Still in orbit – Orbital returns with Kinetic 2017


After four years in silence and in turmoil Paul and Phil Hartnoll appears to have put their differences a side and decided to hit the road again in 2017. A couple of days ago Orbital released a new track called ‘Kinetic 2017’ with which they hope to get the dance floors shaking again. With three live performances planned for 2017, Forbidden Fruit in Dublin, Standon Calling in Hertfordshire and the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank radio telescope near Manchester, they are ready to be back on front stage. ‘Kinetic’ is their first material since they did a Christmas-themed remix of their track ‘Chime’ in 2013 and their latest album Wonky from 2012. No further details have so far been announced.

For the fans we can conclude that the new track has Hartnols’ characteristic bleepy techno banger style, paired with with a large portion of pan flute.

Orbital’s 2017 reunion is, according to a statement, more than the re-forming of a musical partnership. It is: “The end of a little-known, unhappy standoff between two brothers, an estrangement that lovers of Orbital’s euphoric music might find surprising.”

And they continue stating:

“Orbital is too big a thing for us to leave behind,” adds Paul. “I always wanted us to be the Status Quo of techno – I’m Francis Rossi, by the way – because I always admired their staying power and their total, tough, motorik thing. If those two guys made their peace, so can we. We’ve a tempestuous relationship, not because we don’t love the music, but because we do. Sometimes it’s been impossible to carry on. But we’ve sorted it out now. And this time, we’re going to keep it.”

Orbital has never been a group that followed the latest trends in dance culture; they never really followed anyone’s beat but their own. Through all the revolutions and micro revolutions in dance music over the past two decades — and the ever-morphing genres, subgenres, and sub-subgenres — Orbital remained resolutely themselves. When it was a hype to forgo albums for 12″ singles and remixes, Orbital focused on crafting coherent, full-length albums like Snivilisation (1994) and In Sides (1996). When it was trendy to make hard, pounding, minimal techno tracks, Orbital focused on building richly layered, lyrical melodies.

Another milestone is a live performance that has now become Glastonbury folklore, Orbital was the headline at NME in June 1994, introducing electronic music to the mainstream and ushering in a new era for the festival and beyond. Dance music had existed on the fringes of Glastonbury for years, but this appearance by Orbital was to take it fully center stage.

As Hartnoll stated at the time; “there wasn’t anyone just doing pure thumping electronic dance music with lots of 303s and twisted synths.”. The way Orbital started things it soon led the way for other acts to join, like Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack and Underworld.

Jumping a bit in time Orbital made a 20th anniversary tour in 2009, and a few festival appearances, but the real comeback did not appear until 2012 when they appeared again with a new album titled Wonky. The new album was everything that the die-hard fan had waited for: extravagantly euphoric, mountainous with melody, lit up with tiny samples that you can’t quite place. The name of the album was explained at the time like this: “We’ve never really fitted in,” says Paul by way of explanation, a little later; the word suggests to him how they’ve been always been just out of step. But in many ways, the band that started out listening to Punk and Crass and the Anti-Nowhere League in the ’80s, before going sideways with their synthesisers and software and rave, have always fitted in.

Speaking of synthesizers Paul was surprisingly outspoken on how they make their music and their music production techniques in an interview from 2012 where many of secrets of their set up was explained:

“Always an Apple Mac computer, running Logic Pro or Ableton Live,” he said. “And we’ve got a big collection of vintage and modern analog synths that we use. I just can’t stop collecting synths. So if we get a new synth in there, we’d sort of try that out. My current favorite synth is a Macbeth M5N — a boutique synth from Scotland from this guy Ken Macbeth, who builds these amazing analog synths. The Moog Voyager, which is brilliant. Always old Roland synths — vintage, not modern. The Oberheim Xpander, it’s a favorite of ours, and a couple of modern Dave Smith synths — the Poly Evolver and the Tempest. It’s brilliant! I’m taking it on the road.

The Macbeth M5N, a semi-modular essentially means that this is a modular synth, but all the modules have been pre-configured and somewhat pre-connected already by the manufacturer. Some of the diagrams on the face-plate illustrate the pre-wired (normailzed) connections for each of the modules, although there are still plenty of patch points for making your own connections. To start, there are three oscillators which offer your basic sine, triangle, sawtooth and square (w/ PWM) waveforms, plus a noise generator that can output white, pink or a unique Slow Random noise modes. In addition to these sound generators, there is an external audio input pre-amplifier for bringing in other sounds for processing through the M5. The oscillators all offer a broad range of tuning, even micro-tuning possibilities.

“If you take something on the road,” he continued, “you just learn something so thoroughly. We took the Macbeth and I wasn’t up on it really, but we learned it so thoroughly. The Tempest, it’s a great machine — really pioneering.”

But as mentioned Orbital has always been a band in flux and turmoil and after 25 years the band, in 2015 split up. The two brothers announced their retirement and Paul started his own project called 8:58. He stated like this: “We’ve had our ups and downs, and it’s not always been easy, but I’ve loved my time with Orbital. But nothing lasts forever and it’s time to stop. Since finishing the soundtrack with Flood & PJ Harvey for the BBC One television show Peaky Blinders, I’ve now got my own new project, ‘8:58’ which I’m really excited about. It’s a continuation of my work from the past 25 years but with a new vitality taking me on to something fresh, mixed with the best of what I’ve put into Orbital. Expect some live shows soon where I will be playing a mixture of my new music alongside my Orbital favorites.

So during their split, Paul worked on his own album 8:58 and the Clarke:Hartnoll album 2square with Vince Clarke, as well as film and TV soundtracks, including American Ultra and Peaky Blinders. Phil, who says he did not want to split up in the first place, spent his time DJing internationally.

Now we will all keep our fingers crossed that the duo can stick together and continue deliver what they do best.