Stone Roses. Terence Trent D'arby. Paul Weller. Elastica. Orbital.
Backstage at Ireland's Feile Festival in Cork's Pairc Ul Chaolmh
sits a row of Portakabins, each one with a different band's name
on it. Outside Elastica's there's Justine and Damon... snogging!
Next door, shooting the breeze with D'arby (a man who's brought
enough stage costumes to launch a west end musical), there's Weller,
sporting perhaps his worst haircut to date. All's quiet on the
baggy front. Two hand looking blokes guard the door, but predictably
The Stone Roses fail to show their faces.
At Orbital's place, by contrast, it's more of a family picnic
than a VIP chinwag sesh. Hanging out with a bunch of mates who
hitched a lift in their snazzy two-decker tour bus, the Hartnoll
brothers, Paul and Phil, seem so removed from this impenetrable
star system as to be hardly there. Some six hours later, however,
the reason why Orbital are at Feile becomes magnificently clear.
But as for the stardom bit. Well...
"I'll tell you one thing. I'm just glad we're not a trendy band
in the same way that someone like Tricky is," says Phil. "You
hear these tales about the hangers on that follow him around without
him even wanting them there; about how he has to put up with people
like David Bowie storming into his dressing room to have his picture
taken with him. It's not Tricky's fault, he's a totally normal
bloke, but when you get caught up in that flavour of the month
thing a lot of stuff gets really fucked up. It's horrible. Like
everyone's trying to scavenge a bit of your trendiness."
The kudos of having megastars in their midst might not count for
much with Orbital, but their ability to rock crowds that stretch
off over the horizon unequivocally does. There are those who claim
they have little to do with the dance scene, because their tracks
aren't DJ friendly and because students like them. This is a large
dose of tosh - people who say such things live under the illusion
that the UK dance scene should aspire to America's. Dance music
in Britain spans numerous elements, unlike America's it's successful,
and Orbital, well, they're the techno band who take on the rockers
and beat them at their own game. Like The Prodigy, they're the
stuff that festivals are made of. Which is fortunate, seeing as
tonight the Hartnoll brothers have a challenge and a half on their
hands. They're on last in the main stadium, directly after the
long-awaited return of The Stone Roses.
"I'm happy about the fact that they're not treating us as third
rate citizens anymore," says Paul, the younger Hartnoll. "I'm
into playing alongside different kinds of bands rather than being
segregated from them. And with someone like The Stone Roses, who're
pretty funky, they've probably got more in common with us than
with some really pessimist, indie band."
Orbital, like The Roses, sprang from the era of musical freedom
that was the late 80s and early 90s. The Hartnoll brothers gave
up dead-end day jobs and blasted sky high into the charts with
'Chime', one of the most effortlessly jubilant and gobsmackingly
beautiful pieces of homegrown house/techno the warehouse nation
had experienced. They haven't yet climbed as high in the singles
chart again, but with three solid LPs, all boasting a string of
unforgettable tunes, and a legendary reputation on the live circuit,
they've found acceptance for electronic dance in places it's never
been welcome before.
"Our wildest dreams were about achieving the same status as Cabaret
Voltaire," laughs Paul. "I guess we've gone beyond them now."
By a mile - largely due to a sound that's as staunchly tuneful,
fluently musical and wholly distinctive as it is abstract or awkward.
They've propelled this distinctive sound across frontiers as varied
as clanging industrial dub, expressive neo-jungle, ethereal vocal
tunes, driving trance and now, on their new single, 'Times Fly'
(which is too long to qualify for a chart position and Orbital
are admirably and typically too obstinate to consider cutting
it down to size), immaculate downtempo techno-funk, next to off-kilter
drum & bass and the wizard-like use of female vocals they bring
to so much of their work. Next out of the studio is a track called
'PETROL', destined to be the soundtrack for a game on Sony's soon-to-be-launched
computer games console.
"I hate snobbery," says Paul, "whether it's a class thing, a fashion
thing a musical thing or any kind of thing. All these divisions
have really damaged dance music. I mean, rhythm is rhythm, isn't
it? And it's got a lot more to do with people's attitudes than
what specific genre they're making. You don't have to sound like
a band to identify with them. It's about what lurks deeper inside
It's obvious that something political lurks near to the core of
Orbital. It was never closer to boiling over than on 'Snivilisation',
their last album, they say.
"It couldn't be helped I guess," explains Paul. "The Criminal
Justice Bill protests were really getting going while we were
making it and that influence worked its way really deep into the
But do they think people have lost hope in ever beating the CJA?
Paul: "I think some people have, to be honest, because we're such
a lethargic country. Smash the broadcasting companies and you'll
get some motivation out of people. Take their TVs away from them,
Phil: "Maybe the Thatcherite years have knocked the stuffing out
of everyone. It's almost as if no-one knows how to fight anymore.
The laws have every angle covered. it's like trying to fight with
your arms tied behind your back."
have gone one stage further than fighting," Phil decides later.
"Whereas punk tackled things head on, people are now subversive
in the sense that they'd rather party and enjoy themselves instead
of attempting to live up to the standard and accepted ways of
living that have built up over the last century. Passive social
rebellion - perhaps that's the only option left."
Leaving politics behind, the conversation takes a dive into the
rather less earth-shattering realm of the easy listening muzak
revival - an issue that for unexpected reasons Paul is keen to
"Well, it's hardly acid house, is it? I can't see the tabloids
getting too worked up over it. One thing, though, I don't like
the idea of too many people searching through the same racks in
secondhand shops as I am. I can see my sample supply getting eaten
up. It's like, piss off! I was here first! This is my patch! I
feel like some bearded old man on the beach," he laughs, "collecting
bits of driftwood."
Paul's cranky attitude may be a joke in this instance, but when
it comes to liaising with their label, particularly some of its
overseas divisions, a little bit of forcefulness comes in dead
handy, they reckon.
"When you're dealing with people wearing leather waistcoats, cowboy
boots and Metallica t-shirts, you know you're in trouble," says
Phil. "We sort of accept that kind of bullshit as being another
part of the job now. Not a very nice part, but still something
we have to tackle. It's a shame, though. All we really want to
do is keep on making music for as many years as we can. Anything
to avoid ending up back on a building site."
The hours are ticking away. Soon Orbital will don spotlight specs,
brush away the nerves, press the power switch and take to the
stage to play their first ever set in Southern Ireland. They've
no idea how familiar the public over here is with their work but
as proven by the crazy scenes going down in the Groove Tent (situated
just outside the stadium), dance music is firmly established.
Earlier in the day, a bunch of rock bands no-one gave a shit about
played on the main stage to an embarrassingly small crowd. The
dance tent, however, was relatively packed within half an hour
of opening time, as a succession of DJs and live bands (Laurent
Garnier, Andrew Weatherall, David Holmes, Chemical Brothers and
Underworld were among those who played over the three days) whipped
up sheer delirium under canvass.
"I saw Underworld playing in there," beams Paul. "They're one
of the few electronic bands that sound dirty and rude when they're
live. Some electronic bands, you hear 'em at a few festivals and
it's obvious they're not brave enough to jam. They sound the same
every time. I'm sort of waiting for a few good bands to emerge
and follow in our footsteps."
Leave the festival behind for a while and take a trip into Cork
City and you come across the confounding sight of condom machines
covered in religious nutter graffiti urging people not to use
them, some emblazoned with stickers claiming they don't protect
you from the HIV virus. Along the road to the festival site, on
the other hand, volunteers stand by a caravan dishing out free
rubbers to all and sundry. It seems as if something's got to give
in this land, eventually, and ultimately only the youth can decide
what it'll be.
The night before meeting up with Orbital, photographer Paul and
myself are out walking about town when we come to a street crowded
with youths. A drunken kid smashes a bottle and shouts, "Fuck
the English", receiving cheers from some and disapproving expressions
from others. A bit sad really, but it's so out of context with
everything else we experience in Cork to be of minimal importance.
Young people here pack a degree of energy and enthusiasm most
Brits would find shockingly alien.
And hey! Even the police are friendly.
"When we were in Belfast," says Paul, referring to the occasion
they visited David Holmes' Sugar Sweet club, eventually naming
a track after the city as a tribute, "I was really interested
in finding out what religion people at the club were and whether
it really mattered. I was delighted. It turned out that no-one
really cared. I was speaking to mixed couples and they were saying
their parents wouldn't let them in either house together, but
they didn't give a shit. They didn't wanna sit at home anyway."
When The Stone Roses amble onto stage the tension is magical.
Some can hardly believe it's them. This is the closest they've
come to playing in the UK for five years and it's truly eerie
to hear those tracks from the first album live again after so
long. Sublime even, except for the fact that vocalist lan Brown
looks alarmingly like Jim Morrison and can't sing for toffee.
By the time they launch into tracks off their second album and
indulge in a few drawn-out progressive rock type manoevres the
bubble is bursting and the crowd at the front is visibly decreasing.
Oh dear, by the end it's verging on a fucking shambles.
Orbital turn things round almost instantly. Waves of spiralling
sound and curvaceous bass slalom round perfectly formed rhythm
sequences and samples of Belinda Carlisle and Bon Jovi loop dramatically
as the crowd melts into a sea of thrashing limbs and immersed
expressions. Event the front-of-stage security guards let their
hair down and by the shuffling break of 'Impact' kicks in, those
on the terraces have surrendered completely. Speaking to people
near the front, it's obvious many of them know very little about
Orbital. They like what they hear, though, and by the time they
leave the stage the Hartnoll brothers can claim to have taken
another festival crowd of mixed musical taste to the heart of
a one-of-a-kind techno experience.
The t-shirts, publicity and hype might have had this marked down
as The Stone Roses' night, but the public voted with their feet,
raised their arms and burnt up the turf. Orbital are a compelling
and inimitable two-headed groove machine who could probably win
over an OAP's tea party. Pure genius.