kicking off.
S: We used to go to Sub Club as well. We were lucky because we’d go to all these amazing clubs where huge artists played all the time. And West Lothian is right in the middle of Glasgow and Edinburgh so we had access to both sides and could go and see great DJs every weekend.
Is that what inspired you to create Hybrid, your own DJ collective?
S: We set it up because we both wanted to DJ. We didn’t know we wanted to do it as a job at that time but we knew we wanted to do it at clubs, and put on parties. We used to put them on in places like abandoned swimming pools where people could bring their own booze. The loos were always minging.
C: We just wanted a taste of playing outside of our bedroom. And to test ourselves and play our music. It was also just an excuse to get more passionate about our hobby. It was lucky that these things led us in the direction of clubs but at the start it was just an opportunity to get in front of a crowd.
When did you know you wanted to concentrate fully on music and quit your jobs?
S: It’s really surreal to say we’re doing this for a job. I wanted to be a footballer at one point.
Oh yeah, were you any good?
C: No, he wasnae!
S: [Laughing] We both played professional youth football so we were alright, but I think I always knew I wanted to do music. I used to watch YouTube videos of people playing huge stages and it looked amazing so to actually be doing it ourselves is really surreal when you step back and think about it. It’s so cliche but it’s true.
C: Aye, it’s happened so quickly that we’re still trying to get our heads round it, especially all the travelling and the time away from home. But it’s one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, especially because it was something we wanted to do. Maybe when we get a couple of weeks off at Christmas we’ll sit back and be like, ‘Holy shit, that was mental.’ Till then, we’ll just keep our heads down and keep trying to enjoy it all.
S: It’s funny because I don’t think we really think about it too much, we just go with it. And sometimes when you reflect, you just think my god. You kind of forget where you’ve been, just on flights darting about everywhere.
The success of ‘Afraid To Feel’ is obviously down to the sample, which was reworked from Philly Soul group Silk’s 1979 track ‘I Can’t Stop (Turning You On)’. How did you stumble across it and what makes a good sample do you think?
S: We found the sample on YouTube back in 2019, that’s when we first made the track. I used to go out my way to find records to sample. I’d sit down and think, ‘Right, I’m gonna find something.’
I think a good sample can be anything – sometimes it’s more about how you manipulate it and use certain sections. But it’s a personal thing. The more time you spend looking for what appeals to you, the clearer it becomes. But for sure, strong female vocals, melodies, and the swing from some ‘70s tracks is what you listen out for. There’s so much out there and it’s much easier to find nowadays.
The track spent five weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart. Did you know you were onto a winner when you put it together?
S: Nah, no way did we expect it to be this successful. It was probably the fourth track we’d made that week or something, or the 100th track that month. We churned them out, just to make songs and then stick them on Soundcloud just to get them out there. But with this one, when we played it at clubs, people would come and ask about it and say nice things. Even so, we never would have said three years down the line we’d be here now.
So what have been the standout moments from a standout year?
C: There’s been too many, to be honest.
S: Bora Bora in Ibiza was a great gig. We feel very lucky to have played it just before it shut [the legendary Playa d’en Bossa venue closed its doors for good this month]. We played b2b with Ben Hemsley to a full Scottish crowd and the atmosphere was unreal.
C: And Amnesia with Danny Howard was huge. We played on the terrace, and it was quality. And obviously Boiler Room as well. A lot of DJs don’t get the opportunity to do it so we’re glad we got asked.
What’s the score with the latest disco-edged single?
C: It’s called ‘Hungry (For Love)’ and it samples Sandy’s Gang. It’s another tune we made two years ago so it was already there ready to go, we didn’t make it to try and fit with ‘Afraid to Feel’. We’re hoping it does well but we’re not putting any pressure on it. Just riding it again, seeing what happens.
S: And we’ve got a lot of tunes that we made during lockdown, sitting there waiting to be finished.
So lots of new material incoming. Anything else?
C: We’ve got our eyes on America and Australia — we want to tour over there and see different places in the world and travel. A world takeover, basically!