The story behind British electronic dance music duo Orbital‘s name is actually pretty cool — the name was taken from Greater London’s orbital motorway, the M25, which was central to the early rave scene and party network in the South East during the early days of acid house. A huge name in British electronica during the 90’s, brothers Phil and Paul were particularly known for their live improvisation. Rare then, and still rare now. We had some time to talk at Movement this year, touching on topics like traveling with gear, malfunctions, and their fist rave together.
This is your first Movement, but you’ve been to Detroit before.
■ Yeah yeah yeah, quite a few times. The last time was 2001… ages ago, 18 years.
Where’d you come from today? How do you get your gear here?
■ We just came from the UK. We check our gear; we have nine big cases we bring on the plane. The people checking you in are horrified.
You have a pretty intricate setup and tech is so weird. You must have to deal with malfunctions. How do people react?
■ Yeah, we had one of our main bass synths go down for the first half of a set which is fine, but there there was a track where the bass kicks in and we had five minutes of silence and this was broadcasted live by BBC. This was in Ireland about this time last year, and the Irish people are so friendly and they were fine. [Reactions] depend on where you are. In Ireland, they cheer. [Malfunctioning] shows it’s properly live though, doesn’t it.
Do you need to go in early and set everything up?
■ Usually the day before. All the guys we travel with set up yesterday for us.
Kind of like a band. How long does it take? How do you break down, especially if you’re not performing last?
■ Yeah like the early 90’s. Just our gear takes about an hour. Normally everything is on wheels and they wheel it off. For every stage, there’s normally an equal amount of stage behind it and you move the gear around the bands… it’s like the Wizard of Oz.
I keep seeing people comment on your socials saying how excited they are to see you play live. What do you think it is specifically that draws people?
■ I think it’s because we have six or seven synths up there being tweaked and fiddled with. We don’t have that purist thing where we’re trying to make it sound like a record. We do it in a different way every time. Sometimes when you have a big run of shows, you get bored and have to do something different, and then when you haven’t done it in a while, you mix it up because you forget what you’ve done.
You’ve been doing this for a while and things are always changing. Is it a struggle to stick to what you want to do?
■ I always stick by what I want to do, which is influenced by what I listen to and enjoy. You ply your old tracks and try new things out with them. That’s the improvisational nature of doing this. You’ve got an audience in front of you. The audience is different in different places and on different nights and you feed off that. If you’re doing something and people aren’t feeling it, you mix it up a little bit.
That’s the cool thing about what you do — you can do whatever you want whenever you want. So now I’d like to hear about both your first raves.
■ We both went to one together. It had six different sound systems… one playing punk, one flying hip hop, reggae, and at last two dance music ones. One was big balearic beats and one was acid house with one strobe light. The whole thing was full of smoke with one blacklight. It was intense and just didn’t stop, it was mental. That was the late 80’s.
How old were you?
How’s you know about it
■ It was just known. They were on the news, kind of crazy people. Brilliant.
Was it there you realized this is what you wanted to do?
■ No, I’ve been doing music since I was about 13. I think it was Two-tone that got me going and morphed into electronic.
■ For me it was Kraftwerk.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
■ I’d be Damien Hirst or something like that. Painting in the countryside.
■ I could end up doing anything or nothing at all.