Orbital - Picture House, Edinburgh, Sun 2 Dec 2012
A timeless performance from the legendary electronica duo
Those arriving at the venue minutes after the Hartnoll brothers Paul and Phil have gone onstage will note reverberations ringing off the buildings around them, the sound of a whispered warehouse rave up an alley or the distant thump of a bass drum in the air. It may have been barely audible, but there was a sense that the Picture House could no longer contain what had been unleashed inside, that an otherwise quiet Sunday night was being broken down by a party of old school dimensions.
Having reformed in 2009 following a five-year hiatus and just released new album Wonky – their eighth, and first since 2004’s Blue Album – Orbital are an odd proposition to put in context. Having burst into the public consciousness with an unexpected but rapturously received 1994 headline set at Glastonbury, their split a decade later was potentially indicative that their time was up; the era of acid house and ambient techno had been confined to the nostalgia files even as dubstep, bass and EDM were coming over the hill.
Yet, where the styles they played ultimately mutated rather than died out, it seems they’ve maintained their place and aesthetic precisely by refusing to give up on what they were good at. So this set could almost have been lifted straight from Glasto in the mid-90s, with the big budget and high intensity nature of the surrounding stage show – strobes, lasers, multiple screens that hang in the darkness – a stark contrast to the shadowy anonymity of the two men guiding it all.
The set, as Orbital’s career has done, occasionally wandered into areas which were resolutely of their time, the odd burst of drum’n’bass here or there for example. Yet more often than not there was a certain timeless quality to the simple combination of crunching bass breakdowns and hissing acid rhythms, even when they were inserting such wilfully retro flourishes as a burst of The Carpenters’ ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ or their own well-tested cover of the Dr Who theme. For a concert hall show it maintained the vigour and volume of a warehouse rave, and where the highlights emerged – the delicate chill-out of ‘Belfast’ or the definitive keyboard-stabbing house of ‘Chime’, for two – crowd and musicians alike shared and recreated some glorious, ageless moments together.