electronic music export Orbital shows no sign of slowing down
any time soon. It's been nearly a decade since brothers Paul and
Phil Hartnoll released their shattering debut single, "Chime,"
now a milestone in the dance world for both the ethos (self-produced
for little money and with scant equipment) and the sound (haunting
synths and orchestral strings) behind the song.
The brothers Hartnoll articulate a gut-funky brand of deep, machinated
soul that shouldn't be overlooked; fortunately, you might get
a chance to catch them this summer as they tour the U.S. with
the Chemical Brothers. Live, Orbital is a kettle of surprises,
as in recent years it has featured snippets of the likes of Bon
Jovi and Belinda Carlisle expertly thrown in the mix.
Now on its fifth album, Middle of Nowhere, Orbital remains one
of the most successful techno outfits in the world -- among the
few to make real headway in the United States in terms of recognition
and sales. The group is neither dance floor nor armchair, yet
is thoroughly appropriate for either setting.
An Orbital song is instantly recognizable, yet the group doesn't
adhere to a single formula, creating subtle layers of motion and
flux with a shimmering digital landscape that has seemed to only
become more focused with time. We spoke with Paul Hartnoll via
a transatlantic phone call from his London home.
CDNOW: Do you think there is a secret to having longevity in
a culture that's very much "everything old is old -- and out"?
Paul Hartnoll: I don't know, unless some of the obvious
things like spending 10 years doing what you want and doing it
for yourself have much to do with it. We've never really tried
to follow trends to try to keep up with fashion, though we've
always adopted what we like of what's currently going on.
All the things that we like influence us. But we've just always
enjoyed ourselves, made sure we've done music that we like, and
that's about it. Whether that's got something to do with it, I
don't know really.
Is the live show going to differ in size and scale from previous
Hopefully it's going to be a proper production, because normally
we play a big production over here [London], and then we scale
it down for America because of the logistics. We might play the
Royal Albert Hall here and then play some club in Miami for 500
people, so you can't fit that sort of production in.
But hopefully we're planning something a lot bigger this time,
so what we want to do is make sure we take our full production
... Doing performances is where we do our best advertising; we
don't really get played on radio much because we don't have a
vocalist or frontperson. Doing gigs is our main form of publicity.
You mention that you can hang out at your own gig, especially
in America, and not get recognized. Is this amusing? Is it fun?
It's good because if you've got a support band, it's nice to be
able to watch them as well. And you stand there in the dark with
everyone else and people nudge you out of the way and spill drinks
on you and you think, "Ahaha! I'm going to be entertaining you
in half an hour. You're nudging me out of the way so you can get
a better look at me. Ahaha!"
Do you have any tales of freaky or outrageous fans?
I've met three fans who have Orbital tattoos, which is a bit scary
because every time you finish an album you wonder whether they're
gonna like it or are they gonna be down [at] the tattoo removal
parlor. It'd make you wonder, wouldn't it? Are they going to be
waiting around a New York corner waiting to shoot you if you do
a bad album? That's the sort of thing you wonder about, late at
night, very occasionally.
That's pretty devotional. Would you even consider tattooing
your band's name on you?
no I wouldn't. Although I must admit when I was 18 I was in a
band called Noddy & the Satellites and our logo was a picture
of Noddy's head with a sort of satellite thing 'round his head
-- pretty similar to the Orbital logo actually -- and we almost
all got a tattoo of that on the top of our arm. I'm very glad
What, in your opinion, is the progression between Middle of
Nowhere and your previous albums?
It's hard for me to say because I'm so close to the music. What
people have said to me, and I'd tend to agree, is that it's a
continuation from our "Brown Album" [1993's Orbital, the group's
It's almost like you could put Snivilisation and In Sides [Orbital's
third and fourth albums respectively] to one side, as if they're
concept albums and now we're following along from the sentiment
of the "Brown Album." I sort of go along with that in a way. I
think this is a more jolly, upbeat album.
far as your mastery of new production techniques, is there anything
that you are particularly proud of that is new to this record?
Squeezing a single out of a stylophone ["Style"] -- I was
quite pleased with that; I thought that was quite an achievement:
taking the stylophone, bringing it downstairs, plugging it into
the sampler and saying, "Right, I can only make sounds out of
this." I was very pleased with the results of that.
Have you heard from either Bon Jovi or Belinda Carlisle?
Never at all, though someone did say they saw an interview with
Belinda Carlisle on the telly and the interviewer said, "Do you
know there's a band called Orbital who have been going round using
your 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' at their live gigs?" And she
said, "Yes, I have heard that" -- but that's as far as I got.
I know she knows. I think Bon Jovi knows, but I haven't bumped
into them. Not sure I want to, really. [laughs]
You probably wouldn't reveal it if you've got any musical surprises
along those lines planned for this tour.
I wouldn't [laughs]. One question I would ask you in connection
to that, do you ever get the British program "Dr. Who" in America?
Yes, old reruns have been on for years.
OK, go on.
No reason for asking?
No, no, none at all.