“It’s hysterical - but not in a funny way. Nobody has a clue what we’re doing” Dance duo Orbital rage about Brexit, and rave about raving and retro music
- Credit: Kenny McCracken
Six years after their last full release electronic dance duo Orbital have returned with their latest (and fantastic) new album Monsters Exist. As they prepare for their latest tour, which takes in East Anglia, Paul Hartnoll spoke to us about retro, raving and being absolutely raging about Brexit.
Hello Paul, thanks for speaking to us. How's the reaction to the new album been?
'It's been brilliant. It's got to 12 in the album charts and three in the indie charts. That's pretty good isn't it? We just hoped for a top 20. The last album Wonky got to 22 or 23 so to have topped that is brilliant.
'Who knows why? It's a better album of course! Maybe people are finally coming around to the fact we are musical Jedi Masters and finally paying attention.'
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How hard was it being back in the studio as Orbital? Does the passion remain after all these years?
'I'm pretty much in the studio every day, it's what I am, I love it. But it's just nice to have the old name back to command that attention and to be able to get to people at gigs.
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'My passion has come back with a vengeance. There can be parts of your life where it drifts away and that might happen again but I've lost all the inhibitions and worry about thinking 'will people like it?' 'what do people want from Orbital?'. I don't give a **** any more. I don't mean that in a rude or disrespectful way, I've just realise people just want you to be you. That gives us the freedom to just do our thing. It may or may not work, but so what.
'I certainly feel really passionate about this album. It happened really quickly and easily and when it was finished I thought 'I love this, this is great'. I have no idea what other people will think about it, but it feels honest and it feels great.'
It feels like a modern record, touching on themes like space and galaxies which are at the forefront of people's minds right now. Is that a fair summary?
'Yes, definitely. We've got Brian Cox on there. I've always wanted to sample him, so we went one more and got him in to record something (the last track There Will Come A Time). We got in touch via Twitter and he was up for it. It's a brilliant track, I love it. It's like a mini score, a Brian Cox adventure and a modern take on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Basically everything I love.
'Ultimately it's a reaction to the world, but I'm trying not to preach at people. It's a feeling about what's going on. There's a hysteria on there – which is a reflection of Brexit – it's hysterical and I don't mean that in a funny way. I mean that nobody has a clue what we're doing – but we are still racing towards it next March. I mean what the **** are they doing? These idiots. They say don't book any flights after March, we don't know what the law will be. It's like 'what the?'. Why are we doing this? My business will go down the pan because I can't fly to any gigs after March, it's mental.
'But I don't want to say that in a record – I leave that to someone who can write lyrics. I'm scoring that, reflecting the fact this is the come down of an empire. Monsters Exist is like a psychedelic take on the state of the world. Like a current affairs documentary on the world. You can guess who the monsters are.'
How do you think the music industry has changed and has that helped enable Orbital to be as relevant as it has been over the past three decades?
'Music was always seen as a young thing. It was very ageist when we were young, it was just ridiculous. But music has become more democratic and it's simply because music is available when and wherever you want it at the touch of a button.
'If I wanted to hear Dusty Springfield in the 80s, I had to go and find a record in a shop and hope I could find one somewhere – she wasn't relevant so you probably couldn't – but now she is relevant again thanks to the fact people can just discover her music years later. We're all there for anyone to listen to and people have stopped seeing age as a problem.
'That's reflected in live music. The original teenagers are still going out. All of us that used to go to festivals and gigs and raves haven't stopped going to them, we haven't grown up and grown out of it. We don't want to just come home to a gin and tonic every night and maybe go to the theatre once a month. We want to go to festivals, that's what we do and that's why we're able to stay relevant.'
But does it worry you that you might be bracketed as a nostalgia act?
'Not at all. We did a Shiine Festival the other day and I looked at the line up and thought 'really! What is this retro thing?', but it wasn't like that. You had bands like Shed 7, Bentley Rhythm Ace, Happy Mondays and Orbital, but it was just like any other gig. About half the audience were around my age but there were loads of young people as well, it wasn't like a retro tea dance, it was brilliant.
'I'm not scared about how people will tag us. I don't think about what I am or my status, just what is right. When I go to Shiine and see 2,000 people with their arms in the air, I think 'yes, this was the right thing to do'.
'Luckily for me, ageism isn't a thing now, people are prepared to just mix it up and listen to anything. I listened to a Suede song the other day, I didn't know who it was initially so listened without prejudice and really liked it. That wouldn't have happened years ago.
'Events like Shiine and having Shed 7, Happy Mondays and Orbital on the same gig line up, that wouldn't have happened in the 80s or 90s, people are just so much more open to things.'
So what's the plan now?
'We're preparing for the tour. There's currently three new tracks in the set, we'll get Brian Cox in there with a stonking no nonsense dance track. Visuals will be completely updated, we've a really good light show and we'll keep developing the set as we go. The plan is to go into next year hammering the gigs and supporting this album but also 30 years of Orbital.
'We're planning a box set next year and more new stuff of course.'
And what do people get out of an Orbital gig?
'I just hope they feel emotionally charged afterwards, one way or another. It could be crying or laughing or weeping. Just emotionally different to when they went into the room. I just want people to be affected. And maybe get some exercise as well. An hour and a half of jumping around, that's got to be good for your heart.'
Monsters Exist is out now. Orbital play Cambridge Corn Exchange on Wednesday, December 19.