Original cut and paste specialists The Orb took Pink Floyd-style psychedelia, Brian Eno‘s gentle ambient blueprint and threw in monstrous dub basslines, house beats and a multitude of obscure, often humourous samples to create a richly textured electronic brew. Alex Paterson and his various collaborators broke new ground with debut double album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld in 1991, hit number one with follow up UFOrb and famously played chess on Top of the Pops when their near-40 minute single Blue Room broke the Top 10.
15 years on since that debut and with electronic music having evolved, splintered and reformed over that time, can ‘Dr’ Alex and co. still cut the musical mustard?
Long-time cohort Thomas Fehlmann walks on stage to get things started with what appears to be a DJ set, playing a techno-flecked set interspersed with deep house that stomps so hard and goes down so well you wonder how a set of ambient house could successfully follow it. That is until the realisation dawns on people that this is actually The Orb’s live performance.
The (self-titled, unqualified) Dr Alex Paterson joins Fehlmann to whoops from the crowd and, after placing some flowers on stage and removing the hankie from his head, they pump out some drifting ambience. The humourous samples are still intact with a forties film skit wafting in to the mix and spoken word sample of “Come on Barbie, let’s go party” emerging briefly from the aural soup as a cue to big-screen visuals of the putrid plastic princess. Musically there are off-beat bleeps and deep dub basslines and the odd reminder of the reason ambient, and with it The Orb’s wider popularity, disappeared up its own self-indulgent exhaust pipe with some directionless meandering at times. Overall there is very little ambient about the duo’s set as it bumps and bangs along, the beats getting harder as it progresses.
The crowd are baying for the old material to be aired with one man shouting, “Play some of your own fucking records!”, at one point, albeit with a smile on his face. It goes unheard though as different tracks, few of which are The Orb’s original material it seems, are spliced, diced and injected into the mix. The Pet Shop Boys‘ It’s Alright briefly drifts into earshot before Little Fluffy Clouds is played, much to the delight of the crowd. The teasing continues, however, as even this gets filtered, mixed in and out while an anti-war march forms the visual backdrop. This is hardly chilled but the overall reaction is still positive.
A sample of Minnie Riperton‘s Lovin’ You introduces A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of The Ultraworld which is offered a similar, storming kick-drum treatment as Fehlmann leaves the stage. It may be another uptempo take on a chilled classic but it still gets the goosebumps going.
This was more a DJ set, perhaps akin to The Orb’s beginnings at London club Heaven’s Land Of Oz nights, than a gig, which may have left expectant fans frustrated but Paterson and Fehlmann carried it off with some style. Besides, they may be getting tired of playing the same old tunes a decade and a half down the line. As a gig it was disappointing but as a night out it was far from it. Not quite what the doctor ordered though.