grim down south. Suicidally so on the remote escarpment of lunar
terrain where the Dungeness nuclear reactor hums its menacing
mantra out across beaches in a lonely corner of Britain.
But who is that emerging from the colourless void of bleakness?
Two humanoid life forms strangely oblivious to high-speed horizontal
rain transformed into icy splinters by a skin-splitting wind chill
factor. This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, and extra-terrestrial
electro duo Orbital certainly aren't fooling around.
Clambering back into their transport module which cleverly assumes
the innocent form of an unmarked minibus - we glide past row upon
row of gaily-painted shed-like dwellings strikingly similar to
David Bowie's bonkers spaceship in The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Derek Jarman lives in one of these, which might explain why all
his films are so strange. Hundreds of these misshapen igloos huddle
around the hulking power station, but not a living soul stirs.
It was a great idea on the drawing board. Spend a day cataloguing
the motorway junctions of exotic Kent with two of its grooviest
sons. Scoot down the M25 (which gave Orbital their fantastic name)
visit their home studio in their native Sevenoaks, motor down
to Dungeness with a nine-hour remix of Kraftwerk's 'Autobahn'
tumbling ironically from the stereo . . .
So far so mental. But plans to photograph these twin peaks of
sci-fi Techno inside the vast and alarmingly shoddy-looking power
station - a conceptual link with their blistering collection of
remixes entitled 'Mutations' -are instantly blocked by The Man,
who demands written permission secured two weeks in advance. Your
name's not down, you're not coming in.
Junior Orby Paul Hartnoll - 23, with fractionally the longer hair
of the duo - must content himself testing his new mini-recorder
inside the Dungeness propaganda. . . erm, information centre,
sampling Geiger-counter clicks and reassuring voiceovers by Michael
'Screen Test ' Rodd insisting a Chernobyl-style meltdown could
absolutely never in a million years happen here because of something
called a "Positive Void Coefficient". Which makes everyone feel
a lot safer.
Outside the heavy, Auschwitz-style perimeter fence, Paul records
mechanised belches from a robot-manned lighthouse while older
brother Phil - 27, and the most amiable skinhead you could ever
meet - expresses deep unease about standing in the belly of the
beast. Ground Control to major discomfort.
Phil was a skinhead proper in his youth "for about six months"
before realising his Anti-Nazi tattoo and love of Trojan reggae
was earning him few friends amongst the crop-topped Cro-Magnon's
of Sevenoaks. These days, he sighs, his bristled bonce is more
a response to creeping baldness. Hartnoll and Hartnoll, it swiftly
transpires, are top geezers.
Orbital are so far off the map they virtually collapse in on themselves
and form a black hole where Planet Pop used to be. They are musical
cousins of Slartibartfast from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The
Galaxy, the geezer who customised crinkly coastlines in comfortable
isolation for years before fickle fashion showered him with awards,
fair-weather friends and critical hysteria... then promptly consigned
him to obscurity once more.
Well, not quite. Phil and Paul nonchalantly accept they are no
longer hot news to the self-appointed arbiters of dancefloor style
- the sort of toxic slime any sane person would cross entire solar
systems to avoid, after all - but Orbital were bleeping and blooping
long before Acid went Techno and will still be tweaking and twiddling
when rave culture opportunists start claiming that, hey, there's
always been a Peruvian pan-pipe element to their music.
Paul recalls "making music before the term House was around. We
were listening to New Order and Divine, a lot of Hi-NRG, Cabaret
Voltaire, Kraftwerk . . . we were just lucky, the sort of thing
we were doing became popular". He allies himself more with disco
oddballs like Midi Rain and J Saul Kane - "The people that, if
this scene all finished, it's not going to mean anything to them
anyway" - than any blatantly commercial hands-in-the-air merchants.
Phil admits premature success often destroys bands, and Orbital's
memorably static appearance on Top Of The Pops when their 'Chime'
single hit Number 17 was more down to discomfort than any avant-garde
"I like modern dance music, but there's a lot of rubbish out there.
I never think in terms of being a rave act, my thoughts are one
day to start getting into film soundtracks," shrugs Paul.
Which makes perfect sense. Phil describes Orbital 's unique brand
of ambient Techno as "journey music" and 'Mutations' certainly
covers several thousand square miles of moody moonscape. Especially
since it has been "dimensionally enhanced" by a mysterious black
box borrowed from London radio station Kiss FM, which blasts its
widescreen proportions far beyond the flat, tinny Dungeness of
most dance musk production.
Paul grew up reading science fiction and cites Star Trek: The
Next Generation as a major influence on Orbital's planet of sound.
while Phil mumbles something about "the mystery of space". Hmmmm.
Behind their knowing image and deadpan humour, perhaps the pair
really are men who fell to Earth? Why is their Sevenoaks studio
plastered with corn-circle paraphernalia? Is it really just spooky
coincidence that they (almost) share a surname with the first
I get a bit paranoid sometimes," confesses Phil, drawing baffled
looks from the citizens of sleepy Romney. "I might look like I've
come from another planet, but I'm probably quite normal . . .
Hanging out in Australia over New Year. where they played to 4,000
Techno-mental Aussie ravers, the brothers planned to make a video
documentary about the mountain hippy communes of Nimbin, only
to have their tapes burnt in strong-arm eviction moves by fascist
police and local rednecks. "One of the policemen said 'You lot
should be shot like the f---ing Abbos'! " spits a disgusted Paul.
But the mellow atmosphere in Sydney persuaded him Britain's rave
scene has reached the upper ceiling of its Positive Void Coefficient.
"We decided we're not going to do any more dodgy old raves, full
of people who don't know what they're hanging around for, they've
paid 15 quid to get in and it's just musically banal."
Nowadays the duo are highly selective about live shows, but fleet-footed
readers may have caught them at 2000AD's 15th birthday bash at
London's Camden Palace last week. If you missed out, you can see
them giving peace a dance at the North London CND rave on March
- they come in peace to save our ailing planet from screaming
nuclear death and crap pop music. And for a handful of your paltry
Earth pounds, anyone can share the lavishly detailed explorations
of inner space offered by their manically mutating sound. Watch
the skies ....