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Orbital: Out Of The Box.

1 July 2002 | 12:00 am | Alison Black
Originally Appeared In

We Can Work It Out.

More Orbital More Orbital

The Work 1989-2001 CD and The Altogether 5.1 DVD are in stores now.


There's an odd reality in the fact that Orbital is 15 years old. Suddenly, the whole dance/beats sound system is becoming as old as the genres - such as rock and metal - it originally sought so hard to replace. Original beat merchants, DJs, techno pioneers and samplers were full of scorn for music forms they saw as out of touch. Now dance itself is in danger of becoming a mere parody of itself.

Orbital are a greatest hits band. What does that say. Phil Hartnoll laughs, "We're old bastards, officially. It's weird isn't it? Greatest Hits, hey," he chuckles some more.

Co-founded with brother Paul, Orbital laid it down in the early daze through a string of blissed out beat-laden singles such as Chime, Satan, and the definitive Belfast. The beginning spectacular, the career was better. Orbital solved the irreconcilable differences previously inherent in their genre: to stay true to the dance underground and, at the same time, force entry into the rock arena. They successfully fused rock and electronica and paved the way for acts such as Basement Jaxx and The Chemical Brothers

Work 1989-2001 brings together (mostly) the singles from the story so far - although there are some interesting versions. Satan appears as Satan Spawn, the version recorded with Metallica's Kirk Hammett for the Spawn flick, the hard-to-get original 7" version of Chime opens a track listing that also includes such crackers as Illuminate, Halcyon, The Box, Lush 3.1, Funny Break and the marvellous original version of Belfast. Fourteen tracks in all, it's all massive fun and, more importantly, rather timeless. Orbital, unlike many of their fellow travellers, have aged well.

"We've left our record company, which is quite a nice feeling, and they wanted to put this album together," Hartnett says. "It's been quite nice actually, putting all the 7" and edited down versions together. A good project. The relationship with Warners just fizzled out to be honest. We could have gone another LP's worth but we thought things hadn't been fantastic there for the last three albums. It's because the companies keep changing hands and people keep coming and going so you never build up a relationship with any one group of people. Our relationship with them got very disjointed.”

"In the meantime we're working on our live set as we've got some big gigs coming up and on a film score for this little low budget British supernatural/suspense movie called Octane. There's a lot of young people working on it so it's quite exciting. We've always wanted to get out teeth stuck into a whole film, which we do here. And we're still doing Orbital tracks in-between it all. What we want to do is wait until we have an LP's worth and see whether we want to put it out ourselves. It might just be easier to get another record company to take control of that. I certainly want to have the LP ready before we start knocking on anybody's door.”

"I know we could sign a deal tomorrow but I don't want to get in that situation where you sign a deal then a year later give them an album and they say 'Oh, it's not what we were expecting'. We don't know what we're going to do; we can't tell what the music is going to turn out like until we go in and do it. We're really enjoying ourselves being in this position. We're basically autonomous live-wise so not being with a record company isn't a big thing for us. Being in this position with six albums under our belt and still going really strong is quite exciting."

Hartnoll agrees that while Orbital do find current trends in dance interesting they've always preferred to do whatever they feel like. If there was a pivotal moment it was probably their 28-minute single The Box (1996), once described as ‘a gloriously contrived mutation of very English B-Movie Hammer Horror weirdness and spy intrigue harpsichord, uhh, riffs.’

"All you can say about The Box is that it is The Box," Hartnoll chuckles. "I think the album it preceded In Sides was a bit of a bid to get in the film world. Three LPs later it worked. In Sides seems to be quite a particular favourite with our fans but, funnily enough, when it came out people were quite unsure about it. Funny thing, but it seems to take people a while, sitting with an Orbital LP, to get used to it. Or maybe it's just our perseverance, refusing to go away."

One day that won't go away is their headlining show at the legendary Glastonbury Fayre in 1994. They return again this year with the idea that they are - themselves - a hard act to follow.

"The pressure is on now, isn't it?" he says. "It's funny it's just one of those gigs. It was good at the time and it did kick us off, big time. That's something totally beyond our control really. It is funny how those gigs take on legend-in-their-own-lunchtime status many years later.”