mutters Paul, a manana-style look of contentment filling his face.
"That's the hi-fi turned on. Now what do you fancy listening to?"
This isn't how it's supposed to be. These are the people who,
ever since 'Chime', have been at the very forefront of dance music,
who've become the first ever credible techno pop act, successfully
combining high-octane innovation with an instantly recognisable
sound and a simple yet effective image based on an absence of
hair and two pairs of daft robot glasses. They make fully-fledged
dance LPs of instantly accessible music that relies on more than
hammering 125 bpm rhythms for mass appeal. They've remixed everyone
from Meat Beat Manifesto to Queen Latifah. At Glastonbury, they
proved that faceless techno bollocks could be as exciting live
as any amount of bearded, guitar-gurning rock stars. They're apparently
a smear of hi-tech, not-a-day-off-since-January activity.
"It isn't always like this, you know," Paul says, less than convincingly.
"Sometimes we actually get some work done as well."
It's hard to believe. They're supposed to be remixing Japanese
band Confusion, but they haven't even sorted out their equipment
yet. In fact, they don't even know what the song is called.
"Well," muses Paul, "it's either called 'Joy (The White Room)'
or 'The White Room (Joy)'. Anyway, what it sounds like at the
moment is The Shamen meet Dannii Minogue."
And it will continue to do so unless they pull their fingers out.
Now everything's ready to go, but. . .but hold on. They're not
quite ready yet. No. Paul's just picked up a copy of 'Volume 10'.
Such rockist slothfulness seems a million miles away when, several
days earlier, Phil Hartnoll ushers me into his absurdlv normal-looking
terraced house in Finsbury Park. For one thing the place is immaculately
tidy. For another, apart from Phil's voluminous tracksuit trousers,
there is no evidence that he makes a living doing anything more
unorthodox than, say, being a mildly surly tax inspector.
And then there are the kids.
"Milo. Pick up the Ice Pops."
"Don't want to."
"Come on Milo. Look, I'll help you."
"Mmmrnmm. No. Waaaaaaaah!"
Phil is very much a family man. Having married Rachel just as
'Chime' was going nuclear ("I told Phil I was pregnant and it
was three weeks before we could carry on the conversation," she
says) he is now the proud father of Milo (three) and Louis (six).
It's a role that Phil appears more than content to fulfil. But
combining it with his alternative life in Orbital has obviously
been something of a strain.
"People get things totally out of perspective," Phil explains,
balancing a half-naked toddler on his lap. "Over the last few
years so many people have supposedly embraced this whole new age,
community spirit there is."
Out in the calm of his back garden he reminisces about his early
excursions with Paul. "We became friends as opposed to just brothers
pretty early on, by running around discos trying to get DJs to
play our favourite records. We drove them up the wall."
Can you ever imagine doing stuff individually?
"Paul does. He did 'Science Friction' on the new album. There's
certainly none of that, You-can't-do-that-because-Orbital-is-you-and-me
He stands up. "Sorry, but I've got to go and bath the kids now.
Hang around if you like."
Meeting Paul should be a different kettle of DX8s altogether.
Four years younger than Phil, he spends most of his free evenings
working and has a reputation for being "something of a drinker".
Mind you, his choice of rendezvous for Sunday lunchtime drinking
- London Fields' The Pub On The Park - could not be further from
the clubs where he earns most of his extra-Orbital spondulicks.
A band are winding up their note-perfect rendition of 'Stuck In
The Middle With You' while outside middle-aged men berate each
other over what looks horribly like a game of boules. So, Paul,
what are the main differences between you and Phil?
"Phil's more of a tryer than I am. He'll keep going at it until
he's satisfied that it's just right. The main difference, of course,
is that he's got all these responsibilities that I haven't. If
I'm not working then I'm watching TV or going down the pub."
While talking, the techno overlord has found a bit of paper and,
using a small, sharp-looking knife, has cut out an intricate and
rather attractive doily.
"It's something they taught me at primary school. It keeps my
hands occupied and stops me smoking so many fags."
As the shadows lengthen Paul grows misty-eyed at the chances Orbital
may have missed out on.
"We wanted to do the music for Tank Girl. We wanted to get a Madonna
remix. We wanted Sinead O'Connor on our album. We're still hopeful
about getting on the Judge Dredd soundtraaa... SHIT!"
What's the matter?
"I've just cut myself. These fucking doilies are going to be the
death of me."
Back in the studio the concept of Paul and Phil taking on any
more work seems faintly comical. Sure, Orbital-esque tunes are
now blasting out of the speakers but they turn out to be a tape
of their Glasto performance that a charity wants for a compilation
LP. All well and good, but it won't pay the rent. Nor will the
guided tour which Phil undertakes just as Paul finally looks ready
to start work.
"This is the kind of thing that Herbie Hancock used in the mid-'70s,"
he explains, pointing out a large black box with some knobs on
it. "That's a sort of early Public Image keyboard. This is the
famous 808. That one is mostly for hardcore..."
They all, of course, look exactly the same. But sitting in pride
of place is something anyone can recognise: a copy of 'Rolf Harris
Plays Stylophone Latin-American!'. Sadly, as Phil reveals, all
is not as it seems in Rolf's Latin-stylee garden.
"It was designed so that you play the stylophone along with it.
But we lost ours."
Couldn't you just sample it up and use one of your keyboards?
Phil slowly surveys the vast amount of user-friendly digitalisation.
He thinks for a moment and examines another machine... "No."
It's decided that a spot of lunch outside is in order, so that
the lads can return to their task with renewed vigour. Or this
is the plan. Meanwhile it's a good opportunity to ask Phil and
Paul a few questions about their childhood, their new album and
whether or not jungle is destined to take over the world. Like,
how come you two are techno uber-meisters while your other brother
became a doctor?
"Well, we all had this crazy adolescence," explains Phil, tucking
into a chilli burrito. "Because my dad was working really hard
and was rarely at home while our mum was freaking out on Halcyon
(a then-popular prescription tranquiliser). His way of dealing
with it was locking himself in his room and getting really studious.
Whereas I was trying to deal with the emotional housework downstairs.
Don't get me wrong, mum was always very loving and caring. But
they prescribed her this drug and she just kept on doubling the
dose." It was this which inspired 1992's 'Halcyon' and its video,
which depicted bald Kirsty out of Opus III as a snooker-loopy
housewife rattling around her suburban semi.
Out in the sunlight, lots of mineral water is ordered and the
brothers ruminate on what it's like being the dance band that
indie fans like.
"Basically, it's great." Paul admits. "It's such arsehole behaviour
when people start saying, Techno is the future, fucking guitar
music is dead." Do you meet a lot of people like that? "Actually,
it was far more rife about a year and a half ago. People shouting,
Play some fucking hardcore! I can't stand that macho bullshit.
You know, if you don't like something. . turn it off."
As the burrito mountain is whittled down we discuss whether 'Snivilisation'
is the first ever politically aware techno long-player. It isn't
a view that either of them seem particularly keen to endorse.
"I wouldn't be so bold as to say that it's political as such,"
argues Paul. "It's more observational: it questions the concept
of us being the most intelligent being on the planet because we
There were rumours that 'Snivilisation' was going to feature a
lot of jungle. Paul adopts a face of utter confusion as he tries
to cadge some curry.
"Yeah, all that hype is a bit of a mystery to me. Someone rang
up and I mentioned something about jungle, and all I've heard
since is all this crap about us writing a jungle album. It's like,
"All we've done is take a few techniques out of jungle music and
apply it to what we do," adds Phil. "I like jungle but it's not
as if I drive around with it banging out of the windows all the
Right. Er. . .shouldn't we be getting back?
"Oh, what's the rush?" asks Paul with a resigned sigh. "It's such
a nice day. . .
" We do, in the end, make it back to the studio. And bizarrely,
things actually begin to happen.
First the pair reacquaint themselves with what Confusion were
like in the first place. Paul was right: Dannii sings The Shamen.
Next, we listen to what the duo have done with the track so far.
The remix is instantly recognisable as an Orbital job: the pounding
beat; the high, chattering counterpoints the sudden desire to
rip off your clothes and dance till you drop. all are present
and correct without entirely losing Confusion's, er, distinctive
Satisfied, the Hartnolls wheel their chairs over to the mixing
desk and set to work. For anyone who believes that techno is a
matter of loading discs and writing programmes what follows would
be a revelation. While Phil's hands flicker over the mixing desk
in a blur of knuckles, Paul alternates between yanking at his
battered old Atari computer and jabbing frantically on the Emax
II keyboard to his left.
At first the track remains largely unaltered. Then the music begins
to fluctuate as Phil pulls a lever here or modulates a frequency
there. By this time Paul has chosen a sample from the vocal track
and is tapping it out in ever more complex rhythms on the keyboard.
In effect, this is both re-mix and gig (albeit to an audience
of one) with the brothers egging each other on in a manner to
rival any bass-and-drum empathy you'd care to mention. All that's
missing is the lightshow and some E'd up goon demanding something
"a bit more hardcoooore."
When the song clatters to a halt the pair play back their handiwork.
It still sounds ace even without being able to see the demonic
concentration on their faces. Phil at least seems happy enough.
"Yeah, well, the original was pretty poppy. So what we wanted
to do with the remix was club it up a bit. And that's what we've
just done. I hope."
Mission accomplished the pair prepare to leave. The track still
needs a bit more work. A tweak here. An additional sample there.
But, broadly speaking, a cat/bag rendezvous has been completed.
As they don their sandals, there is suddenly wild talk from Phil
about the possibility of coming back later on to start work on
remixing one of their own tracks. It is not an idea that curries
much favour with Paul.
"Nah. I wouldn't mind doing some more stuff with the Confusion
number. But our own single? Nah. I mean, what's the point in rushing