One of the most exciting announcements from the world of dance music this year was the news that Orbital would release their first studio album since their reformation back in 2009. Another was their tour of Australia in May. The pioneers of the genre in the ‘90s have since been promoted to the ‘legendary’ status. Tone Deaf had the pleasure of a chat with one half of the duo, Paul Hartnoll.
“I love coming to Australia. We never come as much as we should do but I want to make this a yearly occurrence now. Last time we came and did four gigs [including a set at 2010’s Playground Weekender festival] and we’ll be back again for another four this time ’round, but before that it was New Year ’s Eve 91-92.”
Having such fond memories of their last visits is also a testament to the love both brothers have for what they do.
“How lucky are we?! It’s been 22 years since “Chime” [the single that introduced the duo to the world] came out, we’re feeling so positive about this album even though we don’t really know where it’s going – we don’t even know if we’re going to make money from it. We don’t actually care that much either. It’s like, ‘I hope I can earn a living from all of this’ but this album was really a means to keep playing live. What we’re doing now – getting ready to play live – is the real work for me.”
“With Wonky, we sat down to just write music we wanted to play live. It’s designed to work as what we think an Orbital gig should be or sound like. You know, it’s very dance-y but it’s not club music. I think that’s the difference really. It’s not aimed at night clubs or that kind of dance scene. It’s more like dancing at gigs and festivals and generally jumping up and down in your bedroom.”
As you read this, Phil and Paul will be hard at work rehearsing with the new screens, videos and songs all together for the first time.
“It’s very exciting. It’s all going to be new and fresh, a whole big production. Plenty of old favourites played, of course; we’re not just going to come over and batter people with this new album, I don’t think that’s very fair. But we will be playing five or six tracks from the new album so it’s kind of half-half. Hopefully the production side of things will be bigger and better than our last shows over there.”
In 2004, the brothers cited boredom for their break up, breaking many fan’s hearts. They both embarked on separate, successful projects to clear their heads and to kick-start the artistic beat again.
“That’s why we stopped doing Orbital: we felt creatively stunted, it wasn’t changing or developing, so for me I had the real desire to do lots of different things with real musicians and orchestras and choirs. But, in a way, it’s still pitched around the same sort of tempo and ultimately I do like a pounding rhythm. I start writing something mellow but then right at the end I always think, ‘Oh, but what if I put a drum beat over it?!’ and then there it goes,” he laughs.
It can be a daunting prospect, even if you are a legend, to re-enter the fickle music industry as a reunited band but it was an experience Hartnoll relished.
“Coming back into the music business as Orbital, we’ve stepped back into the room and it’s like the party has changed; it’s very different. But I like it, it’s brilliant.” A pivotal difference would surely be the constant creation of subgenres that loosely fall under the umbrella of electronic dance music but Hartnoll dismisses this notion with his characteristic, wheezy chuckle.
“I think it’s a bit of a joke, to be honest; I don’t take much notice of it. I think it’s mostly boys and men making up stuff. I shouldn’t really belittle it and it’s totally harmless that people do it, but I’ve never adhered to that. If Orbital ever had a policy it’s that if we do something that sounds like it’s from a different genre, we’re still going to call it Orbital. Back in the early 90s, if people came out with something slightly different-sounding then they would give it a different brand name or band name and tell people it’s something else. I was doing an interview with a very dance-orientated magazine and the guy was throwing so many sort of subgenres at me, it was like he was talking a different language and I thought, ‘My god I have no idea what you’re talking about, am I supposed to know that?’ So, it’s funny really. I’m sure it’s all very useful to help categorise for people but I just don’t take it very seriously. ”
“Why would you stick to one sort of specific sound? We even DJ across lots of different genres which drives people mad in some clubs. It’s not because I’m older; I’ve just never had any interest in that sort of thing. I don’t even differentiate between guitar music and dance music, because it’s all just music to me and I like all sorts. In fact, I was told off for seeing The Verve by NME journalists. I was there in my silly rave hat and baggy trousers and they said, ‘What are you doing here, you shouldn’t like The Verve!’ and I said, ‘Why, what are you talking about?’ Crazy, just crazy.”
Hartnoll agrees that keeping up with technology, rather than the constant creation of subgenres, will ensure they hang around for a while longer. “It’s all evolution. We bought six iPads recently and of course they updated them about 2 weeks later, so there you go. Unbelievable, isn’t it?” he chuckles before continuing, “People don’t buy records like they used to. And I come from an era where people did used to buy a lot of records and a lot of albums and I’ve watched it decline and I can accept that. All of a sudden no one buys records and loads of people go to gigs.”
“There’s a really positive energy to playing live. That’s always been one of our strongest attributes and what we love doing as well. So it’ll be really interesting to see what happens. All we know is that we don’t have any intention of stopping anytime soon but we don’t know under what guise it’s going to take us. It’s very fresh and exciting again and I don’t think that would’ve happened if we hadn’t of stopped.”