By Alan RantaIt may not always be perfect, but family is always family. Taking eight years between albums, with a half-dozen years of time off and solo projects in between, the electronic dance duo of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll defied the odds in 2012 by releasing Wonky. Their eighth studio album as Orbital, Wonky debuted at #22 on the UK Top 100 and stayed ranked for three weeks, making it their best chart performance since their sprawling double album The Altogether from 2001. Considering all their success, which included three albums cracking the Top 10, generation-defining soundtrack work, and even some chart activity in the U.S., they had nothing left to prove, yet their integrity and humility compelled them to move beyond the shadow of their former selves and push to create new works for a generation of young ravers born after "Chime" launched the duo into public consciousness in the late '80s.
The Glastonbury Festival gig in 1994 was big for you, playing to thousands of people, but tonight you're playing 560 in Vancouver to a couple hundred. Do you find you prefer big festival shows, or more intimate club gigs? Phil: They're all different. The main thing for me is connection with the audience, no matter how big or small it is. I don't care where I am or who I'm playing to, as long as you can feel the energy and people are enjoying it at the time, that's as much as I ask for. Outdoor festivals are different. This is going to be intense tonight, which is great. Paul: I'd rather do small, packed, sweaty gig than a nice big half empty one with no vibe. It's about the vibe. You play to the size of the venue, to the demand of the territory you're in.
Unlike most popular electronic acts, you incorporate a lot of live improvisation into your sets. Does that change depending on the gig? Do you take more chances in a smaller venue? Paul: No, not really. I think you can get away with more fine small detail in a smaller venue 'cause things are a lot sharper in sound. Details are heard more. If you're doing big outside festivals and stadium sized things, the details tend to get lost in the reverb of the room a bit. You tend to do bigger brush strokes in bigger gigs. So in a way, you can get more intimate with your performance in a small venue.
How do your live performances affect your studio albums, considering the progression of "Satan" from the eponymous 1991 debut to "Beelzedub" as it appears on Wonky? Phil: Yeah, that's a really good example of how things have developed live, with "Satan" particularly, 'cause we twist and turn it as you've going along over the years. Paul: It ended up with sort of a drum and bass ending, 'cause we were bored of playing it the same way when we were touring before this album [Wonky]. And then, when we were writing this album, we were doing a bit of DJing, and we though, what should we do? What are we going to DJ with? Let's start with a version of "Satan" that we can play live. We thought, let's put the drum and bass ending on it, and that got us to thinking, let's put a dubstep beginning, 'cause then, instead of changing tempos, it's a nice half-step. That's how things develop. At the moment, I'm trying to work in a 6/8 not-dubstep version of "Doctor?" just for a laugh. We've started playing "Doctor?" again. It's good fun trying stuff out. I'm messing around with something now. I'll try it tonight. It may fail, it may work, it might be something we keep in the set for ages, but I'm trying to do a topical version with current sounds that I hear DJs playing, from playing Nocturnal Wonderland the other day with all these young DJs playing tons of dubstep, I was listening to that and thinking, "Oh, it would be funny to do that to 'Doctor?' Let's give it a try." Phil: It's also the 6/8 thing. "Doctor Who" was an original 6/8 time signature, and there's a lot of modern tracks now that flip into that, which is quite an interesting little twist on typical 4/4.
What are you digging these days? Paul: I can't say there's much that I'm particularly enjoying that's new and fresh. Most of the bands I would listen to electronically have been around for a while, like Plaid, Trent Reznor, always keeping an eye on him, The Knife... Dance music, I can't honestly say I'm particularly into much dance music. I think a lot of it is nearly good. I get encouraged. I listen to these young guys DJing this soup of dubstep and... I don't know, they call it brostep? You know, really aggressive... I find it amusing. I quite enjoy some of the sounds, hence I'm going to incorporate some of that into "Doctor?" tonight for a laugh. See how it works, our version of that kinda thing. It's good fun. I can't say there are any particular styles or bands that I would go, "I love that single. That track's great." Nothing, really. Maybe I'm just not listening to the right stuff. Phil: I DJ. I play stuff from all over the years, and new stuff. Claude VonStroke pops up all the time, but he's another old fave. He's a great producer, quite consistent. Paul: I'm looking forward to Nathan Fake's new album. Phil: Yeah, we've got him touring with us in December, a UK tour.