Emerging from behind a tower of smoke and nostalgic expectations, Paul and Phil Hartnoll returned to Brixtons O2 Academy with an undiminished standard of live improvisation and luminous headgear. The four bobbing lights were met by an ecstatic crowd, most of whom had come to re-live the consistently original and acclaimed live shows of two decades previous. Yes, the collective age of the room was considerably higher in comparison to the countless future garage catwalks which were winding down across the city, but once the pair laid down the opening track ‘One Big Moment’, everyone but Orbital themselves was quickly cut apart by lasers.
Having fully completed their 2009 comeback back in April with the successful full-length release ‘Wonky’, the Hartnoll brothers quickly followed up with a string of sold-out headline shows across the country, including a repeat appearance at the Royal Albert Hall. The chandelier atmosphere of such a prestigious gig is a far-cry from the nameless fields surrounding the M25 in which they first made their name. For two guys who were once the irritating itch on the back of so many politicians in the early 1990s, their invasion of any venue with velvet interior must feel like a soaring victory.
The pair worked their hardest at Brixton Academy to excite and impress a crowd with such high-expectations, dropping the 1991 timeless classic ‘Belfast’ early on and relentlessly building on an apocalyptic light show, before quickly shrouding themselves back into darkness to work up yet another ear-watering climax. The confidence which comes from experience oozed from their performance, they worked the crowd every direction, reaching breaking point during the visually stunning ‘Chime’. At points they even seemed to enjoy the show as much as the paying customers, jumping around like excited schoolboys.
As the show developed it was clear that the light show, battling each song with huge bursts of erratic flashes, completed the sensory assault of the evening. The set-list, which stretched back across their discography and was skilfully experimented with the whole night (including an unexpected sample lifted from Belinda Carlisle’s 'Heaven is a Place on Earth'), was reminder enough of their ability in the live arena, however it was the visual aspect which transformed the venue into some spectacular time-traveling rave machine.
Age and ‘The Altogether’ aside, the Orbital outfit have remained consistent relief for the lesser rank of techno impersonators, who seem to constantly run over used ground in the genre. How and when they bow out one last time is unknown. They may even release a series of dubstep double LPs and finally seal their fate by delivering a pre-recorded serenade for Jonathan Ross live on ITV4. But honestly, after such a timeless and well put together and delivered show, it’d be astonishing if Paul and Phil didn’t continue to outshine themselves and their amazing heritage in the electronic music world.
Words by Charlie Wood