the ozone bright sunshine she doesn't look like a global techno
killer. Parked at the quay, just outside the centre of Helsinki,
the rubber- coated hulk of the Russian Navy's U406 Juliett class
submarine looks far too battered to be capable of blasting a pair
of 356 kiloton nuclear missiles at a target 1,500 kilometres away.
Flopped in the water like giant cigar, she stinks of salty fluids
and petrol. The ice-cream booth which lazily trades in vanilla
killers by the submarine's gangway seems about as potentially
apocalyptic. But until February of this year, when the former
'evil empire' leased her to Finland as a tourist attraction, our
Juliett was a working Russian sub. A few pre-Glasnost years earlier,
she was the shadowy stuff of CND teenager nightmares and death
of the planet scenarios."It's really freaky in there," says Paul
Hartnoll, extracting himself from the 'electrotechnical room'
deep in the squashed metal guts. On regular duty, 90 men would
be enclosed for three months in the submarine's claustrophobic
tube.Today the 30-year old vessel, designed, as the guide notes,
by a woman, has a visiting crew of four- Paul, older brother Phil,
photographer Ridgers and myself
"We should get one of these and park it outside The Aphex Twin's
house," says Paul. "That'd show him."
Sonar bleeps are familiar aural territory for the Hartnoll brothers,
but this is their first time in Finland. They're here to play
a one off date in Helsinki, following a show in Norway. This morning
they went to the local flea market and picked up a few Russian
badges for their epaulettes. In a country which only split off
from the Soviet Union in 1970, the reminders of the Cold War past
are intriguing to the free-thinking techno-explorer.
"A few years ago who'd have believed you'd be on a Russian submarine,"
says Phil. "It's really odd."
Aged 28 and 30 respectively, Paul and Phil are of a generation
who grew up with atomic nightmares. Paul has one particular recurring
dream of holidaying at a caravan site near Hastings.
"I'd be be looking down the hill towards the sea and you'd see
the mushroom cloud go up," he says. "You'd feel your bowel loosen
and this warm feeling of horror. I could see my dad doubling up
in pain. And then I'd turn round and try and go into the caravan,
and someone would say, 'You can't go in there', and I'd say, 'Why
not' and they'd say 'Don't you realise you're dead?'"
On a summer's day in cosmopolitan Helsinki, memories of the Red
Threat seem almost medievally quaint. The town is full of sporty
Euro youth, and Paul and Phil are relaxed after a week in a Norwegian
chalet Or at least getting as much rest as you can when The Aphex
Twin and crew are holed up in a nearby lodge. Phil has his wife
and their two kids out with him. The most malevolent force that
the Hartnolls have had to deal with on the trip are Norwegian
"They had three, foot stingy tentacles. They looked like space
stations," says Phil. "Or big throbbing sexual organs," adds Paul.
World destruction doesn't feel imminent and localised cruelty
is not over-obvious. But peek into the global info-net and things
are far from idyllic. Today is the day a sniper blows holes in
an intercontinental ballistic missile en route to a US airforce
base, causing an $1.1 million micro dent in the county's humungous
arms budget. Today Scotland Yard admit that the Metropolitan Police
came within a hair's breadth of the first ever mainland use of
plastic bullets at the previous weekend's Downing Street anti-Criminal
Justice Bill protest. Today the M3 motorway through Twyford Down
opens, watched by defeated environmental activists.
It's a regular weekend's catalogue of ambient power misuse, seemingly
remote from the world of escapist 'techno bollocks'. Except that
this week Orbital issue a third album, titled 'Snivilisation',
as a signifier of their dissatisfaction with the myth of civilised
society. The album's press release quotes Raoul Vanieigen: "The
history of our time calls to mind those Walt Disney characters
who rush madly over the edge of a cliff without seeing it: the
power of the imagination keeps them suspended in mid-air but as
soon as they look down and see where they are, they fall."
The 'suicidal irresponsibility' (© Orbital) of our leaders is
not cartoon-splattered all over 'Snivilisation'. But in sampled
environmental speeches, titles like 'Crash And Carry' and the
schizoid spread of urban electronic styles, the album provides
a hyper-stimulating, jazz-brained, trance-elated commentary on
the modern jungle. Inconsequential sequencing, it isn't. We shouldn't
be surprised. In 1990, with their first techno hit 'Chime', Paul
and Phil went on Top Of The Pops wearing anti-Poll Tax T-shirts.
They haven't been asked back.
Somehow, as tracks like 'Choice', with its ranting agit- punk
Crass sample, and the obviously Gulf War-inspired 'Desert Storm'
have stacked up, Orbital have still principally been portrayed
as 'sound engineers', egghead science lab students with oscilloscopic
thought patterns. But look at their past and they've got more
in common with Chumbawumba than Kraftwerk
Paul and Phil were not ideally suited to the conformist semi-rural
environment of suburban Sevenoaks. Both were too much into music
to buckle down and "get something to fall back on". At home they
were dealing with their mother's addiction to the side-effect
ridden Halcyon tranquilliser (as referred to by the track on 1992's
'Radiccio' single). Externally, Paul was getting into anarcho-punkers
Crass and US proto-hardcore-ists The Dead Kennedys and Phil was
getting off on the radicalism of ANL rock events. The older Hartnoll
still has a tattoo scar on his hand to remind him of his early
"I did it myself," he says. "It was a little swastika and I crossed
it out and wrote ANTI. And I did MUM up here as a test pressing
because I thought she would kill me. And that's the story about
Halcyon and all that, because she was on Halcyon for seven years
and it was really f---in' mad."
"I used to go to a lot of Animal Liberation demonstrations," recalls
Paul. "There was a weird era of it being really popular, this
was early to mid-'80s times and also there were the Stop The City
demonstrations, anarcho unofficial type things where everyone
was charging around the Bank Of England trying to disrupt the
day. I used to go on them, which was really quite freaky when
I think of it now; they were really quite vicious."
"I even used to be in the PDSA - the People's Dispensary For Sick
Animals," laughs Phil. "This was when I was about nine or ten
and you used to get little badges and do little jumble sales.
So I suppose that sort of feeling of wanting to do something that's
worthy has always been within me. But I don't really know with
what I'm doing now, whether I'm actually doing anybody any favours
in the grand scheme of things."
Scratch Orbital and they don't bleed silicon. They bleed niceness.
You can't get away from it. Paul is louder than Phil, but both
of them demonstrate an almost obsessional tendency for soul searching.
Of course, that's what pop people do in interviews. But the regular
split pop personality (fragile sensitive soul/ego crazed monster)
is nowhere to be seen in the Hartnoll camp. Disavowing pop music
as being too much the art of "compromise" is one thing. But getting
spontaneously vociferous about the rights of pet animals is another
"I don't like entrapping pets," says Paul. "It's just something
that gives me the wigglers a little bit." "I nearly adopted Charlie
Hall's (of The Drum Club) dog," adds Phil, "because he can't cope
with it. It's this really lovely big floppy sort of English Mastiff
Terrier but it's not like a nasty thing. It has really beautiful
colourings and is so soppy and really good with the kids. But
I've got a really tiny garden and it's just not fair."
The extent of Orbital's anti-nastiness is given a thorough testing
at the local Helsinki radio station. Phil's wife, who works with
mentally handicapped children in Hackney, could not have done
a better job of caring for someone with communication difficulties.
The DJ's Finn-English is a bizarre mix of backward tape looping
and linguistic ambushing. Somehow Paul and Phil manage to answer
a series of totally incomprehensible questions, plus one which
asks "Is techno the new God?" and a challenging inquiry: "Usually
the rave or techno concerts, must say, or live acts, they're kind
of bore. What about you?"
Ice 'Motherf---in' T, whose signature is on the studio door, might
have raised his voice, but Phil and Paul politely explain about
improvisation. Later, at the gig, the same DJ will stuff chewing
gum in his ears to block out the volume, only to find that the
gum has set and he can't get it out.
Clearly the techno revolution has yet to reach all corners of
the globe. But are Paul and Phil disappointed that techno has
on the surface fallen short of turning into a socially engaged
Paul: "I think things like that have their influence and possibly
you don't see it until 20 years later. Alcohol sales have gone
down. Nowadays you go to a dance club and there's none of that,
'Are you lookin' at my bird?' stuff
Phil: "I find that it's been quite a positive thing, really. You
do get loads and loads of pseudo New Age crap and I've been constantly
disappointed with certain people's attitudes, but I think what
was nice with the whole music and E thing was it seemed like unity
was back again. I think that it's had its influence. It's not
revolutionary. But then it has changed something. If you look
at the Criminal Justice Bill and things like that, they're totally
paranoid about it. So what does that say? It's like they're covering
up their mistakes with things like the travellers. ."
Picture (Derek Ridgers) "They forced people to take this alternative
lifestyle because of the housing situation and things like that,
and then they go, 'Oh f---, what've we done? Let's ban them now'.
It's like ethnic cleansing - subcultures not allowed. I mean,
what's a New Age traveller? Me and my kids in my camper van? Am
I a New Age traveller? It's horrible. Typical of the British Government
to create the situation.
"It's like nuclear power. Everybody knows it doesn't work but
instead of saying, 'OK, we made a mistake. We'll find alternatives',
they just pump in more money trying to make it better. It's bizarre
but that's what they do all the time."
Paul: "I suppose these sort of things are what we've been trying
to conjure up with the music on this album. Music that is inspired
by the emotions created by these insane things that go on."
Spanning the jackhammer intensity of 'Quality Seconds' (originally
meant as part of a movie soundtrack); the piano glide of 'Kein
Trink Wasser' (not drinking water); and the disembodied Cocteau-isms
and breakbeats of 'Are We Here?' (beats inspired by pirate jungle
radio stations in Hackney, vocals by their mate Alison Goldfrapp),
'Snivilisation' is a kind of instrumental 'What's Going On?' with
auto-suggestive touches about a freaky, screwed up world of plastic
surgery and mass- hunger.
It's a blurred protest banner, which comes into focus live thanks
to the Orbital video backdrop. That night at Helsinki's municipal
hall-cum-rock venue, Vanhana, stag night lads parade outside wearing
false breasts and dresses (a Finnish custom, apparently), while
a mini- Megadog's worth of evolved Finns freak to an hour-and-a-half's
worth of prime Orbital and a video show of rainforest obliteration,
baby scans and eco-slogans.
"We're not like saying, 'Oh look at you lot, because we're all
part of it," points out Phil. "I understand fully that I am part
of it," continues Paul. "I throw away rubbish, I pollute, I waste
water, and so on." So what are the worst aspects of growing up
in the current faux civilisation?
Phil: "The worst thing is when you realise that the Government
and the police who you're brought up to believe in, are criminals
themselves, and you're living under a criminal Government. And
it's horrible to have your protection shattered and your feeling
of security destroyed. I think that's what happens to a lot of
people during their adolescence. That's why they go so f---in'
crazy, apart from puberty and all that. It's that whole disappointment
in the way things are on the Earth.
"The financial priority has taken over from humanistic values.
That even comes down to homelessness and unemployment. I was talking
to someone about homelessness here in Finland and it doesn't really
exist because it's too cold in the winter and all these people
would die. And in Britain they get away with allowing it to happen
because of the climate. They get away with anything they want
to. This particular Government has just made people think about
themselves, by things like breaking down the community. Once you've
broken the community there's no opposition because you've got
no support from anybody. What you're left with is a bunch of individual
So have there been other civilisations that weren't so snivilised?
Phil: "No, not really. That's the whole point in a way, in that
all the civilisations throughout history have been deluded. And
they've all been conquered and died out. I can't see this one
sustaining itself for that much longer."
Darth Vader has come to life in a corner of the Helsinki radio
station. Paul and Phil edge up to a computer screen while one
of the station's technicians wields his mouse on a Star Wars CD
Rom. The brothers are fascinated. They've never seen a CD Rom
in action, which is odd for supposed techno boffins, especially
considering that 'Snivilisation' carries a drawing on the inner
sleeve of a white-bearded God wearing a Virtual Reality mask.
The Hartnolls are technologically curious but not full-on 'Net-
heads. They don't think the Internet is going to save us.
"There's an awful lot of information exchange going on between
people that haven't got any qualification apart from access to
a computer and I like that," says Paul. "But the more I hear about
it the more I think this is just a brief period that's going to
be clamped down on by the Government and you won't be able to
do it anymore. It's like television. What a brilliant invention.
But what do we put on it? Neighbours? EastEnders? It's the same
with Virtual Reality- I think it's funny the way the first thing
they're desperate for is Virtual Sex. It's hilarious."
Like when the wall came down in Berlin and queues formed at the
porn shops. Phil: "But it's men though, isn't it? It wasn't queues
of women. Men are a bit displaced in the 20th Century. Their primal
instincts are not much use." Paul: "The weird chemical balances
that men are left with that used to be very useful when you had
to hunt, they're not necessary anymore." So penises are shrinking
and sperm counts are down. Phil: "Well, that's good news." Paul:
"Well, we kept our nipples, didn't we? Know what I mean? And I'm
certainly not as hairy as I could be." Phil: "Maybe we are evolving."
As dusk falls on the green oasis of a park in Helsinki, Phil and
Paul stretch out symmetrically on the grass, their heads almost
touching. They look like a pair of fallen gnomes. A ladybird crawls
through the grass towards Phil's lighter, maybe planning a fuel
heist. But neither Hartnoll notices. They're lost in musings on
the parasitical nature of mankind and the destiny of the planet.
"It's about power and money," says Phil. "Look at the Gulf War,
that wasn't about saving Kuwait, everybody knew that. It was about
oil and money." The ladybird scuttles off.
"Ultimately I don't care if the human race exists forever or not,"
says Paul, "because if we snuff ourselves out then maybe cockroaches
will develop into five-foot tall creatures and make a beautiful
world. I mean, who knows?"
The future is a cloudy chrysalis. The ice-cream booth by Helsinki
harbour might launch a chocolate chip attack on Estonia, any day.
But at least Paul has a vision for Orbital. He wants it to be
like an Ealing movie, with the retired brothers smoking pipes
by the hearth, remembering the old days, and then toddling off
into the studio to finish their latest film soundtrack. That's
if he doesn't get his wind-powered organic commune in Southern
Ireland sorted first.
Paul: "At the end of the day my philosophy on things is that if
you have an idea like that, no matter how stupid it might seem,
you might as well believe in it and try for it because you have
one life. It's pointless doing otherwise, because you live your
life in anguish.
"You've got to lose that fear of failing in other people's eyes
A lot of people are afraid to do something in case they fail and
they get ridiculed. If I try something and fail, f--- it. If anyone
wants to laugh at me I've f---ing tried anyway. I mean, goddammit,
we need a bit more laughter."
Things are changing for Orbital. From the days of sleeping in
Transit vans and setting up their own gear, they now take a seven-man
crew on the road. The new album will further expand their empire
of soundness in sound. There's already talk of hiring a jet from
Heathrow to the south of France so that they can get back from
Woodstock in time for a show.
Next thing you know they'll be opening biospherical rainforests
with Sting. Well people can laugh all they want to. At least they'll
have done their bit towards halting the decline of Western snivilisation.
And they'll be remembered as the band who extracted the eco from
techno, long after UBoat 406 has rusted away.
As we leave the park, Phil has a go at selling me a Greenpeace
raffle ticket. Then as a punk gesture, Paul lobs his paper cup
into the grass... But he picks it up, quite quickly.