The brothers Hartnoll, better known as Orbital, have long been one of the cornerstones of British Dance Music. From the humble beginnings of the now seminal Chime, recorded on their father’s tape-deck in 1989, Orbital went on to become firm festival favourites; headlining festivals such as Glastonbury and appealing just as much to indie-kids as club-goers. In the 90s, they were the first, alongside Chemical Brothers and Underworld, to take dance music to the main stage and to deliver a genuinely captivating live PERFORMANCE. The image of the pair of them performing, two dark silhouettes wearing torch glasses (originally adopted purely for the practical purpose of seeing their machines on a dark stage) and surrounded by racks of analogue synthesisers has become truly iconic. After a career spanning 15 years they announced their decision to quit in 2004, offering spectacular farewell performances at Glastonbury festival and at London’s Brixton Academy. However, this year they announced a series of gigs to celebrate 20 years of Orbital (20 years after Chime). A couple of trusty Lemurs join them on stage…
Can you tell a bit about yourself, how and why you got into music, a bit about your history and how you became successful ?
Paul: We’ve been going, as Orbital, for 20 years. 20 years with a little break of 5, just then. We’ve always played live, that’s always been part of our thing. We started off alongside early house and acid house, around 88, when we were making music in earnest. We always decided to make a band of ourselves. But we wanted to remain anonymous which is possibly why we’ve always hidden behind our torch glasses, which were born out of necessity. Our only manifesto was that whatever we did, we put out under the name Orbital. We always used to wonder “why does everyone always change the name of their acts?” every time they do something slightly different. Why is Todd Terry doing everything under fifteen different names and that kind of thing? Nothing wrong with that, Todd, we’re not fussing or slagging anyone off but we thought, ok, let’s do it like a band. We used to go out and play tracks like Satan and Chime next to each other and clear dancefloors the length and breadth of the UK, but eventually, it came round, didn’t it? By the mid-90s people had sort of got into the idea of that and once we played Glastonbury the first time, I think that was a real turning point for us and we found our place with things like Glastonbury and the Megadog, which is more of an indie kind of club night. So all of a sudden we found ourselves in an indie-dance kind of slot. Though I don’t know if that really existed then, I mean, bands like the Shamen, Big Audio Dynamite, that kind of thing, that’s where I felt we were fitting into anyway. I think our longevity just comes from doing our own thing really – we’ve always been influenced by current fashions in electronic music, still am, but not necessarily being dedicated followers of it.
How did you discover Jazzmutant’s controllers?
Phil: You found them didn’t you?
Paul: Yeah, but who was the first person I saw using it? I think it was through Sound on Sound actually… and watching Mark Bell with Bjork, and I thought “that looks good!” As a studio tool I wasn’t particularly interested as I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a problem using a mouse. So many people say “oh, controllers in the studio”- fuck off! I don’t care, I want a mouse, I’ve got a mouse and I love it. With soft synths and stuff I don’t use controllers, I just love doing it all with the mouse. So it was never really a tool for that. When we came to wanting to play live again though I was so fed up of using [Alesis] MMT8s, which I love, but they always crash, and they’re very limited. Using Ableton [Live] and the Jazzmutant Lemur it’s kind of like building my own MMT8s which is absolutely fantastic.
Phil: It was the first thing that came along which we saw as a possibility to replace the MMT8s…
Paul: …in a better way!
Phil: We still didn’t know though, whether it would pay off. It was still a gamble at the beginning of the year, but it did pay off.
Paul: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, it’s brilliant, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using them. They’ve got different working methods and I’ve found new ways of playing live because of it and it’s just different. As with every piece of kit, it brings its own thing to the party.
How has using the controller changed the way you work?
Paul: I think it’s a lot more open to what I want to do rather than what an MMT8 is limited to do. It’s far more visual, I love the fact that I can colour things and label things, it feels a lot more live to look at, I glance down on stage and see the colours.
What do you find most useful about it in terms of features? ?
Paul: Buttons and labelling and colouring. Not being funny, but in a live situation I need to clearly see what it is that I’m pressing, I need it to be the colour that I need it to be, buttons are my friend. I need as many buttons as I can get my hands on. But the beauty of it is, I can have so many for one song that’s complicated and then so few for a really simple one. It’s so nice to all of a sudden go “ah, simple screen” every now and then.
What would you like to see in future revisions of the software?
Paul: The only thing I wish, I wish there was some kind of obvious toggle on/off kind of thing which isn’t there. When I press something it flashes, it’s on, but then only by hearing it I know it’s still on, there’s no changed state, that’s something that could be addressed in a future software edition. I know there’s switches that do that but they’re not what I need, or I could use scripts, but I don’t want to write scripts for every single button. This could be done a bit easier.
What are your plans for the near future?
Paul: We’ve got more gigs. We’re currently revamping an old track that’s even as old as Chime, or even older than Chime maybe, that we’ve rediscovered when going through old 4-tracks. We might inject that into the live set. Phil’s going to road-test it tomorrow, DJing.