Named after Greater London’s own circular autobahn, the M25, central to the early Rave scene and party network in the South East of England during the halcyon ‘daze’ of Acid House, Orbital is made up of brothers Phil (born 09 Jan 64) and Paul Hartnoll (born 19 May 68).
From their beginnings producing simple but infectious top 20 Pop-Dance tunes, to their more recent albums, film & TV scores and beyond, Orbital has crafted some of the most innovative yet accessible electronic music. One of their greatest achievements is their longevity, which is firmly based on a sound that is recognizably their own, coupled with a will to proceed at their own pace and on their own terms with little regard to the industry machinations that surround them or the musical fads and trends that come and go.
Originally from Sevenoaks (a suburban ‘commuter reservation’ somewhere in deepest Kent) the Hartnolls grew up listening to second generation punk (Crass, Dead Kennedys, Crucifix…), mutant-electro (Severed Heads, Hula, Adrian Sherwood…) and early Hip Hop (Phil went over to New York in the mid-eighties in order to ‘find’ Hip Hop). By 1988 Paul had contributed two electro pieces (!) to FFrr’s “House Sound Of London Volume 4” under the name D.S.Building Contractors, but it wasn’t until the following year that the first true Orbital release emerged: the single “Chime”.
The original 1,000 copies released through Jazzy M’s Oh-Zone label sold out immediately through word of mouth alone and the track was picked up by London Records subsidiary FFrr with whom it soon became a nationwide Dance anthem. This translated into a number 17 singles chart position and gained the Hartnolls a ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance where they ‘performed’ whilst sporting anti Poll Tax T-shirts. A decade later, the often sampled and bootlegged “Chime” is still regarded as a classic and has remained one of the highlights of many a live set over the years.
In the period 1990-1991 the burgeoning UK dance scene was still very much perceived as a short-lived phenomena with limited crossover potential and the very idea of a ‘dance’ artist producing an album as opposed to an endless stream of 12″ cuts for club consumption was still a relatively uncommon occurance, yet when Orbital released their untitled debut long player, or “green” album, it was to unanimous critical approval and was early proof that dance/electronic music could after all produce albums that would have to be taken as seriously as those produced by conventional Rock acts. Over the coming months remixes carried out by Orbital became further evidence that the Hartnoll brothers had by now established a distinctive sound of their own whilst retaining a characteristically diverse approach to their work.
In the summer of ’93 they became instrumental in setting-up and then went on to headline the Midi Circus Tour, a roaming electronic extravaganza which travelled the UK spreading the latest word on live dance music. Next came the release of their second album. Once again an untitled double LP, it became a resident in the upper reaches of the UK Indie album charts for the next few months. The “brown” album, as it’s now generally referred to, bore the now classic Orbital live standards “Halcyon+on+on”, “Remind” and “Impact (The Earth Is Burning)”, going on to feature highly in most end-of-year Best Album polls. A tour of the US (their second) and two sell-out nights at the Brixton Academy (New Years Eve and New Years Day) finally brought Orbital’s hectic year to a close.
March 1994 saw the release of their John Peel session (recorded the previous Autumn) which featured two tracks re-worked from the “brown” album together with two new compositions. At Glastonbury, Orbital played the coveted final slot on the second stage, previewing some of the new material from their soon to be released third album. The show was a resounding success and sections were broadcast by Channel 4 and John Peel. On its release, “Snivilisation” entered the album charts at number four, quickly followed by the single “Are We Here?”. The album broke the hitherto ‘no title’ rule and sported for the first time a non-graphic cover courtesy of noted painter John Greenwood. Musically, too, it was a departure from their previous collections, the material being far more disparate in style than before. On the accompanying “Are We Here?” UK tour Orbital played to packed houses throughout the UK where they played ‘in the round’ from the top of a specially constructed scaffolding tower before heading off to play the Woodstock 2 festival in the US.
1995 saw the release of their remix of Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories”, followed by a triumphant headline slot at Tribal Gathering and Main Stage performance at Glastonbury, which many thought even better than that of the previous summer. The year’s new material came in the shape of a track recorded for the Sony Play Station game “WipEout”, an untitled EP featuring “Times Fly” (which proved to be too long to be eligible for chart inclusion) and a track, “Adnan”, donated to the “Help” compilation.
In April 1996 Orbital released a new single, the dulcimer-driven “The Box” (number11), quickly followed by their fourth long player, “In Sides”. Perhaps their most adventurous collection up until that point, the album may have been a more studied and sombre affair than “Snivilisation” yet the Hartnolls’ love of film soundtracks revealed some startling results, and though it’s well-crafted mixture of beats and cinematics unwittingly opened the floodgates to a stream of largely uninspiring copycat James-Bond-with-a-dance-beat efforts, “In Sides” was universally acclaimed and entered the album charts at number five on week of release.
By May, the Hartnolls had embarked on their first full UK tour for over two years which included a triumphant performance at a filled-to-bursting Royal Albert Hall, proving once and for all that Orbital had finally escaped the limiting definitions of ‘Techno’, ‘Dance’ et al, whilst at the same time taking live electronic music even further into previously uncharted territory. By the end of the year “In Sides” featured highly in most of the 1996 Best Albums polls. On New Years Eve Orbital played to 12,000 people at Alexandra Palace and released a live version of “Satan”. The track had originally been recorded in 1991, though it had only reached as far as 31 in the charts when it was released that year as a single. This time around it entered at a much more convincing number three.
In April 1997 Orbital went on to release their own version of the theme tune to the 60’s cult TV classic “The Saint” from the soundtrack of the Hollywood remake. The film itself (understandably) received mixed reviews though the single became the Hartnolls’ second UK top three success since Christmas, whilst on the live front that year Orbital’s main appearances were at Tribal Gathering, two sets at the Pheonix Festival and the closing slot on East coast leg of Lollapalooza in the States.
To mark the first ten years of Orbital activity, they undertook their most successful and comprehensive UK tour to date and soon after released their fifith album, “The Middle of Nowhere” which became their third consecutive Top 5 album chart placing, once again entering at number three, and again at the receiving end of great critical acclaim.
After taking a short and well-earned break the Hartnolls began recording a brand new album ‘The Altogether’ which was released in April 2001, meanwhile in June 2000, they supplied ‘Meltdown’ an exclusive new piece of music for a modern dance project as part of the South Bank Centre’s Meltdown Festival which is this year curated by one of the Hartnolls’ all time heroes, Scott Walker. After the release of ‘The Altogether’ they headlined the Homelands festival and went onto tour the UK and America including 2 nights at Brixton Academy.
In 2002 the best of album ‘Work’ was released and Orbital yet again played a triumphant set closing the second stage at Glastonbury on the Saturday night.
During 2003 Orbital scored the UK indie film ‘Octane’ directed by Marcus Adams and starring Madeleine Stowe. The soundtrack album was released in October on EMI. They also scored the US FOX TV series ‘Keen Eddie’ as well as writing music for the Australian film ‘One Perfect Day’.
2004 will see the last ever Orbital record and gigs. After 15 years together Phil & Paul will pursue different projects but will be finishing with a Brixton Academy show and closing Glastonbury on the second stage. The 7th studio LP the ‘Blue Album’, is expected to be their last.
Although still without name, Paul & Phil Hartnoll play live for the very first time at The Grasshopper in Westerham, a ‘Bernie Inn-style’ establishment complete with carvery and big plates, located somewhere on the Kent/Sussex border. Late as usual with names and titles, the Hartnolls elect to call themselves Orbital in celebration of the M25, that dreaded stretch of tarmac that encircles the capital and which at the time plays a central role in the Rave and Acid House scene in the South East. ‘Chime’ is recorded at home in Dunton Green near Sevenoaks on skeletal studio equipment and is mastered from cassette for release on Jazzy M’s independent Oh-Zone label. There is a buzz surrounding the track and the original one thousand 12″ singles sell out immediately through word of mouth. More copies are pressed up but supply cannot satisfy demand.
February: Orbital join the Synergy tour. Other live shows that year include Kaos at The Warehouse in Leeds and Energy at Docklands Arena alongside Guru Josh, The Shamen, Black Box, and Adamski. In March ‘Chime’ gets nationwide distribution by London Records dance subsidiary FFrr. It becomes a nationwide dance anthem and soon reaches No.17 in the UK singles charts which results in an invitation to appear on Top Of The Pops. Prevented from playing live and forced to mime, they give a reluctant performance, to say the least, whilst sporting anti-Poll Tax T-shirts. The follow-up single ‘Omen’ featuring vocal samples from ABC peaks at No.46.
January: ‘Belfast’ c/w ‘Satan’ is released – highest chart position is No.31. The intro to ‘Satan’ is sampled from US rockers the Butthole Surfers.
Another double-A sided single ‘Choice’ c/w ‘Midnight’ follows in August; the anti-war rant included in the former is provided by Crass label signings Crucifix. It is followed in September by the untitled debut, or ‘green’ album featuring live versions of ‘Chime’ and ‘Midnight’ along with ‘The Moebius’ and ‘Desert Storm’, the latter being recorded to a backdrop of Gulf War TV news flashes. They remix and completely overhaul The Pied Piper’s ‘Kinetic’ and in December headline Australia’s biggest rave to date in Sydney on New Years Eve. Paul buys a digeridoo. As you do.
February: The ‘Mutations’ EP is released featuring remixes of tracks from the first album courtesy of Joey Beltram, Moby, Meat Beat Manifesto, Dave Angel etc. It also includes their own remix of ‘Chime’, retitled as ‘Crime’. ‘Mutations’ reaches No.24. Orbital remix Meat Beat Manifesto, EMF and The Drum Club. Orbital relocate to newly formed London Records subsidiary Internal in September and release the ‘Radiccio’ EP which features ‘Halcyon’ and ‘The Naked & The Dead’ which features vocal samples of Scott Walker. Highest chart position is No.37. Orbital use battery operated light headsets for the first time. Though purely functional (they enable Orbital to work their machinery whilst onstage) the headsets soon become a trademark that is often copied by others. In November they embark on their first US dates. The ‘Communion’ tour, with Meat Beat Manifesto, Ultramarine and local DJs cover East and West coasts …and the ‘Deliverance’ bits too.
\April. ‘Lush’ is released with remixes by Underworld, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia and CJ Bolland. The single reaches No. 43 in the singles charts.
Orbital are instrumental in setting up the ‘Midi Circus’ tour of the UK which they go on to headline. In May the second untitled, or ‘Brown’ album is released entering at the charts at No.28. It includes ‘Impact (The Earth Is Burning)’, ‘Remind’ and an upgraded version of ‘Halcyon’ –
‘Halcyon+on+on’. A session is recorded for John Peel and is broadcast in September. Orbital headline the Megadog New Years Eve show at Brixton Academy.
March: The Peel session is released. Due to Industry guidelines it is ineligible for the charts. In June Orbital play Glastonbury, previewing material from their forthcoming album, and establish their live reputation on the highest level. ‘Snivilisation’ is released in August entering the album charts at No.4. They appear at the Woodstock II Festival in the States. In September the ‘Are We Here?’ single reaches No.32. The UK tour lasts throughout October – twenty sold-out dates played ‘in the round’ from the top of a specially constructed scaffolding tower at each venue. Brixton Academy sells out rapidly and a second London date is arranged for the Kentish Town T&C.
February: Orbital’s remix of Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Story’ is released. In
April, Bristol Sound City. They play via ISDN from their studio, previewing a new track ‘Times Fly’ as part of the live broadcast of Radio One’s Interactive Night and in May headline Tribal Gathering at Otmoor Park, Oxfordshire. Over 25,000 people attend the event. They play the Main Stage at Glastonbury on the Saturday evening in front of an estimated 60,000. Many feel the performance eclipses even that of the previous year. Excerpts are broadcast on television by Channel 4. A new untitled EP (‘Times Fly’) is released in defiance of chart rulings which ensures its exclusion from the singles charts.
April: ‘The Box’ single is released, entering the charts at No.11, followed in May by the fourth album ‘In Sides’, which enters at No.5, soon selling over 100,000 copies in the UK alone. It features ‘The Girl With The Sun In Her Head’ recorded with the aid of Cyrus, the Greenpeace mobile solar generator. Later that month they embark on an extensive UK tour and sell out the Albert Hall in London, followed by sixteen European festival dates. In August they play V96 and headline The Greater London Earth Energy Music festival. October: they perform a blistering new version of their forthcoming single ‘Satan Live’ on ‘Later With Joolz Holland’ as fellow guests Jackson Brown and Joe Cocker stare in open-mouthed bewilderment. On New Years Eve, Orbital play to 12,000 people at Alexandra Palace and mix ‘Chime’ with the chimes of Big Ben at midnight. Unforgettable. The show is broadcast on New Years Day on Radio One.
January ‘Satan’, which reached No.31 on its original release in 1991, now enters as ‘Satan Live’ at No.3 in the first week of the new year. Later in April, and now relocated back to the FFrr label, Orbital release ‘The Saint’, the theme tune from the Hollywood remake of the classic 60s cult TV series starring Val Kilmer. The promo video features a cameo by Roger Moore.
The film itself receives mixed reviews though the single enters at No.3. In May Orbital co-headline Tribal Gathering alongside Kraftwerk and throughout June play the final slot on the East Coast leg of Lollapalooza tour in the US. Channel 4 broadcasts ‘The Visit’, a gritty, real-life thirty minute drama set in Hull young offenders prison: all acting is by the inmates, whilst Orbital provide the soundrack. Another version of ‘Satan’ is recorded with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett for inclusion on the soundtrack to the film ‘Spawn’. In July Orbital play two shows at the Phoenix Festival: Radio One broadcast Orbital’s Dance Tent set. The following month sees the release of the soundtrack to ‘Event Horizon’, a collaboration (of sorts) between noted Hollywood composer Michael Kamen and Orbital for the sci-fi horror. In the autumn work begins on building a new studio.
The Orbital studio is upgraded and work commences on the new album.
To mark the first ten years of Orbital activity, they undertake their most successful and comprehensive UK tour to date which followed soon after by the release of their fifth album, “The Middle Of Nowhere”. This becomes their third consecutive Top 5 album chart placing, once again entering at number three, and is again at the receiving end of great critical acclaim. A single, “Style”, is Top 20.
After taking a short and well-earned break the Hartnolls begin work on their sixth studio album. This time the recording uses 3D SurroundSound technology. In June they supply an exclusive new piece of music for a modern dance project as part of the South Bank Centre’s Meltdown Festival which is this year curated by one of the Hartnolls’ all time heroes, Scott Walker, whilst in October they play a one-off live show at the Hammersmith Palais as part of Q magazine’s pre-award ceremony celebrations: one of three new tracks previewed on the night (“Tension”) is later broadcast on Channel 4.
On New Years Eve they round off the year with a live set at the London Arena in Docklands. The set is broadcast the following day on Radio One.
Orbital release their sixth studio album ‘The Altogether’ and their first DVD with 5.1 SurroundSound. They headline Homelands and embark on a UK Tour including 2 shows at Brixton Academy.
‘Work’ the greatest hits album is released. Orbital close the second stage at Glastonbury on the Saturday night and also play 2 open air concerts at Somerset House on the Strand in London.
Orbital score the music to the horror film ‘Octane’ directed by Marcus Adams and starring Madeleine Stowe. The score album is released by EMI in October. They also score the US TV series “Keen Eddie” and begin working on tracks which will become the “Blue Album”
Orbital announce that the “Blue Album” released on the 21st June will be their last album and will play their final shows this year.