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Phil Hartnoll interview: Life After Orbital

Author: Guido Farnell
Friday, November 18, 2005

It was billed as the end of an era when Orbital called it a day last year, their parting shot 'The Blue Album' was certainly one of the best in the pioneering duo's long and illustrious career. Back in the day, alongside the likes of Future Sound Of London, Aphex Twin and Moby, Orbital pioneered a techno sound that simultaneously remained true to the aesthetic of the electronic underground whilst finding success on the charts. It is hard to believe that brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll released Chime back in '89 before it went on to become a top 20 hit in the UK on FFRR in 1990.

"We just wanted to put a stop to Orbital before it went completely stale." explained Phil Hartnoll who is touring Australia for Earthcore this month. "The time was ripe for it. I think we had been working together for such a long time that we were getting caught up or set in our ways. We were definitely running the risk of sounding uninspired and perhaps becoming boring to our listeners. It was kind of compounded by the fact that we were brothers and after all these years it started to feel as though I had not even left home. Also, Paul has just had twins and he wants to work from home while concentrating on his family. Paul doesn't really want to tour any more and that clearly puts a lot of restrictions on everything."

I wondered how Hartnoll viewed the electronic music scene he helped pioneer back in the early '90s. "I compare it to a tree - a tree of electronic music. In a way it is like a family tree. It has its roots down in the '70s with early disco records and that comes up into the '80s with Kraftwerk and the American hip hoppers getting hold of that vibe and mixing up electro and hip hop. It has all been facilitated by advances in technology and making it all much more accessible to people. I love the idea of people being able to express themselves, through any means really."

"These days you have really powerful programs like Reason sitting on just anyone's laptop. That's a great development as so many more people can now experiment with electronic music than were able to back in the '70s. It opens up so much more possibilities. Don't get me wrong, I still love my hardware - nothing beats a real 303, 808, my old Arp and of course all those other old synths. I have three boys, the eldest is 17 and is into drum'n'bass, the next is 15 and loves '80s music. If ever they were to start making music they would bring such different influences to the table than I did with Orbital."

"I think I have I have lost my train of thought, where was I- But you have that tree now with lots of branches coming off it representing your drum'n'bass, electro, techno, ambient music and all sorts of weird and wonderful sub-genres of things. It is fascinating from my point of view even though I have been around for so long. It was early electro music that inspired me to go out and buy a drum machine. Years ago the warehouse parties were all hip hop and suddenly that changed into acid house parties. It is interesting that when younger people come up with new music you can hear a bit of this and a bit of that in what they are doing. It is usually all so bastardised or transmutated into something else. It is all wonderful. I still love listening to music and hearing how things evolve."

"These days we have this 'dance music is dead' message coming through but that tends to be only certain quarters of the media that has adopted this attitude. Invariably they are the ones looking for the 'next big thing' without enjoying what they already have. Dance styles tend to arrive on a crest of popularity and when people move on the genre will find its proper plateau."

"Orbital were old hat after we had a hit and that was back in the early '90s. They give it to you from both ends as well, in the sense that once you have h