Tiny Foldable Cities

New tracks from Orbital could potentially be a let down, a bit Orbital-by-numbers- press the right buttons, get the right sounds, presto. Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be the case with Tiny Foldable Cities, a new track played at their gig at the Apollo I attended back in December last year. There is a Philip Glass element to the melody part from the intro, set off neatly by the buzzing bassline. Dramatic and full of life. Eye catching video too.

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Orbital At The Apollo

The Hartnoll brothers, re-united again, played Manchester on Friday night. Just before kick off I was outside the Apollo trying to shift a spare ticket- along with half a dozen other middle aged men also trying to sell spares. ‘Dad techno ticket to sell’ someone shouted. Inside, having been unsuccessful in selling the spare, it was pretty rammed despite the spare ticket situation. Round the fringes of the Apollo standing area were a few hardy souls who looked like they’d taken an E in 1989 and never stopped but largely it was middle aged mums and dads on a night out.

Orbital appeared on a podium on top of the stage making them a good 10 feet above the usual stage height, with films and images projected above them, below them and behind them. A lattice of mini-laser beams mid-set caused cheers. Musically it’s a greatest hits set plus a few new ones, perfectly paced, the songs segueing into one another. Opening with Lush 3 and then straight into Impact (The Earth Is Burning) is a statement of intent. Orbital are not going to spend long warming you up- the kickdrum started about 20 seconds in and didn’t really let up. From the off the bass was loud- I could feel my jeans and coat vibrating. Phil and Paul are both wearing the trademark light-up glasses and frequently waving their hands in the air and doing the pointing-fingers dance, clearly enjoying themselves.

They chuck in 2017’s Copenhagen early on and premier two other new ones (Phuk and Tiny Foldable Cities) but the main joy is in hearing their classic tracks at volume in front of an appreciative crowd- The Girl With The Sun In Her Head, Satan, a beautiful Halcyon and set closer Belfast. The rock trappings of the encore are still with us- they thank us, go off and we await their return. And when they return we are given The Box, a slightly too short Chime and Where Is It Going? All over by 11.00 pm. Babysitters get double after midnight.

Belfast

Kinetic

As well as the slightly Orbital-by-numbers new track Copenhagen (which has grown on me over the last week) Orbital have celebrated their return by reworking an older track, Kinetic (a track they’ve reworked before admittedly). This 2017 version has some pretty spine tingling moments and is sure to work well with the crowd at the Apollo in December, a night when babysitters will be a premium in the Manchester area. Name your price teenagers.

Impact

Of all the big hitters of the dance music world of the early 90s Orbital always seem to be the raviest, the least moody, the most up and optimistic. The first two Orbital albums, the green one and the brown one, are both essential snapshots of the duo and the scene. The second one (brown or 2) is a blast from start to finish, opening wiht the sampled voice talking about Moebius, time as a loop, the sampled then looped and played against another version of it. From there on in the synthesizers and drum machines take over and the Hartnoll brothers manage to make techno that is melodic and poppy, dance music that works at home, simple sounding tunes that are increasingly complex, all building towards the majesty that is Halcyon + On + On. Before that though there is the ten minutes of this track, three or four songs in one but all the same too- synths, sirens, clattering drums, breakdowns, build ups and half way through a voice… ‘it’s like a cry for survival’.

Impact (The Earth Is Burning)

Chime

Chime by Orbital is one of British dance music’s breakthrough moments, proof the UK could do what the US had been donig in Chicago and Detroit. Chime was written by the Hartnoll brothers in Kent in 1989. It was recorded in early 1989 onto cassette in their makeshift home studio, a cupboard under the stairs, using a recently acquired Roland TB 303 which had been bought from a working men’s club keyboard player. Legend has it that it cost  a fiver (a documentary I watched a while back), £3.65 (an interview where he describes having to shell out for a metal TDK cassette) or a single pound (wikipedia). Paul Hartnoll mixed it live onto a four track tape recorder and then went to the pub. Paul described the evening thus-

Chime’ started as a big riff from me playing this joyous Detroit-y chord progression that mirrored my mood — it was a sunny day and I was off to meet girls down the pub — and then I built a two-bar groove on the 909 that turned out to be rubbish until I decided to play it as one-bar loops.

Taking it down to the local record shop where mentor Jazzy M worked, they played it through the shop’s system and people started asking for it there and then. The full twelve minute one is the one you really want. This one here is a five minute edit. Shorter but still wondrous.

Chime

Belfast

Things at work are quite intense at the moment and the time to do them seems to be running out rapidly, the weekends are full, and the time to just sit and do little is short. Sometimes you just need to listen to a track like this, beautifully melodic techno from Orbital, originally released on the III ep back in 1991…

Belfast

The Naked And The Dead

I found this again recently, Orbital’s The Naked And The Dead, the B-side to their monumental 1992 Halcyon single. The Naked And The Dead samples Scott Walker doing Jacques Brel and borrows the title of Norman Mailer’s 1948 World War II novel. It is just shy of seven minutes of pounding, heady, forward thinking techno.

The Naked And The Dead