Interviewed by Surya Patel
Since 1989, Phil and his younger brother, Paul, have been a driving force in electronic music as Orbital, one of the true hall-of-fame electronic acts. They are considered one of the early pioneers of the scene, with a library of iconic tracks almost as old as dance music itself. Their critical acclaim is well deserved as their roots are deeply nestled in the UK illegal rave scene. After the brothers took a five-year hiatus, they’ve come back with relentless passion for their music and fans. We had a chance to sit down with Orbital at Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit last weekend to talk about their long-awaited return to the United States and much more!
Surya: This performance in the United States has been the first in a long time for you guys, right?
Paul: 18 years, yeah!
Surya: So, since 18 years ago, what kind of things do you think have changed in your set, between now and then?
Paul: Oh! I’d love to see what we’d have played 18 years ago.
Phil: Whoa! Yeah. That’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
Paul: God! Oh, Yeah. I think we played at St. Andrew’s Hall [a venue in Detroit]. I think it’s completely changed. All the old classics are there, but they’ve kind of morphed over the last few years, into slightly new versions, different versions and things like that. We’re playing a fair bit of the new album interwoven, so yeah it’s gonna be quite different, I think.
Surya: That’s the cool thing about doing a live set too, you get to do whatever you feel like that day!
Are things different in Detroit, the home of Techno, versus overseas, like when you play in the U.K.? Do you feel like parties over here are different?
Paul: Well, since I haven’t played here in so many years, I don’t know. I’m interested to find out! But, it’s very much an honor to play here, you know this kind-of connoisseur-y techno festival, in the home of techno, in Detroit. It’s a big thing for us.
Surya: Techno City! Definitely.
Phil: Yeah, Movement. We’ve heard about Movement for a long time. You know. It’s got quite a reputation, truly.
Surya: It’s one of the longest standing Electronic Festivals in the country. So, the fact that it’s all built around Techno must be huge for you.
Phil: Yeah, exactly.
Surya: Your last album touched on the political climate. Do you feel like that holds true in the States, as well? Especially in the last couple years with the political turmoil.
Paul: Yeah, I think it relates.
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s relatable. It’s broad, across the whole world, really. It’s corrupt people, and corruptive people. They do exist.
Surya: It’s a kind of escapism too! The crazier it gets out there, the more fun it might be to get inside a festival. People come here to escape, or get away, from all of that.
Phil: Yeah, that’s true.
Paul: But then we throw it all right back at them!
Paul: We always did that! That was always our thing, ’cause we came from enjoying punk records and things like that. And then we heard house music, we were like… ‘yeah, but where’s the comment, let’s throw some of that in there.’ We’ve always enjoyed the dark side of electronic music, that’s why we love Detroit Techno. It kind of picked up on that kind of craftwork, and it was kind of dirtier and tougher than the sort of soul-y house music.
Surya: Exactly that. Do you think you guys are going to get into the really dirty, dancey bits today?
Paul: I don’t know! You really do just feel it from the audience but, if I’m messing with something on a bass synth, and people are really getting into it and jumping around, you just kinda let it go, until you feel like it’s time to go, ‘OK, that’s enough.’ Then sometimes you just go, ‘alright, well, it’s time to move onto that melodic bit that’s coming up.’ The drops, you know. If I was to predict what was going to happen, that wouldn’t be improvisation!
Surya: Well, I’m excited to see whatever it will be! What do you guys think about being labeled “IDM”? Or, the term ‘Intelligent Dance Music’?
Paul: I’ve always thought that was a joke, anyways! I thought it was funny. Like, what’s the stupid dance music?
Phil: yeah, yeah.
Surya: I agree! I’ve always thought, someone who says ‘oh, I listen to IDM’ just doesn’t want to say they listen to EDM.
Paul: Yeah, I don’t go with it. The IDM label, I remember that period. It mostly covered Warp Records.
Surya: Right, it started with Aphex Twin, you, now Brainfeeder, that kind of realm of music. How you feel about that?
Phil: I think it started out that it wasn’t necessarily for the dancefloor. I think that was the distinct thing between it, is that the music wasn’t necessarily made for the dancefloor. How it ended up ‘intelligent dance music’ is ridiculous.
Paul: But, I think they were trying to get at was ‘cerebral’ rather than… you know, think based. There could have probably been a better phrase for it… But, I’ve always been letting other people do the labeling, do you know what I mean? I’ve always just called it house music. Or, electronic. Different countries label you different things, though. In the 90s, we were always electronica in the United States, Techno in Europe. Whenever someone tells me what I am, I just go ‘yeah, that’s great.’
Surya: Do you guys not put yourself into a genre? I’ve always thought it might be better that way.
Paul: Electronic Music, but even then I reserve the right to do an acoustic album if I want to!
Surya: Yeah! That would be great.
Phil, jokingly: Yeah! 303 acoustic.
Surya: I mean, I kinda feel like DJs are always griping about what people are saying about the kind of music they’re playing. I guess it does kind of make a difference on what kind of gigs you book, but it doesn’t really matter ’cause you’re here in Techno city, and you’re stoked about it!
Paul: Yeah, we always ended up kind of playing the sort of rock festival route, and that’s great cause no one really labels you there! They’re like, ‘oh Orbital’s coming in. What do they do?’ Electronic music… or Dance music. That covers so many bases. That’s good as well.
Surya: Do you have one that you prefer over the other? Do you prefer getting down to your rock/punk roots, or–
Paul: I love playing those kinds of festivals because I like preaching to the non-converted. They come in and they’re like ‘Yeah, what’s this?’ People who think they mostly like rock music, they see you and they go ‘Well, that was good’ It’s just great, I love it.
Surya: So, would you ever perform at an event like Riot Fest, a rock/punk festival in Chicago?
Phil: Yeah, definitely. We could…
Paul: Yeah, we’d love to do something like that! That would be brilliant. We could bring in the vocalists from the other bands too.
Surya: Who are some artists, either at Movement or outside of electronic music that you’re excited about right now?
Paul: I’m very excited to see Octave One. They’re very improvisational, and their sound is brilliant, I love them. I love checking their sound, they’re someone I’d go and watch then. Josh Wink.
Phil: I want to see what Richie Hawtin is up to now.
Surya: Oh yeah, you guys and Richie Hawtin go way back, don’t you?
Paul: Yeah, we crossed swords with Richie Hawtin so many times, you know, right back in the day.
Phil: Crossed swords?
Paul: I think we probably met all of that lot the first time we came here, with… Was it the Moby, Aphex Twin tour? That circuit. Probably. Through Mark Gage, Richie Hawtin, that sort.
Phil: Yeah, it was! It was.
Paul: Right around the Boston area. Yeah, cause everyone was really getting involved, the whole of dance music, everyone who was doing it. ‘Cause it was such a new thing, it was like ripples in ponds, tiny ripples. You went somewhere, and it’s like ‘Oh, I do this too’, ‘Oh, you know [this person]’ ‘Oh yeah, I do this.’ Everyone was really friendly, eager to meet each other. We’ve all expanded because of that. Today it has become a really massive network, all over the world!
Surya: Right, and you were right at the forefront of that, so it must be very exciting to see how much electronic music has taken off and grown!
Phil: Yeah, it’s really exciting!
Paul: Yeah, mostly just Richie Hawtin’s hair… that’s what’s grown really, I think.