Anticipations heighten in the darkened Birmingham Academy, as hums break through the silence, preparing for the on course of a rave revival. Four torch lights slowly push forwards into focus – the duo’s iconic headlamp glasses – overwhelming the intoxicated people in front of me, who were already bobbing effortlessly to the continual introductory tones.
The techno repetition of ‘Time Becomes A Loop’ took fans right back to the beginning of Orbital One and Two, while the follow up of the cheerfully exuberant One Big Moment, – of which intros new album Wonky in a playful guise – helped celebrate Orbital across all areas of their vibrant, ever evolving career. Almost innocent, the album opener slowly eased and electrified a swaying crowd, warming towards Modified Toy Orchestra’s robotic yet whimsical approach.
I can’t applaud Paul & Phil enough for their stubborn resistance against digitalisation and soft synths. Their use of analogue rules them out of the stereotypical post-modern-laptop-geek label, which now tends to identify dance and electronic music in a monotonous slur.
True fans could obtain a gratification from engaging with the determined duo, as they moved from one analogue synth to the next, in turn, verifying the key elements of a real time performance, rather than pre-recorded laptop sluggishness.
The engrossed crowd became transfixed on Halcyon, a true classic that never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; Looking around, I could see the same effect happening to everybody else too.
It’s those sweeping introductory tones, slowing building up into a melodic synthetic delivery, releasing the audience into a vivacious joy, with the sweet Opus III’s sampled vocals empowering the elation.
Although not all tracks had the same affect, as Beezlebub forced Orbital to tread into a different territory. From the first reverberant drum thud, it was clear that this new track was pushing the duo into the predictable world of dubstep. With generic ear-drowning bass lines and knee-jerk ‘womp-womp-wah-wahs’, all elements of the usual blissful Orbital anatomy had been removed, regrettably.
I don’t think Phil & Paul needed to become dubstep to fit into modern electronica, they are perfect doing their own thing. But at least Beezlebub is only one track and not an entire album; I’ll forgive them.
Tremendously, the intro to Impact (the Earth is burning) placed the already glowing crowd into a whole new level of togetherness, as every fan broke shyness and began conforming to the infectious melodic beat of a nineties classic. Beaming back on stage and being amongst such dedicated fans makes Orbital exactly who they are. Without such an engaging audience, they wouldn’t quite be the same. And of course, I couldn’t end this review without mentioning Chime, a track that still somehow gets better and better with every listen, even more so when experienced live.
The Hartnoll brothers are the masters of evoking emotion through their electronic escapades, putting modern, soulless commercial electronica to shame.
Twenty-three years on, Orbital still rule the electronica world; let’s hope they continue captivating younger generations to come.
Words: Ross Cotton