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Interview: Orbital

Orbital headline a special MTV Dance event, "London Calling - Never Mind the Bollocks", taking place on Sunday 2nd August. We speak to one half of the family duo, Phil Hartnoll.....

Iconic, legendary, pioneers; just a few of the adjectives that are regularly used to describe Orbital and their contribution to the world of dance music.

Ahead of a first Ibiza appearance in over a decade, Phil Hartnoll spoke exclusively to Spotlight to talk about 20 years of Orbital and the forthcoming Privilege date.

 

Spotlight: So you're playing Privilege on 2nd August for an event called 'London Calling - Never Mind the Bollocks'. How did this come about?

Well we just got approached and asked if we were interested to play in Ibiza, we thought it'd be a right laugh coming over there, you know we've never really been over to the island and partied and I couldn't resist it.

 

You're in the middle of a 20th anniversary tour at the moment, tell us about the show and how its going?

Well its going wicked, its been brilliant. I did wonder whether people had got fed up with us by now but it certainly hasn't been the case. We've done about 9 gigs so far, mostly festivals and its been going brilliantly. Basically it's a set of old favourites, because we haven't been together doing new stuff at all. But last year we did The Big Chill and me and Paul thought it'd be fun to start doing decent gigs like that again and that's where it all started really.

For the first 4 months of this year, we've been updated all of our equipment and we've got some quirky little bits that we've injected the set and the songs people do know, but it's basically a set full of favourites really and we've been working on our production too.

I mean, I don't know how much you can squeeze into Privilege, because its obviously a club rather than a festival stage, but we've had our tour manager and production looking to see what we can do, so we'll just do what we can really. It's like the biggest club in the world or Europe or something isn't it?

Tell us a little bit more about this new technology and equipment?

We've updated the main brain of our system, we used to work with these old sequencers, which were really good at the time, but now technology has moved on. Basically, we've got analog instruments and don't use any digital stuff anymore, and they've got a much phatter sound and are really good. So we've got everything laid out on these buttons, so you press go and nothing happens because all the individual instruments are on individual buttons. (See live set-up pictures below).

So you introduce the hi-hat, the snare, the bass drum.... all of that whenever you want, individually. Some of them are on samples on our computer and some are sending mini-messages to all the equipment around us that's playing them and then we can manipulate the sounds.

It is a really fluid way of playing electronic music, you're improvising with the structure of the song. We feed off the audience a lot, so if they're enjoying a bit, you can make it last longer or take it away from them and then bring it back. We also bring in a light designer and overall there are 12 of us in the production team.

 

Of course, Orbital shows have always had a big visual element....

Yes, well it's really important to me. When we started out, we were happy just setting up by the side of the DJ, but then people didn't want that and then the promoters starting pushing us up on the stage. Then on this huge stage, you think well there are so many video artists out there and I love all that, then why don't we work with them.


So video content is some of our tracks and the lighting is so important with the mood of the track and flowing with it. I mean, the lighting guys are going with our improvised structure at the same time, so there is a lot of creativity going on, a creative live element.

 

Talking of the anniversary shows this year, are there any particular defining moment you look back at over the last 20 years, Glastonbury 1994 perhaps?

There are a so many of them, you could cherry pick some. Glastonbury 94 definitely and playing at the Royal Albert Hall (1996) was just mega, it just felt so naughty and the ushers, who obviously aren't your average club bouncer - they're just some part-timer, just couldn't contain it and it went off, big time and it was like that's not meant to happen in the Royal Albert Hall.

The last time you played Ibiza was 1999 I think?

Yeah, we played in a quarry for an MTV event with Faithless, which was really good.


But you mentioned earlier, you've never really done the whole Ibiza thing?

No, we haven't done that, that's why I couldn't resist this time. It was like, why don't we ever go out to Ibiza? It's a bit more of a DJ thing really and because of the huge amount of equipment we bring as well, it costs quite a lot just to get our stuff over there. This time, we've been able to ship it slowly, so it's worked out really well.
 

You're playing alongside Darren Emerson, formerly of Underworld of course, another big dance music act playing in Ibiza in August. Where do you think the idea of live dance music acts sits in 2009?


I think it's taken its place, there's plenty of room for more people to do it. I think it's a nice extension to the club scene, you know it's gone beyond 'just' the club scene, into festival world, into proper electronic bands. I think its great!

Darren Emerson

To someone who'd never heard Orbital before, how would you describe what you sound like?

Very dancefloor influenced, but not necessarily dancefloor friendly, very tuneful, compared to some techno, with a lot of melodies and lots of peaks and troughs.

Will Orbital be recording new music again anytime soon?

Well we never say never, basically I'm in such a good place right now, I'm the happiest I've ever been in my personal life and I'm really enjoying getting back together with Paul and really enjoying it.

In the first half of the year, we were looking to the future, which is where we are now, if you know what I mean, and it's so easy to get bogged down with 'what are we gonna do next?' and that totally takes you out of the present. So I'm trying to keep reminding myself to just enjoy what we're doing and live for the moment!


Do you ever go clubbing? If so, when and where was the last time you went out and who did you see?

Yeah, me and my partner Ursula, we go out DJing and I've picked up doing that a lot recently. So I'm out a lot in a working sense, well if you can call playing your favourite records working, but I'm not one of these DJs who turns up 20 minutes before and go as soon as I've finished. The last time I played was at Matter, London with Ladytron.

Phil and partner Miss U

Finally, which contemporary artists within dance music interest you?

It's more the act/band type thing, like Fever Ray, we saw them at Sonar and they were really good and the rest, it's a bit like white labels and one offs rather than a consistent artist or producer.

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