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Undefeated champions of British electronic music, Orbital get back in the ring in 2012 with Wonky, their first new album in eight years. Recently reunited following a long sabbatical, Paul and Phil Hartnoll are back on fighting-fit form and ready to reclaim their title. Both timeless and contemporary, Wonky puts a vividly modern spin on their signature blend of richly melodic, deeply emotive electronica.
Confident, energised and eclectic, Wonky already sounds like the duo’s finest album to date. Gleaming, whooshing, shimmering tracks like Straight Sun and Stringy Acid instantly tap into the warm-blooded rush and restless bounce of classic Orbital. These are future festival- rocking anthems in the making, right up there with vintage live favourites Chime and Belfast.
But there are nods to cutting-edge club culture on Wonky too – including a guest appearance by hotly tipped Birmingham grime MC Lady Leshurr on the album’s irresistibly vibrant electro-rap title track. The Hartnolls even give a radical post-dubstep makeover to their much-loved techno-rock classic Satan, reworking it into a razor- backed beast of shuddering bass called Beelzedub.
Like all Orbital albums, Wonky defies narrow-minded caricatures of electronic music as cold and mechanical. Playful humour and warm humanity are woven into its fabric - from the heart-tugging harmonies and woozy vocal layers of Never and Distractions, to the guest appearance by the highly acclaimed LA-based electronic musician Zola Jesus on the brooding, atmospheric epic New France. These are machine-made symphonies to stir the soul and electrify the senses.
“When I’m writing music, if it doesn’t move you emotionally, it’s not working,” Paul explains. “It has to give me butterflies. I have to make myself cry in the studio.”
Formed in the late 1980s, Orbital released a string of classic 1990s singles including Chime, Style, The Box and Satan. Paul and Phil put their partnership on hold in 2004, but a five-year absence only increased demand for their exhilarating music and legendary live shows. The brothers finally announced their comeback with a triumphant headline set at the Big Chill in 2009. Orbital were revitalised, rebooted, reunited – and it felt so good.
The idea for Wonky sprang from Orbital’s rapturously received live comeback. A year of sell-out tours and euphoric festival appearances, including Coachella and Glastonbury, was followed by a further year of globe-trotting DJ sets. This allowed the brothers to road-test the new album in raw form, then make instant adjustments in the studio in response to crowd reactions.
“That was really beneficial to our writing,” Phil says. “Trying out tracks in front of audiences, listening through their ears, getting responses. That’s been a really good string to our bow.”
Wonky was recorded in Orbital’s Brighton home base, then mixed in London with internationally acclaimed producer Mark “Flood” Ellis, whose stellar list of previous collaborators includes PJ Harvey, U2 and Nine Inch Nails.
“I mostly remember Flood from all the electronic stuff like Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode and Renegade Soundwave,” Paul says. “He also has a good structural overview of music, because he’s not just a dance producer, he comes from a more holistic song viewpoint, which is how we like to approach it.”
From the intoxicating energy rush and glistening fanfares of its mighty opening track, One Big Moment, to the restless bounce and optimistic glow of its galloping finale, Where Is It Going, the new Orbital album was designed to follow an emotional and musical “road map” devised by Paul and Phil. Mark Farrow’s sumptuous sleeve artwork reflects this circular narrative. “The whole process of this album has really been a case of the book writing itself,” Paul explains.
Reunited and revitalised, Orbital have come full circle with Wonky. Paul and Phil can hardly wait to unleash the full album in its natural habitat, the live stage. The undefeated champions of British electronic music are back, sounding bigger and better than ever.
“For me these feel like the most enjoyable Orbital times that we’ve ever had,” Phil says. “It’s just getting better and better. It feels like a new beginning.”