A few months ago, Phil Hartnoll lit up Tengu in Dublin with an Easter Sunday DJ set of Orbital classics, with a few deep cuts and exclusives, including an amazing new cosmic krautrock jam remix of Belfast by David Holmes.
The night was further proof of Orbital’s power on a dancefloor – even without his brother Paul in tow, and without their legendary lighting rig and torch glasses, the rave euphoria of Orbital shines through in classics like Chime, Impact and Lush, whether it’s in a basement techno club, midnight at Glastonbury, or indeed closing the 2019 Galway International Arts Festival Big Top stage.
This is the Irish premiere of Orbital’s latest audiovisual showcase of their Here Be Monsters album – a late period renaissance in a career full of iconic moments.
Since 1989, Phil and Paul Hartnoll have forged a career as one of the true hall-of-fame electronic acts, with roots in the illegal rave scene and a legacy of helping dance music cross over into the indie festival landscape.
From the initial euphoric DIY rave rush of their debut single Chime, to lush masterpieces such as Halcyon and the industrial nightmare electro of Satan, Orbital know how to keep you awake at night, and through to the early hours.
Orbital took their name from the M25 ring road motorway around London, the scene of many underground illegal raves in the late 80s acid house explosion. They recorded Chime in a few hours on their dad’s cassette player in 1989, and within a few months it had struck a chord with more discerning ravers.
They were soon performing it on Top of the Pops, and this early rush of magic made way for majestic moments on The Brown Album, Snivilization or In Sides. They’ve always had a political, subversive edge, too – they performed on TOTP wearing anti-Poll Tax shirts and released a track called Are We Here (Criminal Justice Bill)’, a protest at the UK government’s Criminal Justice Bill that cracked down music “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.
The brothers have their own special bond with Ireland, after being invited over to play at the Art College in Belfast by David Holmes in the early 90s. Despite their initial worry of being two English lads being dragged into a war zone, the Hartnolls remember the gig as one of the most transcendent of their whole career, with dance music uniting a fractured city and a feeling that the crowd wanted to hold on to them for as long as possible. In Stuart Bailie’s brilliant book Trouble Songs, Paul Hartnoll says it was Orbital’s first ever encore, and it sealed an enduring love for Irish crowds. Their tribute was Belfast, the lump-in-the-throat anthem that’s still their encore.
North or south, the anthem still lands deep, and there are plenty more where that came from, to end this year’s Arts Festival on a high.
The brothers have had a few splits over the years, but they’ve assured fans they’re back for good, as Phil told the scene a few weeks ago: “tell you what, I’ve banned him from splitting us again, you ain’t doing that again, bruv.”
But even if they’ll be round the block for another few years yet, an orbital festival show is always a hard one to turn down.
- Orbital headline the Galway International Arts Festival tomorrow (Saturday)