Orbital in concert tonight. Live at Leeds Sound City ’96 and emceed by John Peel – it was all broadcast live by BBC Radio 1 on April 12, 1996.
Orbital are an English electronic dance music duo from Sevenoaks, Kent, England, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll. The band’s name is taken from Greater London’s orbital motorway, the M25, which was central to the early rave scene and party network in the South East during the early days of acid house. In addition, the cover art on three of their albums shows stylized atomic orbitals. Orbital have been both critically and commercially successful and known particularly for their element of live improvisation during shows, a rarity among techno acts. They were initially influenced by early electro and punk rock.
Orbital won an NME award for Vibes Best Dance Act early in 1994, but it was their headline appearance at the Glastonbury Festival on 25 June 1994 that brought them most attention. Q magazine classed it as one of the top 50 gigs of all time, and in 2002 included Orbital in their list of “50 Bands to See Before You Die”.
Crucially, the expanded TV coverage of the 1994 Glastonbury Festival by Channel 4 meant that Orbital’s set reached a huge audience, in what is regarded as a pivotal moment. Speaking to The Guardian in 2013 about the gig, Paul Hartnoll commented: “I didn’t know how much of an impact it would have. Being young myself, I just thought, ‘It’s about time – of course we should have acid house at Glastonbury’. It used to annoy me. I just used to think it should be happening.” In the same article Michael Eavis noted that the Orbital gig marked dance music’s appearance on the mainstream agenda. “What was previously underground made it on to one of the big stages, and there was no going back from there. As the police and the council made me very well aware, the buzz had been around the raves and the market sound systems and in the travelers’ fields for years. But it needed a showcase to make it legal.”
Orbital gave an improvisational element to live electronic music as the brothers mixed and sequenced their tracks on the fly, wearing their trademark head-mounted torches behind banks of equipment. Orbital were one of the few electronic acts invited to play at Woodstock ’94.
The third album, Snivilization, was released in August 1994. Alison Goldfrapp provided vocals on a couple of the tracks, including the single “Are We Here?”. This track also included a sample from “Man at C&A” by The Specials. Among the remixes of “Are We Here?” was “Criminal Justice Bill?” — four minutes of silence, a reference to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was in part intended to clamp down on the rave scene which had given birth to Orbital. The other track with Goldfrapp vocals, “Sad But True”, was remixed for the Times Fly EP, the band’s only release in 1995.
The single “The Box” was released in April 1996, reaching number 11 in the UK, and its parent album In Sides, released in May 1996, became their second Top Five album. In Sides has since come to be one of their most critically well-regarded works. As with the previous album, there was a vague theme of ecological disaster and dissatisfaction with society.
This concert performance comes hot on the heels of the release of The Box – and it would be a good idea to crank this up and not have any distractions going. But you know that.