Orbital is one of the most unusual – and beloved – acts in the history of electronic music. The group – consisting of British brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll – has forged a sound over the past 20 years so original it’s immediately recognizable, a sound that borrows from classical music, cinematic imagery, ambient techno and experimental loops. The brothers broke up in 2004, but reunited last year for a series of shows and now find themselves as one of Saturday’s headliners at the Ultra Music Festival. Phil Hartnoll talked to Miami.com about the split, and how it feels to be back together as Orbital.
Why did you guys break up and why did you reunite?
A multitude of reasons, really, and it all culminated in us going our separate ways. The main reason was, we just couldn’t stand the album-tour, album-tour sort of cycle, and we lost our way, really. It was too much living in the future. We’d do an album, then go out on tour, and while we were on tour we’d be thinking about the next album. We’re in a really good position and everything, but we started questioning our own integrity and stuff. So it was more a case of us kicking ourselves up the ass and going our separate ways. Paul always wanted to do an orchestral sort of piece, which he needed to do on his own and get that out of his system. I went off and did DJing and an album under the name Longrange, with some people locally down in Brighton I know, which went well. And so we did go our own separate ways.
And after about five years, the Big Chill Festival asked us whether we wanted to get back for a reunion gig, and, I don’t know – it just felt fresh and new again, and we went and had a cup of coffee and discussed it and just thought, “Yeah, let’s give it a go.” And it’s been fantastic, and really enjoyable, because we’re not chasing our tails or anything, and we’re really enjoying the moment.
Are you working on anything new?
We’re back in the studio now doing some new stuff, and it’s all so fresh again for us, because we’ve been away from it.
Is this your first time at WMC?
It’s our first time at Ultra, yeah. I’ve known loads of people – lots of DJs and everybody and their mates go over there every year – and I was always jealous. And it was just one of those things, where we’re all nervous, like “we’re writing at the moment” – that cycle again that I was talking about: “Well, we’re writing, and we can’t go out and do a gig.” And so now this time, it’s like, “Yeah, let’s go and do it.” So we’re really looking forward to it.
Orbital’s music has always had classical undertones to it. Where did that come from?
I don’t know, really, because we’re not classically trained or anything – it’s just us trying to get emotive with the music, and melody and harmony. I can’t really pinpoint what actually influenced it – we came from all sorts of walks of music.
You improvise a lot onstage. Has that ever just gone all wrong?
Oh, always. Some of the best mistakes are the best mistakes. We improvise with the structure of the whole thing, so there are lots of things that can sort of not happen as planned. And sometimes it can be a happy accident, but normally it’s just different. We’re responding to the audience as well – it’s not like a big “them and us.” The way the audience responds is the way we give it to them, you know what I mean?


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