Orbital: “I love Sheffield, it’s got a special place in my heart”
Orbital’s three decades have been punctuated by long breaks, often pervaded by a sense of finality. Every time, the band has returned. Most recently, from 2012 to 2017, there was a five-year period in which the brothers didn’t speak. It’s something that both are very candid about.
Hartnoll explains the sadness the rift caused him at length, ultimately putting it down to stark differences in personalities. “We’re chalk and cheese. I leap before I look, and he looks before he leaps. One’s never better than the other! That’s why it works so well.”
Now that the rift has been healed, Hartnoll seems reinvigorated. “It’s fucking brilliant. I’ve got my brother back. The way we play together is very important to me.” Creating music has become exciting for him again, too. “It feels like when we first started out: no pressure. You can get carried away more, get sucked into the sound.”
Orbital’s ninth studio album, Monsters Exist, enjoyed a largely solid critical reception, though Hartnoll couldn’t be less interested in what the reviews say. “I tend to shy away from them. I do interviews, but I’m dyslexic so I don’t bother reading much anyway!” For him, the album represents something more than the music. “I didn’t realise it was ever going to happen. Joining up with my brother again after four or five years of not talking. It’s got mixed reviews and it’s a bit of an odd one to put out there, but I’m pleased with it”.
We’re chalk and cheese. I leap before I look, and he looks before he leaps. One’s never better than the other! That’s why it works so well.
The album is brimming with electronic punch and upbeat melodies, delivering enough quality to earn a strong 8/10 in our September 2018 issue review by yours truly. Compared with the band’s most classic tracks, however, it is clear that the creators’ musical tastes have changed. After such a long period apart, has the sound naturally changed or was it by design? “I dunno,” Hartnoll muses. “You get influenced by other people, other DJs over time. Paul listens to a lot of pipe music – he’s a morris dancer. It’s him all over!”
Concluding the album is ‘The End is Nigh’, a mellow throwback to past classics defined by a monologue from Professor Brian Cox. “That’s not one of my favourites, I must say. You can’t really party to it.” Following some live performances however, the track has found a new lease of life for him. “Every individual part is broken down, synthesised. You improvise and can fuck around with the frequencies and sound. This is why I love electronic music, because there’s not just one electronic noise. We’ve put it in the live set, and now… well, it’s a bit like Chinese torture to be honest!” He chuckles. “Now I’m thinking, ‘What can I do to this?’ I couldn’t do anything in the studio but I can change it live. I’ve got parameters that I can jam around in. When me and Paul are playing live together, we bounce off each other.”
Creative and exciting live shows are something Orbital is known, even revered, for. Hartnoll speaks of these experiences passionately. “You’re feeding off the audience. You can break it down more, give them little bits or pull bits back. Ideally, I’d like to play the tracks live first before going into the studio and making an album. That way, you’re getting a vibe off the people.” He sees this reputation as key to the band’s staying power. “It’s been Orbital’s biggest strength. You can take an album home and that’s great. But live, people don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, they don’t care what the fuck you’re doing, they just know that’s a nice sound. They feel it, it’s more of an experience. If you go and see someone and they play the same thing live as what they put on the CD, what’s the point?”
The future holds great promise for the brothers once again, with club dates in the likes of Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm seeing out the year. Last December saw an inaugural Christmas party in London, offering a direction and personal connection to lifelong fans. “People were saying: ‘It’s Orbital, they haven’t been out for ages!’ They can even get a babysitter – we finish at 11. We get to speak to our audience, and they’re fucking amazing.” Following a popular edit of the Doctor Who theme in 2003 and a 2010 stage cameo from ex-Doctor Matt Smith, fans’ children have a vested interested to come to these events, too. “They bring their kids and the kids say play Doctor Who!” He laughs. “But you can’t promise kids anything because they’ll expect it again and again!”
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It is clear the pair are loving being back on the road again, with more parties planned this winter along with a gig at Sheffield’s O2 Academy on 18 December. With a new drive to create together – Hartnoll even lets slip plans for a second post-reunion album – and any bad blood seemingly behind them, Orbital look set to innovate for years to come.