T in the Park 2012: Orbital interview
Phil Hartnoll talks us through the dance duo's reformation ahead of their headline slot at T
We’ve not even dipped our collective toes into festival season and already Phil Hartnoll of Orbital concedes he’s been enjoying himself too much. ‘I’m on a yellow card, if I’m honest. It isn’t even summer yet. Paul has mellowed a bit but I still need to be reined in …’
It’s a revelation that tells you more than just the younger Hartnoll’s party stamina; it’s an admittance that Orbital are in a good place. When you consider how the brothers walked away from their fabled electronic act in 2004, practically for good, it was not always thus. They had fallen out of love with Orbital, the pleasures it presented – both musically and professionally – had left them drained.
‘We lost our mojo,’ Phil admits. ‘We weren’t really feeling what we were doing. We thought it was the end of it really. We felt like we weren’t doing ourselves justice. Paul went off and worked with an orchestra, I went off and DJ-ed loads …’
A five-year hiatus ensued. This period for other acts could be almost necessary, a timely opportunity to detach oneself from the mental strain of working, recording and touring in the same coterie. But Orbital is different; there are only two members and they are brothers. The ties that bind here are subjected to more rigour than those of ‘bandmates’. Since 1989, the Sevenoaks siblings had repeatedly reached rare heights with their lush, blissful braindance and ambient techno, and their live show was otherworldly in its ability to captivate and enchant huge numbers. This is what the Hartnolls did and seemingly would always do – they made joyous exclamations like Chime and Halcyon, they bobbed their shaven heads wearing sets of two little glowing lights, fiddled around behind a lair of electronic equipment and took audiences to another realm. Well, apparently it wasn’t what they did any more.
‘It was a weird period,’ Phil concedes. ‘I had a lot of shit going on in my life … And leaving Orbital, you’re thinking, “Well everything’s crap now. What am I going to do?” Eventually, I did things with another band and I started to DJ a lot. There was nothing better to get inspired than by listening to other people’s music.’
Time passed, the brothers did their own thing. Maybe it’s easier to get a band back together when you’re not related – blood bonds can colour things. There are unspoken emotions and experiences that you share with family that you do not with others. Either way it took a third party to coax a comeback out of Orbital. At the behest of the Big Chill festival in 2009, the brothers returned to the live arena in what was going to be a one-off.
‘There was no great plan to get back together, it was just to do this reunion gig. Then the reception was just so amazing that one gig turned into about 20. It felt like we were starting again, like our first few albums. We watched out for any danger signs or any negativity that might have slipped in, because that can destroy people and it’s what destroyed us in the first place.’
There’s a tacit acknowledgement from Phil that when the brothers are happy with each other, then Orbital is a good place to be. When their relationship is strained, as anyone’s with a family member can be, then it’s not so. The Big Chill gig presented itself as a kind of musical rapprochement for the two brothers and they grasped it. But while the joys of returning to the live arena were as spectacular as they were immediate, the duo knew they would be fleeting if they did not start recording some new material, hence the new album, Wonky, their first LP in eight years.
‘We would have been bored playing the same songs over and over,’ says Phil. ‘We said if we’re going to keep playing this, we will have to record some new music. We were getting on musically really well so it was a case of stop it altogether or get back to making some new stuff.’
Their recording dynamic, which had dissolved into something bordering on acrimony, was revitalised. Their shows – always revelatory affairs, and for any T in the Park goers, a must see – channelled this new-found hope and energy into blissful, ecstatic experiences. They played to new audiences and old ones, and enraptured both. Be aware that Orbital are approaching 25 years in existence – if ‘dad rock’ is an accepted term for music of a certain vintage, then these guys are ‘dad dance’ pioneers – so to be able to headline festivals from Coachella to T In the Park is a testimony to their ability to endure, to stay relevant and to still have a unique ability to captivate.
‘People are bringing their kids to our shows now,’ says Phil. ‘It’s a wonderful story to see these people have these shared experiences via us. I mean we just do what we do, keep our fingers crossed and hope it appeals to people. We’re on a happy, jolly vibe at the moment, and in much better places as individuals. So … come on board.’
Orbital play T in the Park on Sun 8 Jul.