- The Times
fraternal duo Paul and Phil Hartnoll are one of the few surviving
electronic acts to have honed their sound in the wilderness before
rave culture exploded in the late 1980s. Even now, despite a solid
following among dance fans, the pair stand apart from fashion
in a parallel sonic universe of their own devising.
Their sixth and most conventionally song-based album to date,
The Altogether, has attracted cool reviews in some quarters. In
fairness it lacks the bite and range of their best work, but the
live arena has always been their strongest suit. And thus the
brothers proved once more on Sunday, when their latest tour reached
a packed Civic Hall in Wolverhampton.
in semi-darkness behind what looked like the wire-tangled innards
of the Mir space station, Orbital delivered two hours of sensory
overload and mounting excitement.
duos increasing fondness for vocals has not been allowed
to compromise their signature blend of preprogrammed electronics
overlaid with improvised textures and live keyboards. Sampled
snippets of guest singers were generously deployed, from the woozy
celestial sighs of the early crowd-pleaser The Girl with the Sun
in Her Head to the high-pitched choir effects of the recent Top
30 single Funny Break. Even the more structured lyrical warbles
of the neo-folk crooner David Gray on Illuminate, pinpointed by
many reviewers as the albums weakest link, were transformed
by technological tinkering into a sublime instrument in their
own right. This proved to be a triumphant makeover, elevating
a pedestrian album track into a pulsating widescreen anthem.
most of their techno peers, the Hartnolls have managed to inject
a rich streak of nostalgic Englishness into a music generally
associated with gleaming global futurism. The sampled chants of
the late Ian Dury in Oi were one example of this colloquial quality,
but it became most apparent on their climactic cover version of
the Doctor Who title music. Commissioned by the BBC, this was
less a remake than an affectionate deconstruction of the famous
television theme, rebuilding the originals clunky throb
into a bristling alien soundscape of industrial thuds and fizzing
keyboards. Hearty cheers greeted this witty recontextualising
of childhood viewing habits.
almost no serious lulls all night, the brothers maintained their
euphoric momentum right up to the grand finale. Then the time-honoured
live tracks Impact and Chime were unleashed to a sea of skyward-pointing
arms and gyrating torsos. Despite acknowledging a debt to the
peaking piano rolls and thumping four-four rhythms of early house
music, these tracks remained unmistakably Orbital-esque in character.
And fashionable or not, the Hartnolls are still one of the unique
and most reliably exciting spectacles in modern pop.