What goes around - Orbital

What goes around - Orbital

Summer Festivals Special

Ten years after they proved just how good live dance music could be, Orbital return as the main attraction at Rock Ness, finds Henry Northmore

Orbital were pioneers in the world of dance music, with brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll epitomising up the sound of the illegal rave scene with their marrying of ambient and techno, but perhaps more significantly they managed to turn this music – until that point a collection of bleep, beeps and squelches heard in clubs or on headphones by a small audience – into one of the most exhilarating live shows of the era. They stopped producing music in 2004 but are now back to electrify Rock Ness (and several other UK festivals).

It seems a bit strange of a strange question given that you are brothers, but why did you get Orbital back together?
Phil Hartnoll Essentially it was for two reasons. We got together over a cup of coffee and we worked out that it had been 20 years since ‘Chime’ [Orbital’s debut single]. Secondly, they invited us to play and we thought it would be exciting to get back together and do some shows. It was initially just the Big Chill but the floodgates opened. I have my little project going and had an album out and toured that, and Paul had just finished his solo project and album too. The timing was right this year. I did have worries that we’d outstayed our welcome and whether people would be interested but the response has been great.

Does it seem weird that it was 20 years ago? At that time electronic music was so futuristic.
PH It seems so surreal that it was 20 years ago. Mum and dad always used to say things like that, and its true – time seems to speed up.

How are you gearing up for the live shows?
PH We’re in the warehouse now, getting all our stuff together. We decided to update the ‘main brain’ – we’re replacing our sequencers with modern technology – so it’s been tons and tons of number crunching. Really, really boring. That whole process been quite nerve-wracking because we took quite a big risk in assuming the new technology could do it, and there have been several moments where it seemed like it could and then it couldn’t.

Going back to the start, what attracted you to sort of electronica over more conventional music?
PH I can put it down to the sound of the synthesiser. When I first hear synths, it i just thought ‘What is that noise?’ To an extent, it was also the high energy of electronic and hip hop music too. So i suppose it was was the sound of the synthesiser that whet my whistle and made me want to explore that world and the high energy of the music that got me dancing.

What’s the secret of translating electronic music to the live experience?
PH We literally transferred our studio to the stage and took it from there – and kept our fingers crossed that nothing would go wrong. We just did our thing and were really, really lucky in that people got what we were about.

Why do you think Orbital crossed over into mainstream and rock?
PH I think festivals have a lot to answer for. People would come along, see what we were about, and it helped convert the non-converted towards us and towards the music.

What can we expect from Orbital in 2009?
PH A lot of tracks are updated subtly, but there are a few bits and bobs that we are trying to squeeze in there that are essentially the favourites, but we have new equipment and so hopefully it should all sound a lot fatter.

Are you looking forward playing Rock Ness?
PH You can’t beat a good Scottish crowd, you really can’t. I’m bringing three of my kids up there as well, I will spend a bit of time in Scotland afterwards as I love it – it’s so beautiful. I’m really looking forward to it, and having a little adventure up there. I haven’t been before but it’s supposed to be right on Loch Ness isn’t it?

The festival site is on the banks of Loch Ness
PH You can’t get better than that.

Should we expect any new material in the future?
PH We’ve no plans apart from making a good job of the job in hand. Me and my brother are getting along well and having a good time doing this. It’s been a bit hectic but our approach is that we have no plans – we’ll just see how it goes.

Orbital play RockNess, Sat 13 Jun.


They retired! And then they came out of retirement! The Hartnoll brothers don those little head torches again to rock the house with their techno anthems.


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