Guide to SKOPJE

Listening the music of Chemical Brothers I realized that I miss Orbital

Interview with Paul Hartnoll – Orbital

A number of bands and musicians emerged in the time of the great popularity of the techno music in the early 90’s, but a few of them managed to remain on the scene for so long as Orbital. When the brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll started to make their own version of the American house and techno music which were popular at that time, they took the name of the highway that circles around the London suburbs. From the very beginning when they debuted with “Chime” in 1990, some of their main characteristics were the riffs that could  make the masses dance. This duo has always been famous for its great live performances, and together with other groups of this type, such as Chemical Brothers, they showed that only with a few racks of electronic equipment they are able to  make a performance with an intensity of a rock band. In the 90’s they became one of the most eminent and most popular concert groups, which were not only part of the program of the major dance festivals, but also of the popular Glastonbury.  But in 2004, after 7 albums and many tours they stopped working. In 2009 in honour of the 20th anniversary the band started to work together again primarily with live performances, and this year they released their latest edition „Wonky“. While most of the reunions of this kind of a bands sound totaly dull, on the new edition Orbital sound  vigorous as if the time of the  “temporal retirement” has refreshed them creatively. We were able to hear how they sounded live during their great performance at the festival Skopje Gori,  where they played together with bands from different profiles such as Public Enemy and Partybreakers.

In the promotional interviews right before the release of the new album you said that one of the reasons why you stopped performing as a band was  that you felt creatively exhausted. But now you have started to perform and record again?

– After 4 years of inactivity of the band, I can say that I was happy for that pause at least in the first 2 years. From a creative standpoint, it really wasn’t fun at all. Somewhere in the middle of that period I went to see the Chemical Brothers and it was wonderful, especially as their performance is very similar to ours. Then I realized that I miss it all. Another thing that made me realize that, was the fact that they were also a band that was present on the scene as long as we were and the people knew their songs because the hits were coming one after another on the concert. When I was playing at my concerts, there were times when I was only playing the songs from my new album. I could pick something else, but it did not fit so easily. On the other hand, Orbital had 7 albums and I was able to choose great stuff. That made me think that I should not quit so easily from the band and that I must appreciate it a little more. Those were things that were preoccupying my mind in the next few years and they made me think that maybe we shouldn’t have quitted so easily and that we must refresh the things. After 4 years, a friend of mine who was booking bands for Big Chill, asked me if I would like us to be the headliners of the Big Chill Festival and it was the spark that made me think that playing live was what I missed the most. Therefore, I said to myself why not give it a  try and efresh the music making it more exciting. If it was not interesting for us during  that performance and several other that followed we would have stopped completely and we would have concentrated more on our solo projects. It was an attempt to see whether we would like it. And there we are now.

Did you change the way you worked before?

– Many things have changed.  After the break and after a certain period of time I saw the things from a different angle, especially those who were wrong. When we returned,  the whole world was changed. That was normal, but I must say that when we stopped the situation was totally different from the time we started off again. The world is now inspired and driven by different things. The feeling is different. I am 5 years older and 5 years wiser. And I took piano lessons which was a good  upgrade and then I started to use the analog synthesizer. Before the end we were only using digital stuff and I didn’t liked it. Now its more free and I use analog equipment. Now I know more about the music and know exactly what I need. I enjoy many things and I accept as a musician. I do not care for them or I don’t try to fit in. If I hadn’t accepted them I wouldn’t have seen what is Orbital and what was its sound. However, when we started the familiar sound was still there no matter if it was influenced by something else. It is a good thing and something that lasts.

What are the key features and distinctive sound of Orbital?

– The harmony style. The harmonies themselves. I think the rhythms are different. The melodies are complex, but not like „Squarepusher“. That sounds less complicated and strange. I haven’t listened for those albums for a long time, but they sound to me as funny and strange in the same time.

The comeback album „Wonky“ is really a great album, that shows that Orbital sound refreshed.

– To continue with doing this, we needed a new music in our set. Two years ago we recorded two songs for a single and we immediately put them on the playlist. Then Phil suggested to make another one. He said that when we will make the album, it will help us promote the live performances. Nowadays the things are like that, and once it was vice versa. It is also very interesting because it gives us a different viewpoint. We were the band that recorded albums and thus earned through concerts that promoted the album. Now the albums are not important. They are basically material for live performance. Everything there is based on “I don’t want to play this in live and would I like to perform it live.” That is what meets their purpose. We have tracks that have not yet been performed live in a sense that they are slower. I like them, but we still haven’t tried how will they sound like on the concerts. They can appear on the playlist in a year. That was the concept behind this album- to sound great in the live performances. This album was a good direction in which we headed, because it really holds the things up. When we stopped working, we got a different perspective on what we do. We returned to the musical instruments that we wanted and those were the big analog synthesizers and we stopped thinking about what people would expect from us. After 2 years of live performances we knew that in a strange way many of these old songs still worked in the festival environments. We did not have to copy, listen or do things that we did not like, but we had the freedom to do it as we wanted.

When you are recording the albums do you think how will they sound like when peiople will listen to them in the car, the living room, the stadium?

– Well I just think about  how it will sound like in live. For this album I was perceiving it as a whole. I’m often listening it on the headphones while walking around or while traveling by train. If it sounds good in live, it would sound good in the car. We commonly thought how it would sound like in live.

How is your working relationship with your brother Phil Hartnoll?

– It is an interesting collaboration. I’ve never worked with him directly. I write my material, although he also writes and at the end we usually choose together what stays and what does not. If we both like something, then it remains. He gives suggestions like why shouldn’t I do it like this or that or to add some more or less disco rhythm. Together we produce the things, although I’m in charged of writing most part of the material.  That was the way how this relationship was developed. I can write music faster and faster, and he doesn’t. But he does what suits him and looks for what he wants to hear. The production is his role in all of this.

If we, as an audience, are most attracted by the headliners of the festivals , what attracts the headliners to participate in the festivals?

– To be honest, we go wherever we are invited. If anyone wants, I’ll be glad to play anywhere. It’s great to perform in places like Macedonia, where I have never been before. I like to travel. I discovered that once we stopped and after 5 year of hiatus we won’t play in Germany, France, Scandinavia. Before we stopped, we were in Greece a couple of times and once in Bulgaria. We never played in Eastern Europe. Now we are here. We started coming in the southern parts of Europe which is very interesting, because it is a completely different area. I don’t know why or how, but in the last 5 years some communications were opened and more bands are coming here.

Nenad Georgievski