Just a few months ago, Conor Larkman and Sean Finnigan were grovelling away at their respective 9-5’s as a roofer and a petrol station assistant, waiting for the right time to depart their jobs and fully focus on their musical endeavours. However, even they couldn’t have expected the unimaginable success they would soon be revelling in. The West Lothian DJ / production duo, better known as LF SYSTEM, recently beat all the odds with their mammoth, dance-floor-filling hit, ‘Afraid To Feel,’ which sat comfortably on top of the UK charts for eight weeks.
The group now equal the record for longest-running dance number one in the UK alongside fellow Scot Calvin Harris’ ‘One Kiss’. Their improbably catchy track defined the Summer; it was everywhere from clubs to social media to radio, and it was almost inescapable – in the best way possible. In a post-pandemic world where we’re all still readjusting to our dancing shoes, LF SYSTEM managed to bring an upbeat and joyous tune that dancefloors so desperately needed. One of the key factors for the song’s success was its ear-catching sample of Silk’s 1979 track, ‘I Can’t Stop (Turning You On)’ with Louise Clara Marshall’s powerful vocals echoing throughout the groovy track. If you couldn’t tell already, sampling is where LF SYSTEM find themselves most comfortable. They have admittedly spent a ludicrous number of hours digging through the depths of YouTube and record collections in hopes of finding “the one”, which they undoubtedly did with ‘Afraid To Feel.’
As a result of their stellar accomplishments, the boys are now soaking up their success. They have been performing all across the UK, including a notable Boiler Room show in Edinburgh, as well as a number of stops throughout Europe. Whether they’re in some of the world’s most revered clubs or on festival main stages, the duo have had one hell of a year and their stock is only rising. They’re not stopping there, though, and their latest single, ‘Hungry (For Love),’ is yet another example of the vibrant and glossy soundscapes the boys effortlessly produce. “We had to come up with something and get it right. We do think it’s a good follow-up as it shows a sort of different side to us,” the pair tell HUNGER about the track.
But despite all of their well-earned plaudits, Larkman and Finnigan remain as humble as ever and admit they would rather “let the music do the talking” than overindulge in their newfound fame. Here, we catch up with LF SYSTEM to discuss their journey to number one, their latest single and humble beginnings.
So, let’s start from the beginning. How did you both meet?
Sean: We played football against each other. We were in a West Lothian league in Scotland and my best friends at the time played with Connor. We never knew each other though and it wasn’t till years later that my friends said that Connor’s into DJing, and he knew I was into it too, so we started going to clubs together.
Conor: Our friends were into music but they just wanted to go out, and we were more on the DJ side and actually making music, so we got closer through talking about that. At after-parties, everyone was chatting away but we were just sitting there chatting about tunes. It was just a natural progression from being into the same stuff.
When you were growing up was music something that was important to you? Was it around you a lot?
Sean: It was always about in my house. It wasn’t dance music though, it was always Oasis or something like that. My brother was always quite musical but not the rest of my family.
Conor: Music was always a thing in my house. My dad used to be in a band, and where I’m from is massive on Motown and soul and stuff like that, so I’ve been brought up on music. I mean, I’ve tried to pick up an instrument and I’ve tried to play a little bit of guitar but prefer pushing buttons on the decks!
When did you get into dance music in particular?
Sean: I think it was when I was about 13. Dance music was always about in Scotland but it wasn’t really something I was interested in. It wasn’t until I started going on YouTube and watching DJ sets and I discovered Daft Punk, which led me down a rabbit hole on how to make music
Conor: I had the same type of story but I started getting into it more when I’d go to T In The Park or Glasgow Green and go to see Calvin Harris. My sister’s now husband was proper into Defected and that side of things which introduced me to all of that. He’d show me a lot of tunes and give me mixes to listen to and then I got hooked.
At what stage did you realise this is something you’d like to do as a career?
Conor: When I was younger I thought I was going to be playing football. Obviously, when you get to 16 the drink starts coming in and everybody starts going out and listening to tunes. But when I got the decks, then I was hooked, I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Sean: I didn’t want to be in an office or anything like that, so I wanted to be a football player or a DJ, those were the choices. When I found out you could be a DJ as a career it was definitely something I was interested in, especially seeing videos of DJs travelling the world and playing these big massive shows.
Congratulations on the huge success with ‘Afraid To Feel,’ what was the reaction like when you saw it top the charts?
Sean: Just shock. When it first went in the charts we couldn’t believe it. We went to the pub to celebrate and we went mental. That’s when we hit number 13, but we had no idea what was going on. It was a total shock to us.
Connor: It’s been life-changing and we’re still in the middle of coming to terms with it. Even when it first went in at number 69, that was enough. Then week after week it just kept going up and up.
When you were making the track did you have an idea this would be the one or did you just see it as another song in the catalogue?
Sean: It was a little bit of both because it was one of them ones where we were going through a period of just making music constantly. Then we were getting feedback from DJs who were saying “this is really good.” But at the same time, you think people are just being nice so we never thought anything of it really.
Connor: It wasn’t planned, I think, honestly, it was made in about half an hour. We were just enjoying making loads of tunes and started to play them to our pals and they were like “what is that?!” and they couldn’t believe that we made it.
You recently matched Calvin Harris’ record for the joint longest dance track at number one on the UK charts. How does it feel to be up there with the guys you were looking up to when you were younger?
Sean: So surreal because he’s one of our heroes when it comes to dance music. It’s crazy looking at all the names that were up there with us on the charts too, I think that’s why we still feel a bit strange about it because it’s so far beyond what we expected.
Do you feel like there’s more pressure on you now due to your success?
Sean: We’re just gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing and that’s just making music that we want to make and have fun with it. And that’s how ‘Afraid To Feel’ happened so that’s like our formula. But I don’t think people are expecting too much because it was such a fluke. I feel like if we were one of these people who have to rely on number one’s then I’d feel the pressure. We just let the music do the talking.
I heard that you were still working full-time jobs a couple of months before ‘Afraid To Feel’ was released, is that right?
Sean: Yeah so I quit my job a bit before Connor. We were just ready to make the leap of making music our full-time job – it wasn’t calculated or anything like that. We just waited until we could fully support ourselves.
Connor: I was annoying our manager for ages, asking him “when can I quit” constantly and he kept saying “not yet.” Obviously, Sean was getting loads of time to make music and I was just getting jealous. But when he gave me the green light it was right when the track dropped, so it worked out perfectly.
How did your latest track ‘Hungry’ come about, what was the inspiration behind it?
Sean: Just looking for samples. That was another one that’s been sitting there for a year or two. There wasn’t much inspiration. All of these sampling tunes were just born out of having fun.
Conor: It’s definitely different when you’re writing original stuff. I feel like there’s more inspiration behind it. It might be bad to say but when you’re sampling stuff like that it’s sort of just a feeling thing. It’s a funny one
Were you worried about the reception to that track considering how huge ‘Afraid To Feel’ was?
Sean: I think yes and no. We knew we had to come up with something because if you just let that sit for a while then you’ll just disappear. So we had to come up with something and get it right. We do think it’s a good follow-up as it shows a sort of different side to us. But we didn’t feel that much pressure. I think it was just more stressful trying to get it out for the release date.
Conor: There’s always gonna be people that have bad things to say about it. It’s just your opinion.
Sampling is obviously something you guys take a lot of pride in. What’s the process of finding a sample like for you?
Sean: In the modern age we’re usually digging through YouTube, we still like to go to record shops but you’ve got access to so many records on the internet. It takes a lot of time to dig through record collections but that’s how ‘Afraid To Feel’ and ‘Hungry’ Started. We go in the date range we want to find, for example, 1975 to 1979, that’s our sweet spot. But sometimes you’ll spend all day looking and not find anything.
Are there any records you think are off-limits when it comes to sampling?
Sean: I’d say so. I think one of the big ones for us is that if it’s been done a lot, or it’s popular, then we’re a bit unsure.
Conor: There is some stuff that I think is magic and you’re never going to better it or if there are so many people that have done it, what else can you really do with it?
How have you found navigating the music industry so far? Has it been a tough learning process?
Conor: Yes and no. The travelling is a lot, our travelling back in the day was just a boy’s holiday in the summer. We used to have two trips a year, or three if we were lucky. But now every week we’re on some sort of transport and the times of the gigs are affecting your sleeping pattern. But the rest of it is so rewarding, so it kind of overpowers that anyway. It was a big culture shock at first. Things like being away from your pals, girlfriend, and family took a while to get used to. We’re starting to get used to it now and enjoying it a lot more.
Sean: Even things like being in a random studio on a Tuesday morning, I think to myself, “I used to be working at this time,” and it doesn’t feel right sometimes. You do get used to it all though.
What would you say has been your best gig so far?
Sean: The one that stands out was the Bora Bora gig which we did back to back and there was a big Scottish crowd there. Our flight got cancelled so we missed our first show and we managed to get a show the next day. This was our first Ibiza show and we missed it!
Are there any other sounds you would like to explore in the future?
Sean: Obviously the music that’s been coming out recently only shows one side, but if you go on our Soundcloud for instance, you’ll find every possible genre you can think of. We enjoy all aspects of the scene. We’ve got techno stuff, melodic stuff and synth stuff. We explore everything, to be honest. When we get a few more releases we’ll hopefully be able to show our versatility.
Conor: We want to do more original stuff as well. We’ll never stop sampling but we can actually make records from scratch as well.
What advice would you give to someone who was in your position just a few months ago?
Conor: I always like to say don’t take it too seriously and don’t try to force yourself to do it like other people. Just do whatever comes to you and have fun with it. Don’t try to follow a path that someone else has already been down.
Sean: I also feel like it’s good to have people around you who are into the same thing. Just somebody to help you, really. You can’t get a manager straight away so just try and find someone who has a bit of a clue and wants to help you. We’re very lucky that we had good people around us pushing us the whole time.
Have there been times when you’ve doubted yourself or questioned if this was something you could be successful at?
Sean: Yeah, well, we were working these jobs, and time is just ticking on so that’s why we were so desperate to leave. I think you always doubt yourself, I don’t think anyone is always fully confident. We still feel like it now, we’re still in that mindset.
Conor: It’s just human nature. It can be a negative but it can also be a positive thing because it makes you want to be better. Just believe in yourself. It can always get better.
What would you say is the goal for LF SYSTEM?
Sean: Have fun. Take over. But we’ve said this a few times – being where we are right now is enough. We’re so grateful that we get to do this as a job and anything more is just a bonus because it’s been amazing so far. If we can just keep doing this then it’ll be amazing because it doesn’t even feel like a job.
What do you guys have in the pipeline for the rest of the year?
Sean: We’ve got some of our biggest gigs to date coming up in the next few months. So we’ve got a Fabric show, which is mental. We’ll be at the Warehouse Project on Halloween and we’ve been moved from one stage to the main stage there. In terms of doing music, probably nothing for the rest of the year. Maybe a wee remix or something. Music will be next year because we really need to get our heads down in the studio for the next couple of months.