The Orb Celebrate 25 Years at SPestival

By Tristan Parker

Turning 25 years strong in 2013, The Orb were crucial in pioneering what’s now known as ambient house. Having gone through various line-up changes over the years, one of its founding members, Alex Patterson, remains, now accompanied by Berlin-based producer and Kompakt regular Thomas Fehlmann.

It’s hard to overestimate The Orb’s influence on some strands of modern electronic music, marked by a vast back catalogue that’s still expanding today – most recently with an album that saw the duo working with reggae icon Lee “Scratch” Perry. And then there’s the timeless track that, like it or not, The Orb will always be remembered for – “Little Fluffy Clouds.” Alex Paterson talks about the The Orb’s past, present and future.

SPESTIVAL 400Tell us about your latest album, More Tales from the Orbservatory.
Alex Paterson: It’s another more dub-style album with instruments on the actual record. It works well on vinyl and we have sold out of the first edition already, and more copies are being pressed as I type. That’s very good news for vinyl lovers, and welcome to the wonderful world of vinyl if you’re new to this retro art of gramophone record listening. This album has a great bass and drum-style of the classic sound and rhythm in its textures and flows. Added to this is the mighty Upsetter, Lee “Scratch” Perry on vocals, a true prophet of lyrical genius and a present day tap to the all-seeing eye of inner wisdom and true love.

Was working with Lee Perry as wild and fun as I imagine it to be?
It could have been wild, and in many ways it was, but when you’re 75 years old as Lee is, then you have to take it a little more easy as days turn faster. He told me about the shadow as we walked along a country lane in Sternhagen [Germany], and that had a profound effect on me. It’s even on the album, as we were be recorded all the time, as Volker [Schanner – filmmaker and editor] was making a film at the same time about Lee Perry. Field trips to lakes and farms, country walks in cornfields were surreal too – [a] dubbed-up feeling of Children of the Corn

Have you always been fans of reggae and dub? And did you always want The Orb to make an album that heavily incorporated these elements? Obviously there are a lot of ambient dub influences in The Orb’s music generally, but I mean in more of an overt way, from your work with Lee Perry…
Well, The Orb had a hit in the ‘90s with “Perpetual Dawn” in the UK and also “Towers of Dub” was a clue too on the second album in 1992, plus too many [others] to mention now, but in many ways the old chill-out lounges were a cross section of B-sides from JA 7” vinyl and early Editions EG classics, [and] very Eno-produced music like PCO and Robert Fripp. I was into reggae and dub in the ‘70s, growing up a punk helped too. Plus, coming from south London, living in the Brixton Hundreds [an area of Brixton, London].

In 2013 you celebrated 25 years of The Orb. What is it about The Orb’s music that allows it to keep appealing to people over the decades?
Silly questions and funny sounds that stay alive like a bad Bee Gees sample!

The Orb has had a lot of different members over the years. Do you think this has helped shape its sound?
It’s a spacecraft that has changed and goes with the flow while creating a stream of our own sounds. In many ways we have achieved this goal and all of us that have helped along the way should be proud of the last 25 years. We are moving away from the pulse beat and staying true to ourselves.

The Orb’s most well-known, and heavily played, track is “Little Fluffy Clouds.” Can you still enjoy it or are you tired of hearing it? Do you still play it in live sets?
YES, YES and YES, but I’m bored with questions about it.

What have you got coming up over the following months and beyond — releases, live shows, other projects…
A box set or two, one this year on Universal Music and one next year on Malicious Damage, the island years and then the indie years. Plus, we have just recorded a new version of “Little Fluffy Clouds” with the Kakatsitsi – master drummers and singers of Ghana.

[Another] project called Moon Building, plus we are going to the USA to tour after a British tour in October this year, along with European dates and Japan in November with Lee “Scratch” Perry. Also, December sees The Orb DJ with Coldcut in London and Paris.

What’s the best/most fun festival set you’ve ever played?
The one I can’t remember!  [I was] spiked at Glastonbury 1992, supporting Primal Scream on the NME Stage on Saturday night. [I can remember] singing “No Fun” with the Scream from under the drum riser [and] not much else!

Please give us another couple of festival memories – anything that’s stuck out for you from any festival.
Playing in a room full of toys in San Fran in 1994! Watching whales off the coast of Vancouver Island while DJing. Singing at a wet elephant fair in Cornwall. Hanging out with Santana and Nine Inch Nails at Glastonbury 1994. Waking up in a field while the cleaning team are picking up rubbish from the night before. Watching a boat sink slowly while at a festival in Australia on New Year’s Eve 1999/2000. The backstage was a lake and we stayed on a boat for a week at [outdoor Australian festival] Earthcore outside of Melbourne. Two giant pelicans flew in circles over the stage as I played “Little Fluffy Clouds” at the dusk of 1999. That was pretty fucked-up.

The Orb play SPestival on September 24.

The Orb’s box set, A History of the Future – The Island Years, is released on October 7. The Orb will be touring across the US, Canada and the UK. See The Orb’s website  for dates and venues.