Orbital have come a long way since they first hit the charts in 1990 with Chime. Starting life as an integral part of the rave scene, they even took their name from London’s giant M25 ring-road, once trawled by expectant ravers as they awaiting coded directions to the nearest illegal party. Phil and Paul Hartnoll then witnessed the rave scene transform from its earthy beginnings into what eventually became the multi-million pound dance industry. They certainly played their part, bringing dance music to the masses during their landmark Glastonbury 1994 appearance and making it more accessible, acceptable even, to many by proving that electronic music did not always have to be uncreative, throwaway cheese.
Having ridden through dance music’s boom years, Orbital appear to symbolise the scene itself as now, in the midst of the great dance music recession, the Hartnoll brothers have decided to go their separate ways (just on a professional basis of course). Tonight’s gig is the first of a mini farewell tour that also includes a final Glastonbury goodbye, but there’s the small matter of Euro 2004 to contend with first as the start of the show is delayed by England’s painful penalty collapse to Portugal.
When Orbital do finally take to the stage we are treated to a kind of greatest hits set, starting with the gentle opener, The Girl With The Sun In Her Head. This is followed by choral sunrise track, Belfast, a beat-heavy version of The Box, a storming rendition of acid metal beast Satan and a new take on crowd pleasing live favourite, Halcyon. Orbital play their usual live trick of dropping Bon Jovi‘s You Give Love a Bad Name and Belinda Carlisle‘s Heaven Is A Place On Earth into the middle of Halcyon but they take the joke even further tonight, introducing The Darkness‘ I Believe In A Thing Called Love into the mix too. And it fits like a spandex glove.
A couple of new tracks from The Blue Album, their seventh album proper, also get a live airing. The buzzing bass of You Lot, featuring an apocalyptic speech from Christopher Eccleston, has the energy and edge of their earlier material and the wistful warble and uplifting chords of One Perfect Sunrise, starting off trancelike before soaring synths, reverb and kick drums kick in, is classic Orbital.
All of this is complimented by an amazing lightshow, a backdrop made up of giant rotating pill packets and, of course, the trademark light up feelers the duo wear, making them look like they have just been beamed down from some far away galaxy. They vigorously nod their way through Impact (The Earth Is Burning) for the first encore and return to the stage a second time for Doctor Who remix, Doctor?. The grand finale comes courtesy of the track that started it all, Chime, as the biggest glitter ball known to man bathes the whole crowd in golden drops of light.
The break between tunes gives proceedings a slightly fractured feel but this reminds us of the fact that Orbital’s music never really was fully embraced by the superstar DJ set. Rather than proving their downfall, however, this merely served to set them apart from the myriad of other shortlived dance acts. Popular misfits perhaps, their music was never quite pigeon-holed securely in place by the dance scene or the music press.
It’s sad sometimes when a band split. Not so Orbital, two solo careers from Phil & Paul could be just the ticket as they seek to express their own increasingly divergent tastes. Yes, the new material is as good as some of their previous classics but, following two patchy and relatively aimless albums, this return to form may only have been made possible by the pressure drop that came with the knowledge this would be their long playing swansong.
Just as England bowed out earlier, so now do Orbital. Orbital, however, do it on a high. They think it’s all over. It is now.