Listen to this track by brotherly turntablists and pop culture mash-up men Phil and Paul Hartnoll, otherwise known as Orbital. It’s “Way Out →”, the epic lead track off of their 1999 album Middle of Nowhere.
Put all one-dimensional associations you may have of electronica, or worse “dance music” aside, and listen to the operatic glory of this track. Here, electronic samples and beats live quite happily along with warm, muted horns. This is music made for listeners, as well as dancers. In some ways, the Hartnolls were outside of the tecnhno scene, in that they never seemed to follow the trends. Trend-following is rife in techno. But, not so with Orbital and this track.
Somehow, you can just tell that these guys watched a lot of TV shows growing up, while noticing the soundtrack music, and even the sound effects. They applied these elements to this track, and to others, appealing to the geeks as well as to the core dance audience out from which they sprung. Remember, this is the band that recorded a version of the Doctor Who Theme. But, what else is here?
The sources for Orbital’s music come from a wide spectrum, from John Barry-esque 60s soundtracks, to vocal clips from ’70s British horror movies and TV, to the Butthole Surfers (as found on their 1991 single “Satan”). As such, This is not simple one-dimensional dance music, It is designed for the listener, and for the pop culture nerd who is rewarded for close aural inspection while the others are flailing away on the dance floor.
During the Glastonbury Festival of 1999, one of the highlights for me was threading through the crowd with my three friends, and working our way closer to the domed ‘Jazzworld’ stage to see Orbital just as the sun went down. The chiming intro to this song was the soundtrack to that moment (and remains to be), magnetically drawing the three of us through the crowd toward it. Really, that’s what all genres of popular music should do, particularly in a live setting like that. And I think that’s why this tune is so compelling; it doesn’t inhabit a single world, but many.
For more information about a recently reunited Orbital, check out the Orbital website.