Before the current spate
of dance music producers, before the whole thing turned upside
and sideways, before Oakenfold made it into the Guinness Book
of Records even, bands such as the KLF, The Orb, System 7 and
Orbital were spearheading a sound that has remained distinctive,
embedded into the very psyche of a pseudo-revolutionary subculture.
For Orbital fans, the trademark, lush melodies and catchy hooks
are in evidence through such successes as 'Chime', 'Halcyon +
On + On' and 'Belfast'. And who could forget 'Kinetic', their
collaborative effort with The Pied Piper under the guise The Golden
Girls back in the embryonic early 90s. And now, they've arrived
once more with a new album 'The Altogether' and its first single
release, 'Funny Break' with its Plump DJs phat, phat, phat, dreamy,
Formed in 1989 by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll and retaining
this same line-up throughout - "we've got the same musical tastes
and we have got very similar attitudes, setting the world right
and all this sort of thing," Phil asserts - Orbital began during
what can only be described as the halcyon days of dance music;
during the plenty-of-Es-to-go-around-for-everyone Summer of Lerve.
Their first dispatch, 1989's 'Chime', served as a catalyst, spring-boarding
their career to include remixes for Madonna, Queen Latifah, The
Shamen and techno demi-gods Kraftwerk. They even landed a visit
on Top of the Pops although Paul stresses, "the only way that
I could possibly appease myself for going on Top Of The Pops and
pretending to play an instrument was to have an Anti-Poll Tax
t-shirt which was a very strong issue - a target through the sight
of a barrel."
It was Orbital's tours with traditional rock bastions such as
Lollapalooza, Woodstock - the second coming - and Glastonbury
which showcased the band's crossover-ability. In fact, their inaugural
performance at Glastonbury in 1995 saw them receive an NME Brat
Award for 'Best Live Event'. You would be a little remiss if you
were to categorise Orbital as a purely dance band. Although not
exactly renowned for turning it on à la Sasha or Paul Van Dyk,
Orbital's music has, nonetheless, saturated the dancefloors. "We
draw influences from all types of styles of music,' explains Phil,
"and essentially, when we're composing, we don't compose for the
dance floor like someone like Sasha would do or like DJ/producer
type people would do. We just leave that alone. But obviously
we're heavily influenced by beats and rhythms that are associated
with the dance floor but it's not the main criteria. It's a very
selfish thing really."
Orbital's music, lyrics, untitled albums and song titles have
always been, shall we say, a tad on the philosophical side. With
titles such as 'I wish I Had Duck Feet', from the 1994 album,
'Snivelisation, perhaps the brothers Hartnoll are recapturing
or re-examining their own youths. "Ok, ok, well that one in particular…
If you listen closely, it's got all these late night radio adverts
for breast augmentation and changing your body basically, cosmetic
surgery. It was all about that really. How fucking ridiculous
is this? Now we can twist our faces… Well you know the Dr Seuss
book 'I wish I had duck feet'? Do you know that book?" I didn't
really get into Dr Seuss as a child, I tell him. "Ok, it's about
a boy who wished he had duck feet because it would impress his
mates in school and then it goes through the scenario of him having
duck feet and then it all goes pear-shaped and then the bully
comes along. Then it's 'I wish I had a trunk' like an elephant
and I could do this and the whole book's 'I wish I had this, I
wish I had that'. And it's all about his physical being and obviously,
it all ends up classically with 'oh, I'm quite happy with myself,
actually.' So that's the basis of that track really."
Some have ventured to offer that theirs is an intellectual techno.
This clearly amuses Phil. "Yeah, that word intelligent… I don't
think any of my old school teachers would agree. Oh, I don't know.
I dropped out of school really, in true punk style. I think in
comparison to what else is around, you could say that. I could
quite easily see what you're talking about really. I don't like
going around saying things like this," he hastens to add. Then
again, perhaps part of the Orbital approach involves some sort
of new age response to the current political, global environment.
So, the question bears asking: Do musicians have some innate responsibility
to provoke the audience and to change the world? "I just can't
understand why musicians have so much power. For God's sake, what
we're doing is what we enjoy anyway, a fortunate position to make
a career out of it, which is good.
"You know, I'm coming from a punk background, very anti-establishment.
Music is very emotive and it can be a part of change but I don't
see it as that powerful… Musicians and the rock'n'roll world have
got this celebrity status out of proportion. You can then manipulate
that and use that. And you know, like I was saying, coming from
the punk world, it is very political especially when the second
generation punk lot came along - Jello Biafra and people like
that - I totally love what he does and he's totally dedicated
to setting the America's right, which is great. And that can be
With their latest offering, 'The Altogether', gone are the more
melancholic variations that were distinct in the 1999 release
'Middle of Nowhere'. "I've got an analogy of a day at the fun
fair," laughs Phil, "the last LP was much more of a headphone,
solitary sort of thing in my opinion, whereas this one is about
going to the fun fair with your mates. We've sampled The Cramps
and really had fun with them and it's techno-psychabilly. That's
the equivalent of a rollercoaster. We've got 'Funny Break' which
has got a very ethereal female vocal on it and a really nice sort
of break to it and that's kind of like the love tunnel."
Perhaps some will accuse Orbital of having sold out, by producing
shorter 'songs' that will receive definite airplay, incorporating
luscious vocals. Hit makers? "We've tried, we got a bit drunk
and tried to make a hit and it just sounded crap, we're not good
at this. It's just not happening because our heart's not in it.
I'm a bit of a purist in that way. If the music we're making doesn't
do anything for us, it doesn't work. And essentially we have to
come from a very selfish attitude where it's got to please us
and then we put it out and keep our fingers crossed. 'I hope you
like this but sorry I'm not going to make any excuses it you don't'.
That's just the way it goes. Music is music in that sense."
'The Altogether' is, despite what the naysayers would have us
believe, a masterfully temperamental album, filled with swarming
vocals, nefariously funky basslines, sexy side-shows and stirring
melodies - in essence, what we have come to expect from the Orbital
camp. "It's whatever comes along in your life. When we wrote the
album 'In Sides' about three of our mates died around that time
and I can't just leave it on the street or at the door. It goes
with you. Luckily we've been having a bit of a laugh recently."