H.E.A.R. Honors Orbital
site) became one of the biggest names in techno during
the mid-'90s by solving the irreconcilable differences previously
inherent in the genre: to stay true to the dance underground
and, at the same time, force entry into the rock arena, where
an album functions as an artistic statement -- not a collection
of singles -- and a band's prowess is demonstrated by the
actual performance of live music. Though Phil and Paul Hartnoll
first charted with a single, the 1990 British Top 20 hit "Chime,"
the duo later became known for critically praised albums.
The LPs sold well with rock fans as well as electronic listeners,
thanks to Orbital's busy tour schedule, which included headlining
positions at such varied spots as the Glastonbury Festival,
the Royal Albert Hall, and Tribal Gathering.
The brothers Hartnoll -- Phil (b. Jan. 9, 1964) and Paul
(b. May 19, 1968) -- grew up in Dartford, Kent, listening
to early-'80s punk and electro. During the mid-'80s, Phil
worked as a bricklayer while Paul played with a local band
called Noddy & the Satellites. They began recording together
in 1987 with a four-track, keyboards, and a drum machine,
and sent their first composition "Chime" (recorded
and mastered onto a cassette tape for a total production cost
of ¬£2.50) into Jazzy M's pioneering house mix show
Jackin' Zone. By 1989, "Chime" was released as a
single, the first on Jazzy M's label, Oh-Zone Records. The
following year, ffrr Records re-released the single and signed
a contract with the duo -- christened Orbital in honor of
the M25, the circular London expressway which speeded thousands
of club kids to the hinterlands for raves during the blissed-out
Summer of Love. "Chime" hit number 17 on the British
charts in March 1990, and led to an appearance on the TV chart
show Top of the Pops, where the Hartnolls stared at the audience
from behind their synth banks. "Omen" barely missed
the Top 40 in September, but "Satan" made number
31 early in 1991, with a sample lifted from the Butthole Surfers.
Orbital's untitled first LP, released in September 1991,
consisted of all new material -- that is, if live versions
of "Chime" and the fourth single "Midnight"
are considered new works. Unlike the Hartnolls' later albums,
though, the debut was more of a collection of songs than a
true full-length work, its cut-and-paste attitude typical
of many techno LPs of the time. During 1992, Orbital continued
their chart success with two EPs. The Mutations remix work
-- with contributions from Meat Beat Manifesto, Moby, and
Joey Beltram -- hit number 24 in February. Orbital returned
Meat Beat's favor later that year by remixing "Edge of
No Control," and later reworked songs by Queen Latifah,
the Shamen, and EMF as well. The second EP, Radiccio, reached
the Top 40 in September. It marked the Hartnolls' debut for
Internal Records in England, though ffrr retained control
of the duo's American contract, beginning with a U.S. release
of the debut album in 1992.
The duo entered 1993 ready to free techno from its club restraints,
beginning in June with a second LP. Also untitled, but nicknamed
the "brown" album as an alternative to the "green"
debut, it unified the disjointed feel of its predecessor and
hit number 28 on the British charts. The Hartnolls continued
the electronic revolution that fall during their first American
tour. Phil and Paul had first played live at a pub in Kent
in 1989 -- before the release of "Chime" -- and
had continued to make concert performance a cornerstone of
their appeal during 1991-1993, though the U.S. had remained
unaware of the fact. On a tour with Moby and Aphex Twin, Orbital
proved to Americans that techno shows could actually be diverting
for the undrugged multitudes. With no reliance on DATs (the
savior of most live techno acts), Phil and Paul allowed an
element of improvisation into the previously sterile field,
making their live shows actually sound live. The concerts
were just as entertaining to watch as well, with the Hartnolls'
constant presence behind the banks -- a pair of flashlights
attached to each head, bobbing in time to the music -- underscoring
the impressive light shows and visuals. The early 1994 release
of the Peel Session EP, recorded live at the BBC's Maida Vale
studios, cemented onto wax what concertgoers already knew.
That summer proved to be the pinnacle of Orbital's performance
ascent; an appearance at Woodstock 2 and a headlining spot
at the Glastonbury Festival (both to rave reviews) confirmed
the duo's status as one of the premier live acts in the field
of popular music, period.
The U.S.-only Diversions EP -- released in March 1994 as
a supplement to the second LP -- selected tracks from both
the Peel Session and the album's single "Lush."
Following in August 1994, Snivilization became Orbital's first
named LP. The duo had not left political/social comment completely
behind on the previous album -- "Halcyon + On + On"
was in fact a response to the drug used for seven years by
the Hartnolls' own mother -- but Snivilization pushed Orbital
into the much more active world of political protest. It focused
on the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994, which gave police greater
legal action both to break up raves and prosecute the promoters
and participants. The wide variety of styles signaled that
this was Orbital's most accomplished work. Snivilization also
became the duo's biggest hit, reaching number four in Great
Britain's album charts.
During 1995, the brothers concerned themselves with touring,
headlining the Glastonbury Festival in addition to the dance
extravaganza Tribal Gathering. In May 1996, Orbital set out
on quite a different tour altogether; the duo played untraditional,
seated venues -- including the prestigious Royal Albert Hall
-- and appeared on stage earlier in the night, much like typical
rock bands. Two months later, Phil and Paul released "The
Box," a 28-minute single of orchestral proportions. It
screamed of prog-rock excess -- especially the inclusion of
synth harpsichords -- and appeared to be the first misstep
in a very studied career. The resulting In Sides, however,
became their most acclaimed album, with many excellent reviews
in publications that had never covered electronic music. It
was over three years before the release of Orbital's next
album, 1999's Middle of Nowhere.
Orbital has appeared in H.E.A.R. Public Service Announcements.