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It’s late Friday afternoon and Paul and Phil Hartnoll are hanging out in the Mixmag office as anticipation builds around them. There’s a look of uncertainty on their faces as the Mixmag staff rush around checking wires and camera angles. But once Orbital take to the decks, all worries are a thing of the past. Dropping bomb after bomb, they open the Mixmag DJ Lab with a storming set broadcast live online to thousands of people. Orbital are true pioneers of electronic music, releasing countless dance anthems and huge-selling albums, with a blistering live show that’s become festival folklore and a unique, organic sound. After reforming two years ago for a number of live dates, they’re now promoting their first album since 2004. Who better to launch the Mixmag DJ Lab? We chatted to them after they’d rocked the Mixmag office like never before…
How was it launching the Mixmag DJ Lab?
Paul: It was a great way to end a Friday afternoon!
Phil: I was really nervous because we didn’t know what the set-up was going to be like. You need an audience to feed off when your playing, and when everyone started dancing in the office wearing the Orbital-style glasses it was great. We really enjoyed it.
Do you still DJ much together?
Paul: We did quite a lot of it in Spain last year when we were working on the album. We were taking what we’d done and road-testing new things – we haven’t really done that for a long time. We’re going to be DJing in France to launch the album – we haven’t been there since the mid-nineties.
You retired in 2004. So why did you decide to get back in the game?
Paul: A good friend of ours, Guy Morley, who does festival bookings, rung me up and suggested we reform to headline The Big Chill. It just went from there, really. We were both missing it and so dived back in. Next thing you know we’re following the sun around the world and playing in Australia!
And so what made you decide to do a new album?
Paul: It started getting to the point where we had been doing all these gigs and decided that we couldn’t keep playing all these old tracks. We needed some new music.
Phil: We made ‘The Gun Is Good’, a single that we wrote with the live set in mind. We thought about what sort of energy we needed, and that was how we put this album together.
Did the new music become important to you?
Phil: It did, yes. We didn’t want to become techno’s Status Quo,so it got to a point where we said let’s just go for it. It’s been fantastic and I can only relate it back to when we first started making music. Our attitudes and personal enjoyment have been key really, and it’s been fucking brilliant!
So have you been making the most of it this time?
Paul: Well I’m doing it sober this time around. I’m making sure that when I go to places I go out and see them. When you’re younger you’re in party mode; I’m now doing it with a different outlook and I’m very comfortable with that. It’s still exciting even though I’m older and wiser. It’s equally as fun.
You’ve always had your own sound and you can hear it in the new album ‘Wonky’. Does that come naturally?
Paul: It’s like anything. If you’re a guitarist or a writer you have your own style and sometimes you spend half the time trying to not to sound like you, but it’s probably best not to fight it.
Phil: We won’t inhibit ourselves by analysing what we’re doing too much.
There are some fresher sounds on the album, like the dubstep vibe on ‘Beelzedub’…
Phil: We were brought up on Trojan reggae and dub, so to us it seems to have gone full circle – but with a modern twist. Twisted, fat bass? Yes please. Paul had been sampling those sounds on the live show and we thought we’d do a track.
How much of a difference was there compared to making your first album?
Paul: Funnily enough it was quite similar. We were in a little room in Brighton and we just took in some of our favourite analogue synths and didn’t really use software too much. And we got it mixed by the producer Flood. Mixing is one of my weak points so it was really good to work with an expert.
Phil: And our engineer Rob Kerr was great to work with. It was like a breath of fresh air working with both of them.
You made the top ten of Mixmag’s ‘Greatest Dance Acts’ poll. How did that make you feel?
Phil: We were number nine, my favourite number. It’s fucking wicked!
Paul: I was absolutely gobsmacked we got to number nine, because we’d been absent for a long time. I was impressed. If it had been done next year, with the new album, we might have been a bit higher! [laughs]. Hats off to people who voted for us.
Do you still listen to a lot of dance music?
Phil: I like all the Night Slugs stuff and L-Vis 1990. I keep getting it wrong and saying “L-Vis 98”. He’s done a great remix for us of ‘New France’ with Zola Jesus. I wouldn’t play it, but it’s got his sound. I relate it to old Chicago house sounds with an urban twist.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Paul: Gigs, gigs, gigs!
Phil: We’re playing a lot of interesting festivals like Secret Garden Party and Beatherder. We’re also doing Bestival for the first time – we can’t wait.
Paul: We’ve also got loads of European gigs and a string of small gigs lined up in Australia.
The last track on ‘Wonky’ is called ‘Where Is It Going?’ Does that mean the door’s open to more albums?
Paul: We don’t know where it’s going, and we like to leave people guessing.
Where can we buy the Orbital specs?
Paul: Any good hardware store. But on the packet they always show a man leaning under the sink fixing a U-bend – they don’t show a DJ fisting the air. Actually, though, ours are specially made for us, because, as the Mixmag crew found out, they do have a tendency to break.
Phil: We used to take about thirty on tour with us because they kept breaking, but we ended sticking mag lights in them with gaffer tape, Dr Who-style. In the end we got some specially made and they’re brilliant – as you can see, they flash.
Are you good friends with any of your electronic peers: The Prodigy, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers?
Paul: Oh yeah, we all live in the same street [laughs]. The Beatles and the Monkees – they’re in the next street. Then on our dance music street we have The Chemical brothers next to us – they’re a bit noisy. The Prodigy thankfully live down the road at the dodgy end, and Underworld are opposite, they’re real gentlemen.
You have a good neighbourhood watch scheme then?
Phil: Totally. Nobody goes to bed, so there’s no chance of any burglaries!
Orbital’s new album ‘Wonky’ is out now on ACP/ADA
Watch the DJ Lab video here.