Orbital are the granddaddies
of British acid house. From seminal singles like Chime and Halcyon
& On through six critically-acclaimed albums and a breathtaking
live show, Phil and Paul Hartnoll have done it all.
The brothers have recently returned
with their sixth album, The Altogether, which is also released
on DVD complete with a bunch of specially-filmed videos to accompany
each track - and their version of the Doctor Who theme tune!
worldpop/dance spoke to Paul Hartnoll
in advance of their appearance at this year's Homelands festival,
where they are headlining alongside Pulp and The Orb.
worldpop/dance: Are you comfortable
with your 'elder statesmen of dance' tag?
Paul Hartnoll: 'You have to be really
because it's true. I'm very nearly 33 and can remember being 22
or so and starting out. You really start to notice it when the
people making music now are so much younger than yourself. There
was a patch when there wasn't much happening in electronic music
but I've felt it's gotten really exciting recently. I love the
Whole 9 Yards label and the Plump DJs and acts like Dark Globe
and Elite Force.
worldpop/dance: Do you ever wish
you were two 20-year olds starting out in dance music rather than
a couple of seasoned veterans with a stack of albums under your
Paul Hartnoll: 'Oh God no. Why do
it again? I don't want to go back, I'm enjoying this now. When
you hit 30 a different level of fun begins. You don't get caught
up in the things that made you angry at 18. We got a bit strange
with the Middle Of Nowhere and Insides albums but I find I can't
write when I feeling like a tortured, angsty artist or if I feel
like there's two thousand Orbital fans looking over our shoulders.
So you got out and do something stupid, something fun, and remember
what it used to be like. You can't worry about other people's
worldpop/dance: Your music is largely
instrumental - did that make it easier or harder to make the accompanying
Paul Hartnoll: 'I think it made it
easier because there was no brief to follow. Sean Ash, who directed
the video to Illuminate, writes these brilliant treatments, almost
David Lynch-esque in style. Sean actually got the short end of
the stick because he had a smaller budget but he made an amazing
video. It's probably my favourite video out of them all.'
worldpop/dance: You gave a bunch
of directors an open brief - it's turned out real good but could
have been a bit of a nightmare?
Paul Hartnoll: 'Yes and no really.
All the directors we knew and have worked with in past. It was
very much a family thing. Take Grant Fulton. He's done covers
for our albums and even sung on our tracks. We just sat down in
a pub with him and discussed a few ideas. It wasn't like we said
'You've got to do it like this', it was more like 'Here's a plan
and an angle'.
worldpop/dance: The use of DVD and
video for The Altogether - has technology finally caught up with
Paul Hartnoll: 'I've always liked
idea of an album with visual representation throughout. We're
by no means an MTV-friendly so it's always been a case of 'Why
bother?' before. There was no MTV playlist brief. What we wanted
was more like when you stay up late and have Channel 4 on and
are watching some strange commissioned art films - the ones they
do in series of ten. It's about being experimental and trying
stuff out, doing what they wanted to do.
'But what really interested me was the use of surround sound.
We live in a 3-D world - so why not listen to music like that?
When you listen to the album we wanted it to sound like you were
amongst the band. It would be like recording modern jazz in surround
sound with four mics either side of the ensemble. So when you
listened to it on some speakers set up an exact distance apart,
if you moved close to one of the speakers you'd hear the double
bass. Move to another one and you'd hear the drums.
'The thing with electronic music is that you can also put the
sound where you want it to go but in an abstract way. Like if
you were listening to a tennis match and you hear the ball bouncing
in different speakers and you involuntarily duck when you hear
the ball coming towards you. Basically we wanted it to sound like
an acid house barber shop quartet!'
worldpop/dance: Can you get this
across in the live arena?
Paul Hartnoll: 'Well, the only problem
is finding the right venue. The perfect gig would be a lovely
square room with about 50 people in the middle all cordoned off.
But that's not very practical! The closest we came was when we
did a gig at the Royal Festival Hall in London and had this big,
soft sound swirling around the room. We recorded an audience a
week before and then mixed in their murmuring and chattering so
people in the Hall weren't sure if it was coming out of the speakers
or what. Then we mixed in these riot sounds - recordings of angry
voices, bottles being thrown.'
worldpop/dance: You feature some
unusual samples on this album - Tom Baker, The Cramps, Crass -
and shorter songs. Did all this come naturally?
Paul Hartnoll: 'Well there was certainly
no masterplan! Having said that, we did sit down and try and think
it out. We had tried to do that with Insides [Orbital's fourth
album] and make it jolly sounding - but that never happens. This
time we said, 'Let's bloody well do it'. We set ourselves five-minute
time limits and tried to say what we wanted to say musically but
just in less time. We wanted to strip away the layers and force
ourselves into a situation where we have to concentrate on one
sound. It took discipline.'
worldpop/dance: If you could spend
one day in any producer's studio, whose would it be?
Paul Hartnoll: 'Ooooh, now that is
a hard one. Currently I'd have to say Missy Elliott. I read a
cracking review of her new album and it made me want to go out
and buy all of her albums. I loved her single because it was nothing
like British pop music.'
worldpop/dance: Did you hide behind
the sofa when you watched Doctor Who?
Paul Hartnoll: 'I used to watch it
with a pillow wrapped around me, waiting for the fear to slowly
creep on. I'd be terrified of those strange insect creatures -
the Wyven, I think - and those walking mummified bodies. I'd go
to bed thrashing and screaming. I'd crap my pants basically.'
worldpop/dance: Finally, what about Homelands? Paul Hartnoll:
'I like Homelands because it's not so Ibizan in its view. It's
not just got to be about banging trance. The line-up is more eclectic
and there are all these different styles going. It attracts a
more open-minded audience. The fact that Pulp and The Orb are
on the bill swayed us into doing it.'